A Dark Good Friday

Rembrandt_The_Three_Crosses_1653
Good Friday feels extra heavy this year.
Lent feels indistinct from the rest of this past year.
I don’t have a lot to say about this, but I wanted to tell you that I’ve been thinking about feet.
Jesus washing feet, of course, as we just passed Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper.
More specifically, though, I’ve been thinking about Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus.
Six days before Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, Mary pours out her most precious possession onto Jesus’s feet.
Fragrance fills the air, tears wash away the dirt, and her hair dries it all.
The next time Mary sees those same feet, they are covered in blood and nailed to the cross.
I’m thinking about pouring out all that I have and Jesus’s life being poured out for me.
I’m thinking about feet.
What are you meditating on in this season?

Marked with the Cross of Christ

 

I was able to attend an Ash Wednesday service this year.
Ash Wednesday
It looked much different than usual.
Registration required. Temperatures taken at the door. Masks on throughout the service.
Even the imposition of the ashes was different: the pastors used Q-tips instead of their finger.
But I was able to attend an Ash Wednesday service this year.
I didn’t know if that would happen.
So I choose to be grateful for what is rather than grumble about what is not.
When I went forward to receive the ashes from the burning of the Palm Sunday palm branches upon my forehead, the pastor looked me in the eyes and told me, You are marked with the cross of Christ …
the cross of Christ
Marked with the cross of Christ.
It overwhelms me every year.
Because, God help me, I forget.
I forget that I am marked with the cross of Christ, forget that the cross should be the center of everything, forget that my whole life should be cruciform.
Every year I am reminded, and every year I forget again.
The whole of my life should be a sacrifice, a laying down of myself, a turning away from the world and a turning towards what Matt Papa calls the blazing center.
My heart is fickle and forgetful and I desperately need this Lenten season every year to turn my heart back toward the One to whom it belongs.
marked with the cross of Christ
I am grateful for a Father who knows what we need, who graciously centers our lives around communal rhythms that continually remind us of who we are and whose we are.
If you, also, need the reminder:
You are marked with the cross of Christ.

What Is God Calling You Toward This Lent?

Lent began this week.
Lent
Lent, for any who are not so familiar with this time in the Church calendar, is a time to practice self-denial for the purpose of becoming more unified with Jesus.
Lent is a 40 day period in which we set aside time to gaze at the crucified Christ in order to awaken a sense of our sin, a sense of guilt and sorrow over our sin.
Lent
Why? In order to feel shame and a sense of not-enough?
Not at all.
Rather the purpose is to awaken a gratitude for the forgiveness of our sin and what that cost.
Again, why? In order to feel warm feelings of thankfulness and look-what-was-done-for-me?
This is also not the end towards which we are heading.
Rather the final purpose is to awaken and motivate the works of love and justice that are done in gratitude for the forgiveness of our sin, done to the glory of God.
Lent
Glorifying God is the end.
Before we can get to the glory, however, before we can get to the gratitude or the sorrow or the guilt or even the sense of our sin at all, we must begin with time.
Time.
Time spent gazing at Jesus.
Time spent gazing at Jesus’ life and, more specifically during this season of Lent, at his cross.
Before anything else at all can happen in our life-with-God, we must begin with a sacrifice of time.
Lent is, as I said in the beginning, a season of giving up. A season in which we practice the habit of denying ourselves in order to become more like Jesus.
I want to offer you a challenge this year. A challenge that I will be attempting right along with you.
Give up something for 40 days.
Not a purposeless sort of giving up, but a giving up for the purpose of gaining more of God.
Speak with the Holy Spirit about this before deciding. Sit for a time in silence before God and listen to what he might want to say about this.
Lent
What does this look like?
Perhaps it is giving up something in order to spend more time with God. Such as a show. Or a few minutes of sleep in order to be still before God.
Perhaps it is giving up something in order to become more aware of God’s presence. Such as fasting from food periodically or for a time. Or a podcast in order to have some silence in your day.
Perhaps you have been living in a particularly indulgent way lately and simply need to exercise your spiritual muscles of self-denial. Such as giving up one of those indulgences.
Traditionally, Sundays are feast days even during Lent. They are kind of a mini-Easter. Practically speaking, this means that whatever you are giving up, you gain it back on Sundays. Celebrate that and give thanks for the good things God has given us.
Will you join me?
Lent
Find a way, some way, any way, to spend time gazing at Jesus during these 40 days of Lent.
If you, like me, have been distracted lately, giving God only a part of your heart, join me in doing whatever it takes to return to him with your whole heart.
Listen to the promise he gives us through the prophet Joel:
Yet even now,” declares the LORD,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;
Use these 40 days of Lent wisely, using the rhythm of this season to return wholeheartedly back to the Lord your God.
He is waiting.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

