Grace Calls Softly

LynnAbbott_Foggy Hillside_11x14_Portfolio_72dpi© 2016 Lynn Abbott
Mist laces March’s tree boughs; the sun rises from its soft resting place on the blue-gray horizon, and greets the brisk breeze that chases away night’s damp chill.

And I shudder. A twinge of shooting pain runs through my rib cage, an echo of October 2009.

At that time, my surgeon had warned me, predicting I would experience pain for at least eight months after my biopsy. It was a necessary evil after discovery of a suspicious hot spot on my right rib cage near the original site of my breast cancer.

Fortunately for me, after a significant portion of my rib was removed and biopsied, I was given a clean bill of health once more. But while the rib has apparently healed, it will never be the same.

The cold air reminds me of my scars.

Like much of my body, my rib cage bears evidence of a battle fought and won. Some scars are readily evident and viewed. Others are not apparent to the world.

But each morning, as I prepare for my day, I confront those ghosts of the painful past.

And as I stare into life’s unforgiving looking-glass, it occurs to me that no one gets by without acquiring a few scars along the way.

In this world, the ache never completely disappears. Phantoms of pain, suffering and heartbreak linger. Even the strongest souls scar.

And when those cold winds blow, the blast triggers twinges, often catching us by surprise. Without warning, grief returns to reassert its right of residence, to claim its homestead.

Maybe, it’s just my age. But it seems to me that I daily observe more and more people  battling their own brand of grief…

the death of a child,
a spouse,
a beloved friend,
a faithful pet…

Some even fight for their own lives, facing cancer, heart attacks, or kidney disease.

Still others grieve over failed relationships: divorce, rebellious children, or breakups.

We even feel loss when we change our life’s direction or purpose.

In fact, if you’ve lived for any period of time, it’s likely that you’ve experienced or know someone who has experienced at least one of these heartbreaking circumstances.

Grief can be a dark place.  Or as David so aptly described it in the immortal Psalm, we walk through “the valley of the shadow of death,” (Psalm 23:4).

Sometimes it feels like a steep ravine.

Darkness closes in, and you and I feel lost… and even alone.

I imagine the disciples felt that way immediately after the cross.

Peter and John had been eye witnesses to the the demands of the angry mob: “Crucify Him!”  The courtyard rang with the mob’s chant.

Talk about feeling alone.  Had I been Peter or John, I would have been convinced that I was the only one left in Jerusalem who loved Jesus.   The love expressed by the crowd on Palm Sunday swiftly slipped away.

In its place, hatred loomed.

It’s no wonder Peter feared for his life.  There was no telling where the mob’s madness would end.

And although Peter and John could not boast in a university education or in a thorough understanding of social science, they had enough sense to know that they were next on the hit list.

Fear certainly compounded their grief. And there was plenty of grief to go around.  Their beloved Rabbi had been crucified.

All their hopes, dreams and convictions rattled to the core. Jesus–of whom Peter had said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” (Matthew 16:16)–had been executed by the most brutal means of the day.

And Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had buried Jesus.

What was it that Jesus had said in His final moments?

It is finished…

I imagine that in that dark hour,  some disciples may have said, “Yeah, Jesus got that right.  It is done.  Our dreams over.”

So they hid… Some even fled Jerusalem.  After all, they probably thought it best to head home, to find a safe haven.  Scripture had predicted that the sheep would scatter without their Shepherd (Mark 14:27; Zechariah 13:7).

A few, however, remained in Jerusalem.  Perhaps, they simply longed to talk with others who understood.  Maybe, they feared being recognized and so they decided to “lay low” for a while.

Whatever the case,  John chapter 20 opens with Mary Magdalene visiting the tomb early on Sunday morning.  John writes that it was “still dark.”  Actually, it’s not surprising that she returned to the tomb while it was yet dark.  After all, being associated with Jesus had become extremely dangerous.

But visiting the tomb was a risk that Mary had to take.  Her grief demanded it. Thus, she crept under cover of darkness.  She may have taken an indirect route.

Had I been in her place, I certainly would have looked over my shoulder a multitude of times.  Having jeopardized her safety, walking alone in the dark to the tomb of the most controversial figure of her day, Mary probably didn’t know what difficulties she might encounter at the tomb.

A guard had been set and the governor’s seal given.  She may have worried on the walk about how she would approach the tomb.  But her grief overcame her fear.  She had to visit the place where her Lord lay.

As she neared the tomb and saw more clearly in the dim light, I suspect she caught her breath.  Not only were the soldiers gone but the stone had been removed from before the tomb.

In her shock, she forgot the purpose of her journey.  She immediately ran to find Peter and John.  I can almost hear the desperation, panic and fear in her words, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him,” (John 20:2).

And of course, bold Peter left immediately.  But John followed and soon passed Peter.  John, the youngest of the twelve, apparently had the greater speed and stamina.

Peter’s boldness and natural leadership skills, however, had very often made him the spokesperson for Christ’s inner circle.  Peter was still the leader despite his denial a few days prior.

Thus, while John waited outside the tomb,  Peter rushed in.  Discovering the tomb to be empty, Peter believed Mary’s report, (John 20:8).  Yet, Scripture notes that the disciples did not yet understand the Resurrection, (John 20: 9).

