It’s a month after Easter, and the resurrection has been sung about, preached about, and celebrated. And yet, the world is still bruised.
As one writer has said, we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. At least for now, we still live with the groans spoken of in Romans 8, the thorns in the flesh spoken of in 2 Corinthians 12, the sorrows and fears spoken of in the Psalms, and the death, mourning, crying, and pain spoken of in Revelation 21.
With or without a pandemic, the mortality rate is still one person for every one person. Some are afraid to die, while others are even more afraid to continue living.
And it shouldn’t be lost on us that after Jesus rose from the dead, one by one, each one of Jesus’ disciples walked a path that led to martyrdom. The only one who was spared was John, who died as an unjustly incarcerated man.
The following reflection is written with all of these past and present realities in mind.
Horatio Spafford, an attorney and minister, was also a man who knew suffering. After losing four daughters in a tragic Atlantic Ocean shipwreck, he lamented his “sorrows like sea billows” through the writing of a now-famous hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul.” This particular hymn has resonated throughout the generations, especially during unprecedented times like these as the world battles a global pandemic. Just days ago, some of our friends and Nashville neighbors posted a masterful rendition of the hymn as a gift to us in a season of anxiety and lament.
Like most time-tested hymns, as well as every book of the Bible, “It Is Well” was created from a place of deep pain. Whenever our church sings it together, I look around the congregation to see how it is impacting our people. Without fail, those who sing the hymn with the most gusto are the sufferers. People battling cancer, mental illness, addiction, bereavement, social rejection, unemployment, COVID-19 fears, and any number of other trials, bellow the lyrics in such a way that says, “This is my song.”
What enables these afflicted souls to keep singing? What empowers them to keep hoping, to keep believing and to keep pressing forward in the face of gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, life-busting circumstances and cry out from the gut, “It is well…?” It is nothing more and nothing less than the promises of Scripture passed on to us by fellow sufferers, combined with the animating work of the Holy Spirit pressing these promises into their hearts and daily lives.
At Christ Presbyterian Church, the family of believers in Nashville that I have the privilege of serving as pastor, there are scores of people who have endured deep sorrow and loss and who have done so exceptionally well. It’s not that these men and women have denied suffering or somehow swept its assaulting realities under the rug. Like Jesus at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, they have let themselves feel the anger and sadness of their losses, with weeping and even an anger that says, “This is not ok. This is not how things are supposed to be.” Along with this, they have also joined the chorus first penned by the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). With similar strength, the oft-persecuted and maligned and imprisoned and thorn-in-the-flesh assaulted Apostle wrote:
“We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).
My friend and singer-songwriter, Sandra McCracken Nicholson, captures this sentiment marvelously in her song, “Fools Gold,” in which she sings, “If it’s not okay, then it is not the end. And this is not okay, so I know this is not the end.” Put another way, while death, mourning, crying, pain, sorrow, and pandemics may afflict us for a time, they do not get to dictate God’s storyline.
All believers in Christ are currently living in a middle chapter of God’s Story. The middle chapters, like all good stories, are fraught with drama and setback and angst and loss. And yet, the final chapter — which happens to be a chapter that has already been written — is the chapter of “world without end.” It is the chapter that goes on forever, and that promises what another singer-songwriter friend, Jeremy Casella, calls, “death in reverse.” Indeed, it turns out that Tolkein’s notion of everything sad coming untrue…is true. And C.S. Lewis’ parallel notion of the last and everlasting chapter being one in which every day is better than the day before…is also true.
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Source: Church Leaders