all photographs are copyright 2021 Made Sacred

This Deep Ache I Feel

This season of Lent into Easter always leaves me with an ache in my heart.
Lent
I ache as I sit in the heart-wrenching tension between what is now and what is not-yet.
This year my heart has been even more tender than usual.
It is tender with an ache of longing for God to fulfill His promise to make all things new.
It is tender with an ache of longing for God to return and set all things right.
It is tender with an ache of longing for God.
ache of longing
We have sat in silent mourning through Lent, grieving our sin and our broken world and longing for Messiah.
We have rejoiced in exultation on Easter, celebrating Christ’s victorious defeat over sin and death.
Now we wake up to a world that is still sinning. still broken, still dying.
We trust, on our best days, that Jesus’ defeat of sin and death really happened, that God will not forget any of His promises, that God’s Spirit truly dwells inside of us.
And our hearts ache.
We are filled, more on some days than on others, with an aching, homesick kind of longing for what is still to come.
This is good. This is as it should be.
We should not be satisfied with this world in its brokenness.
We should not be satisfied with ourselves in our sinful nature.
We should not be satisfied to be physically separated from God.
Listen to this ache, for we are not yet home.
Let yourself feel this tenderness fully.
We should allow this ache in our hearts to spur us on to seek God more, to love God more, to love those around us more, to do all we can to bring His kingdom to rule on earth.
It is good to have seasons in which your heart is more tender, in which that longing ache is closer to the surface.
It simply means the end is not yet here.
On the day when our earth is made new, when heaven and earth are joined together, when Jesus descends from the clouds and we run into His arms,
On the day when God will dwell with us and we will be His people,
On that day, this ache we feel will melt away.
We shall be home.

feel your ache

For now, learn to be still and truly feel this ache in your heart. Let it draw you closer into the arms of the One who will someday heal you completely. You can trust Him.
Easter has already come.

Easter

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

All photographs copyright Made Sacred 2020

Living in Saturday

Saturday of Holy Week is hard.
Saturday
The disciples’ hopes are dashed. Disappointment and dread lie heavy in their stomachs. Fear is rising quickly in the face of an unknown future.
It feels right now as though we are living in Saturday.
Our hopes are dashed. Disappointment and dread lie heavy in our stomachs. Fear is rising quickly in the face of an unknown future.
Saturday is dark.
Yet – When darkness veils His lovely face, I’ll rest on His unchanging grace.
For we know something that Jesus’ followers did not.
Sunday is on its way.
Sunday
No matter what your fear in this time of Saturday, Sunday is certain.
For the sick, for the hungry, for the hurting, for the jobless, for the homeless, for the lonely, for the grieving, for the abused,
Sunday will come.
This is why we celebrate Easter, to remind us of the glorious Sunday that is still to come.
This is why, even in this strangest of Easters when none of our normal gathering will occur, it is important to celebrate, to feast, to fill our spaces with joy in whatever way we can manage.
It is important because we are living in the time of Saturday, and we need the reminder of why we do not despair, why we continue to work toward the coming Kingdom.
We need the reminder that no matter what happens on this earth,
Sunday is on its way.
And when the light of Sunday blazes over the horizon, all of the ugliness and horror that happened on Saturday will melt away like the morning fog.
This week, sit with your dashed hope, your disappointment and dread, even your fear on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, for these hard things are real.