So they went home; initially, they were no more enlightened after their visit to the tomb than they had been before Mary had arrived.  I’m sure, though, that they felt perplexed by the change in events.

Mary evidently followed Peter and John to the sepulcher.  Perhaps, she was anxious to see her report confirmed.  Peter, John and the others may have discounted her news,  questioned her observation… They may have thought her blinded by  tears. Perhaps, they suggested that she had stumbled into a freshly carved grave.

They may have accused her of going to the wrong tomb.

It’s hard enough to grieve, but to have your friends doubt you at such a time?   Devastating.

I imagine the others treated Mary with a measure of condescension.  I can almost hear them say, “The woman is hormonal, overly emotional and her judgement cloudy.

I’m sure that heartbroken Mary tried to defend her claims.

It was all more than most could bear…

Her beloved Messiah had died on a cross; her closest friends had  dismissed her.

Pushing back tears, she stood watching Peter and John enter the tomb.  At least her report was vindicated.

Nevertheless, I’m sure hurt and grief overwhelmed her.  Lost and alone even among friends. Empty, like the tomb.

When Peter and John left, Mary remained.    Tears flowed.  The water dam broke.

Could it really be?  Had someone been so cruel as to move the body?  Would she have no place to visit and to honor Him?  She looked once more, (John 20:11).

Grace dawned softly.

It did not condemn.  It did not condescend. It did not lecture.

Two angels sat in the tomb… noting her distress, they asked, “Why are you weeping?”

Mary spilled her heart,”Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him,” (John 20:13).

She turned, perhaps to leave.  And there standing quietly was someone she presumed to be the gardener.

Again, a gentle, quiet, tender and compassionate voice met her in her dark hour.

“Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you seeking?” He asked, (John 20:15).

Mary plead, “Sir if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

In that moment, Grace flooded Mary’s horizon… light overcame the darkness.Illumination_11x14Oil_LynnAbbott

One soft word… a gentle, verbal nudge–“Mary!”

And Mary cried, “Rabboni!”  Teacher. 

She had nearly missed her Savior.  In deep grief, she had not immediately recognized Him.

Yet, He was there, ready to give comfort and hope to His heartbroken child.

He slipped in softly.  He walked with Mary in her garden of grief.  And gradually, grace illuminated her path.

The Light of the World rose.

And Mary found hope.  Needless to say, she could not contain her joy.  Never mind that the disciples might question her once more.

She ran to share the news.  Her Savior’s compassionate words, His gentle kindness and His joyful commission filled the emptiness.

Without a doubt, His resurrection changed everything.  Not only did Christ live, but His sacrifice enabled our resurrection hope.  His scars ushered in Grace beyond all this world had ever known, (Isaiah 53:6).

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him. By His scourging we are healed,” the prophet wrote, (Isaiah 53:5).

His scars… proof of the battle our Savior has won.

On Thursday, the crowds had clamored for His crucifixion.  On Friday, still others shouted abuse and mocked Him.

Thunder roared and earthquakes rumbled, announcing the completion of God’s sacrifice for sin.

But at dawn on Sunday morning, Jesus announced His Resurrection quietly…to a heartbroken Mary.  Her Savior softly called her name.

Grace.  Gentle grace.

When you and I feel we cannot go on, when pain threatens to shatter our hearts, when the world seems a dark tunnel or an impenetrable ravine,  our Sovereign-Shepherd calls tenderly:  I am here.

“I will never leave Thee nor Forsake Thee,” our heavenly Father promises, (Hebrews 13:5).

In the valley of the shadow of death, others may dismiss our heartbreak.  They may scold or lecture.  Some may even question our faith as Job’s friends did.

But our Savior weeps with us, (John 11:35).  Our High Priest sympathizes with our weaknesses.  He bears the scars.  He bore our sin and pain on that cross, (Romans 5:6). He now intercedes on our behalf, (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Yes, He left the tomb empty, but He fills our hearts and souls with His presence.

In the darkness, grace nudges … “My child,” He quietly calls.

He invites His heartbroken and sometimes doubting children to peer into that empty space.  Jesus even asked Thomas to touch Jesus’ scars and “be not unbelieving, but believing,” (John 20:27b).

He knows our grief sometimes clouds our faith.

Yet, our Savior gently calls.

And as we cry, “Rabboni!”– we see light filling the horizon.

Indeed, we call, “Abba, Father!”  For with Christ’s resurrection, we receive His grace by faith.  Through Christ, the Sovereign of all has adopted us as His children (Romans 8:15).

There is now no condemnation, (Romans 8:1) for by His scourging we are healed.  Isaiah reminds us, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried…” (Isaiah 53:4a).

His scars make our hearts whole, (Isaiah 53:10-11).

Now, we simply await our resurrection transformation, (Romans 8:23).

We grieve, yes.

But Grace bestows hope.

Indeed, out of great grief, Great Grace called us.  And He assures us, “… I am with you always…”

“The righteous cry and the LORD hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles.  The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, And saves those who are crushed in spirit,” ~Psalm 34:17-18