Waiting In The Tomb With Lazarus

We are not April fools. The joke is not on us.

We can wait with Lazarus in Bethany.

In faith.

With certainty.

Jesus is coming.

Jesus is on the way.

Look into the distance and see the dust rising from the road, punctuating his approach on foot.

His footsteps are a drumbeat of purpose.

We didn’t have to strain to hear Martha and Mary dictating their message to Jesus. “Lord, they whom you love are dead,” they had told him.

They were talking about us.

You and me.

We’ve been in the “tomb” four days.

Mary and Martha have given up hope.

Their hope has been left for dead.

Martha runs to meet Jesus.

“Lord, if you had been here,” we hear her tell him, “my brothers would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

We look at each other.

You and me together in this “tomb.”

Our eyes meet.

Our hearts know the answer.

Martha is right.

Now, Mary joins her, kneeling at the feet of Jesus.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brothers would not have died,” she tells him, speaking of you and me, together in this tomb, knowing both Mary and Martha are correct.

But Jesus is here now. And with Jesus it is never too late.

“Where have you laid them?” Jesus asks, wondering where he will find us, you and me together in this “tomb.”

Jesus is deeply moved. He weeps. The tears roll down his cheeks.

Now he stands there, just outside our “tomb.”

Remove the stone, Jesus tells them. The stone that seals us in this “tomb.”

We don’t just see the stone being removed—we feel it. The lifting of the weight that was so ponderous, the burden we could not bear, the mountain-high stone that held us prisoner in this “tomb.”

Jesus now calls us. “Come out,” he cries.

We move into the light of his presence, the light of his love.

“Unbind them,” Jesus says, speaking of you and me, “and let them go.”
We are, in that moment, resurrected. You and me. Freed from this “tomb” and able to rise back into the fulness of our lives.

That is the promise that Jesus offers to everyone.

There are moments in all of our lifetimes when we feel “entombed” by a deep wound or sorrow, by fear or anxiety, or a dream that has come undone. There are so many “tombs” of loss in our lives and the exit often feels sealed by a heavy stone that we cannot move.

But the voice of Jesus in our heart is never as far away as we think. We will feel it one day—maybe today—telling us to leave the tomb behind.

In the quiet of our soul we may hear him speaking these words:

“Leave now.
“It’s time to go.”

Bombers Take Off From Golgotha, Part 1

“Bombers Take Off From Golgotha”

The last shade of something

stalks the rim of night,

barely touching the tops of things,

sniffing the moonlight for food.

The stars are surrounded by burnt tea

and there is drinking.

Darkness stalks past the ruins,

spreading like damson

toward the crusty edge.

One by one the constellations are unborn

and the Milky Way becomes a beautiful scar.

From the jungle comes the sound of drumming

and the moon is swallowed by clouds

that look like an exploded letter bomb to God.

There are subtle chantings

that seem to be, or not.

People rub their ears

and graze further toward the edge of something.

Some prey is taken

and the night moves on.

—By Ken Woodley

There was nothing else left after the sun set on Good Friday.

The sky had become the roof of a cave.

The sky sometimes does.

Or appears to.

When bombers take off from Golgotha in our own lives we are desperately challenged. Two choices await our decision. We can sit down and give up, believing there is nothing beyond the cave. Or we can stand up, gather our crayons, and color stars and a moon on the cold hard stone, believing the sun will surely rise.

As it will.

In our hearts first.

And then the sky.

Too Familiar With A Miracle?

From blindness to sight. In a flash of light.

Blind from birth, your world of darkness dissolves into amazing colors.

Previously, the entire world had been in your imagination—the way everything looked—fed only by what your sense of touch told you about how they might appear if you could only see them.

We can close our eyes and touch a lamp or a chair or another human being and understand their appearance—but only because we have the memory of them in our minds. Someone blind from birth would have nothing at all to go on.

So imagine how the man felt in the Gospel of John after receiving his sight from Jesus. My imagination can’t come close to appreciating the man’s astonishing experience.

Jesus had been walking down a road when he saw the man and declared “I am the light of the world.” Then Jesus spat on the ground and made mud with his saliva. He spread the mud on the man’s unseeing eyes and told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.

Ironically, this man is able to see but many of those around him suddenly suffer from a kind of blindness. The man who was once blind can see them but they cannot see him.

“The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’” the Gospel of John tells us. “Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’”

The once-blind man insists, “I am the man” but some people simply refuse to believe him.

There is an old saying that applies to these doubters: No one is as a blind as those who refuse to see.

Jesus has worked a miracle but some people simply refuse to see it.

That got me thinking about life and my own experiences in this world. It struck me with sudden forcefulness that we, too, are sometimes blind to a miracle that Jesus or God has worked in our own lives.

And what struck me most forcefully was the realization that this blindness doesn’t always come from disbelief. Most of the time, in fact, this form of blindness comes from the fact that we have become too familiar with a miracle. We have lived with it for so long that it no longer strikes us as miraculous. We take it for granted. Like our spouse, for example. Choosing to live with someone, for better or worse, for a lifetime—and then following through with it—is not un-miraculous.

I imagine that within a handful of years, the man in the Gospel of John also came to take his sight for granted. Not intentionally. He wasn’t ungrateful for the miracle that Jesus had worked in his life. Through the years, every day he woke up and saw he sun rise made that new dawn seem gradually less and less miraculous. Every color emerging from the darkness of night was so familiar to him.