grief

But on Sunday prepare to celebrate.
For Sunday is also real, more real than any of those other things, and Sunday will be more glorious than your wildest dreams can imagine.
Sunday is coming.
Let him who walks in darkness
and has no light
trust in the name of the LORD
and rely on his God.
Isaiah 50.10
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Art credits: Preparation of Christ’s Tomb by Vittore Carpaccio; The Angel Opens the Tomb of Christ by Benjamin Gerritsz Cuyp; Rabboni sculpture by Gutzon Borglum, photo by Kathleen Cole

The Magic of Late Winter

I apologize for being late with my essay this week. I have no excuse other than the one that we all have these days, that of the world being turned upside down.
This week I am joining in a collaboration with several other writer friends from The Habit forum to search out the beauty that can be found (although sometimes one must look deeply and long) in this season of late winter and early spring.
magic of late winter
Click here to read my essay and then linger awhile to read the wisdom and goodness offered by my friends. Blessings on all of you in this Holy Week, my friends. May you sense the presence of our Lord in more tangible ways than usual.

The Magic of Late Winter, Part VII: Guest Post by Elizabeth Giger

My Psalm of Lament

img_0736
Where are you, Lord, in our affliction?
Why do you hide your face in times of trouble?
Where is your saving arm, your strong right hand
In the face of this microscopic enemy?
I am imprisoned in my own home,
Unable to escape from my children for even a moment.
I snap and yell, I stomp and fuss,
And then I know my guilt, for others
Are facing much worse now and in days to come.
Where are you, O Lord?
Why do you not rise up and stop this virus?
For the sake of your glory, for the sake of your name,
Make this vanish with a word, like the mist before the morning sun.
I am worried about my parents, my in-laws,
All those in my parents’ generation who raised me in their love.
I am anxious about friends who already struggle with their health.
I see people losing jobs and refugees losing even what small place they had,
I see the sick with no room at the hospitals and the lonely and depressed sinking lower.
This disease is coming, coming, coming, and none can stop it but you.
Why do you not come?
You of great love and great power, you alone have the means to deliver us.
Why have you removed your saving hand?
Where are you, Lord, in our darkness?
I see the answer when I gaze at the cross.
You are here.
Our tears are your tears. Our pain is your pain.
Our grief is your grief. Our suffering is your suffering.
You who have every right to the glory of heaven
Have chosen to be with us in all of our sorrow.
I see your presence in the face of my girls,
In the hands of my husband,
In the eyes of my neighbor.
I see your presence in the coming together,
In the surrounding each other,
In the laying down of what we once held dear.
Teach us, O Lord, what is most important.
Teach us to treasure what your heart treasures.
Help us to slow down and give up,
To give each other our time and full attention,
To be still and quiet with you.
Teach us to know that you are God.
We are your people, your very own sheep.
Help us to open our hands and let go
Of that which we have grasped too tightly.
Help us to rearrange our hearts and priorities until
They more closely align with yours.
Help us not to waste these days but
To use them to more fully love you,
To more fully love each other,
To more fully love those who don’t yet know you.
We trust your heart toward us.
With your strength, we will use this time wisely,
To number our days and gain wisdom.
We will give rather than hoard.
We will serve rather than weep.
We will search for you in the small bits of beauty
You have scattered all around us.
We will praise you and give thanks
In this as in the most perfect of times,
For you are our God and have promised to never forsake us.
You have promised that a day is coming when all of this pain will fade,
When all of this sorrow will disappear
Like the morning dew when the heat of the sun arrives.
We trust in your promise and will wait patiently for you.
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

You Still Have a Choice, Even in This Crisis

Despite this strange new normal in which we find ourselves, we are still in the season of Lent.
lent
The Church continues on with her year, regardless of what is happening around her.
Lent is a season of giving up, of denying yourself for the purpose of becoming more unified with the Spirit of Christ.
Most of us, no matter where in the world we live, find ourselves being forced to give up.
Give up freedoms, give up financial stability, give up plans and dreams for the next few months.
As with any time of suffering, I do not mean to imply that God caused this. We live in a broken world.
But He did allow it.
broken world
And, as with any time of suffering, He is asking us what we are going to do with it.
It is vitally important for our life-with-God to be still before Him. We must spend much time gazing at Jesus and being filled up by His Spirit through silence and solitude, among other things.
When we do this, we have His peace and His joy deep within us. We are sheltered in our Home, and we emerge safely on the other side of whatever grief and pain may come our way, though perhaps a bit battered and wind-torn.
Jesus spoke of suffering that is used by God.
In the parable of the vine, He said that every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
Andrew Murray writes that we should be moved by our abiding in Christ
to hear in each affliction the voice of a messenger that comes to call them to abide still more closely. Yes, believer, most specially in times of trial, abide in Christ…abide in Christ in times of affliction and you shall bring forth more fruit.
James, the brother of Jesus, also speaks of suffering that is used by God. He makes so bold as to instruct us to count suffering as pure joy.
What could there be, what could there possibly be in the valley of the deepest dark that could be counted as joy?
James does not leave us sinking into despair.
He answers with the answer we have been aiming towards from the beginning: our suffering, when we choose to continue to abide in Christ in the middle of it, leads to nothing less than being made perfect and complete.
What will be your choice?
We can choose.
We can choose in our pain to more fully make our home in Jesus or to step outside of Him. The way we choose to respond to suffering matters.
Over and over, Scripture tells us that the choices we make in this life ripple forward into the next.
What we do with the ebbs and flows in our lives matter. From interruptions to worries, from marriage to loss, every choice we make in response to our circumstances is changing us.
Changing the very essence of ourselves into something different than what we are now.
C. S. Lewis said it best.
Taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.
Choosing to live out Holy Habits, daily activities like Scripture reading and prayer, solitude and silence, are how God the Holy Spirit transforms us into people of His Kingdom.
People who, by obedience and love, are helping the Kingdom, God’s rule, to break through here and now.
People who are at home in Jesus.
Choose time with Jesus
So may I make a suggestion?
We have all been required to give up most of our normal activities. By all means, fill up some of that time with books and movies, but perhaps take some of that time to just sit in silence with God.
This can be a frightening thing to do, especially in our particular circumstances. Sitting quietly with your thoughts and emotions can feel hard.
Yet God has promised to always be with us, to give us a peace and a joy that goes beyond any circumstance. But we must trust Him enough to give Him those thoughts and emotions, trust Him enough to be still before Him.
We do not need to pretend in our times with Him. We do not need to act as though everything were okay, as though we were okay, as though anything in our entire world were okay.
It is good to lament before the Lord.
We need to lament to Him when all around us feels as though it were falling apart.
Scripture is full of lament.
We are at a loss what to do, hence our eyes are turned toward you. (2 Chronicles 20:12)
My soul, too, is utterly terrified; but you, O Lord, how long…? (Psalm 6:4).
Why, O Lord, do you stand aloof? Why hide in times of distress? (Psalm 10:1)
In the next couple of days, will you find some time to go hide in a bedroom or take a walk alone outside? Just be still before God and try to be silent. Take a name of God that is meaningful to you or a phrase such as “Lord, have mercy” to use when you need to bring your thoughts back under control.
Try to make this a regular part of your routine.
Will you also write your own Psalm of Lament over all that you are experiencing right now?
It is an act of faith to pour out our fear and hurt to God.
If you want to share it with someone, I would love to read it. You can email me at Elizabeth@MadeSacred.com
This can also be just between you and God.
May God grant you His incomprehensible peace and His deep, abiding joy even in the middle of all that we are experiencing right now.
May He grant you what you need more than anything else – a real sense of His own presence.
May He grant you Himself.
Let God give you Himself
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

All photographs copyright Made Sacred 2020

To Carry the Cross for the Love of Christ

Why do you follow Jesus?
spiritual disciplines
Why do you practice spiritual disciplines, face your sin, deny yourself?
Why do you choose to take up your cross and follow Him?
Is it for the comfort you might receive from Him?
Is it for the healing He might do in you?
Is it for the transformation, for the beautiful creation He might make of your life?
cross
Many desire to join Christ in His kingdom, but few care to join Him on His cross.
Many are willing to share in His glory, but few wish to suffer anything for Him.
Many will follow Him as far as the breaking of bread, but few will remain to drink from His passion. Thomas à Kempis
It is easy to praise and bless Jesus as long as we are receiving some comfort from Him.
What if you knew that you would receive no benefit from Him here on this earth? What if you knew that you would not move closer to Him nor be transformed more into His image until you saw Him face to face?
Would you still spend the time and do the work, simply out of love and obedience? Robert Mulholland asks in his book, Shaped by the Word, whether we would still be willing to offer our spiritual practices to God even if God does nothing with it.
When Jesus hides Himself, which will happen at times throughout your life, will you start complaining and give up in despair?
You cannot escape the cross.
cross
At times you will be forsaken by God, at times troubled by those about you and, what is worse, you will often grow weary of yourself…For he wishes you to learn to bear trial without consolation, to submit yourself wholly to him that you may become more humble through suffering. Thomas à Kempis
Or, on the contrary, will you love Jesus for His own sake and not for any comfort He might bring to you?
Will you praise Him in your anguish of heart as well as in the joy of His support?
What power there is in a pure love for Jesus – love that is free from all self-interest and self-love! Thomas à Kempis
I am, I confess, far from this kind of love.
Yet I long for it.
If you are like me and struggle to love Jesus with a pure love, will you join me in praying for a heart that is capable of loving in this way? Make no mistake – this kind of love can only be a gift from God.
If you are farther along on this journey towards a love that is free from self-interest, will you pray for me?
We must be willing to bear the cross of Jesus.
There is no other way to life and to true inward peace than the way and discipline of the cross. Thomas à Kempis
carry the cross
Yet here is the beauty of this so very difficult truth: when you are willing to carry your cross, it will end up carrying you.
When you choose to pick up your cross and follow Jesus, that cross will take you to a place where all suffering comes to an end.
May God grant us this gift of being able to come to Him for love of Him rather than for love of what He can do for us.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

All photographs copyright Made Sacred. 2020

Thinking About Death

I am thinking about death in this season of Lent.
death
I still miss my Gram and Papa so much it physically hurts sometimes.
I see my friends who just lost their young daughter struggle to do the next thing.
I hear a friend who lost her husband say that she has trouble getting out of bed in the morning.
Death is ugly.
death
I am thinking about Jesus’ last Passover meal.
Last Passover
He, too, was thinking about death. He knew what was coming.
He looked around at his beloved disciples and knew the curse they were living under.
The curse we all were living under.
The curse begun by Eve when she took, ate, and gave that fruit.
Jesus looked around at his disciples and knew that what he was about to do would rescue them from exile from God, that what he was about to suffer would break that curse for all time.
He wanted them to always remember his rescue, and so he took, gave, and ate the bread and the fruit of the vine.
Take Eat Give
And then he broke that curse.
He broke the curse so that death would no longer have the last word.
He broke that curse and gave us hope.
And hope remains.
After his wife dies, there is hope.
After her child dies, there is hope.
After her innocence dies, there is hope.
After his heart dies, there is hope.
After all that we know dies, there is is hope.
Hope for the end of our exile.
Hope for our rescue.
Hope for heaven and earth to become one and for God to dwell with his people.
Hope for Jesus to take, and give, and eat once more, in celebration this time, with the fruit of the vine at the wedding feast.
I’m thinking about death in this season of Lent.
Death Defeated
Death defeated.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Art Credit: The Last Supper from Master of the Dresden Prayer Book