The same thing can happen when Jesus leads us through and out of one of life’s deep, wounding pains. It seems miraculous at first but in time we take the gentle scar for granted. Or, worse, we grump about the scar, forgetting how the wound, itself, felt.

Every now and then it’s a good idea to close our eyes and remind ourselves of a miracle worked in our own lives. Then, keeping our eyes shut, give thoughtful, meditative thanks for that miracle. We might imagine Jesus by our side. We might hear him spit on the ground, and then sense him kneeling beside us, making mud with his saliva.

We might feel his touch upon our closed eyes, the mud warmed by his caring hands.

Then, when we next open our eyes—with Jesus as the light of our world—we might see the miracles in our life more clearly.

That includes the reflection in your mirror.

A Sip Of Living Water

My first story at the outset of a 36-year career at The Farmville Herald wasn’t the stuff of Woodward and Bernstein. Nothing that would lead to the resignation of a disgraced president of the United States. As scoops go, mine was pure vanilla. I was entrusted with a story reminding readers that the summer equinox was imminent. The day of longest light.

Looking back across four decades, it makes me smile to remember how excited I was to write that story. I’m glad for that joy, and how fitting its source was a day when the sun seems unlikely to ever set. In retrospect, that small mustard seed of a story foreshadowed my driving passion as a journalist—particularly during my 25 years of editorial writing. Reporting on crime and fatal accidents was never something I wanted to do.Wherever and whenever possible, my deepest satisfaction came in furthering the cause of “light.” Especially on behalf of Prince Edward County’s journey of racial healing and reconciliation.

Sunday’s return of Daylight Saving Time (Spring Tour 2017), reminded me of those first few paragraphs that I had composed shortly after joining the newspaper in June of 1979. My gratitude for the blessing of so many years in one community’s newspaper “pulpit” will never cease to flow over the brim. I could never thirst for more out of life.

My years at The Farmville Herald remind me of the time Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph, as the Gospel of John reports. Jesus, tired and thirsty, was sitting by Jacob’s well in the noon sun. He asks a Samaritan woman for a drink from the well. She is amazed that Jesus is speaking to a woman and a Samaritan. But Jesus was always breaking through barriers of segregation—social and spiritual.

Jesus then tells the woman about the living water he can provide. “Those that drink from the water that I will give them will never be thirsty,” Jesus tells her. “The water that I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life,” he adds. This “living water” is still on offer. Anyone who accepts the cup is able to drink from it.

What Jesus offers comes in many forms. One of them, I believe, is when we answer our life’s true “call. Whatever and wherever that may be. Every occupation offers a chance to serve the greater good. Without exception. All we must do is look for those ways that we can further the cause of “light.” The ways that each of us can represent, both figuratively and literally, the return of Daylight Saving Time in someone’s life. The ways that we can bring a day of longest light into their lives and become, in effect, a one-person summer equinox. Even if for just one day.

When we do that, we are able to feel—as Jesus promised—a spring of water gushing up within us, a water that forever quenches our thirst. My years at The Farmville Herald will forever bless me in that way.

But there is something else that proves, for me, the truth of Jesus’ words: the abundance of “light” that others have shone into my own life. The summer equinox that their companionship and love kindled within me.

Any light that I have been blessed to shine through the years has been, and forever shall be, filled with their luminescence. Their “bylines” are all over me.

All That We Can Leave Behind

What would happen if we turned our life upside down because God told us to?

Suppose God said: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you….”

That’s exactly what God did tell Abraham in Genesis.

Abraham’s country, kindred and father’s house were everything to him. His known universe. His life orbited constantly among his kindred, in and out of his father’s house, forever in his own country. His place of comfort, safety and love.

But God told him to leave all of that behind.

Every day of his life, Abraham had awoken in his own country, among his kindred and his father’s house. He worked there. Laughed and cried there. He planted roots so deep that one can hardly imagine the effort required to pull them up and plant them somewhere else. Or, if the roots stayed put, the courage necessary to turn and leave them all behind.

But that is exactly what Abraham did.

Few of us will ever have to endure the total uprooting experienced by Abraham but there are times in our lives when it might have felt as if we’d left what had become our known universe behind. When we move to another community, or another state, when we change jobs, when we marry, when we become mothers and fathers for the first time—and so many other life experiences that are leaps of faith—we are leaving our known universe and journeying to a totally new way of life. In effect, a new country.

Leaps of faith aren’t straightforward journeys because they don’t come with roadmaps. We can’t Google or ask Siri for directions. We leap into the unknown.

Fortunately, however, we are hardly ever asked to make such leaps alone. Lot journeyed with Abraham. I have made most of my life journeys into the unknown with my wife, Kim, just as I have journeyed by her side.

But she has not been my only companion, nor I hers.

As all of us journey from one known universe to another, there may come a time when we question our ability to persevere. There surely must have been occasions when Abraham thought to himself—or spoke aloud—“Okay, God, you told me to leave everything behind: my country, my kindred and my father’s house. I obeyed but now I feel lost. Where are you?”

Asking that question is no sin, nor is it a lack of faith. Asking a question allows God to answer. Asking a question demonstrates faith that God will answer.

The key to everything that happens next on the journey is the direction taken by our eyes after we ask for help. Where do we look? If we look down all that we see is the mud and the rocky ground. But if, as described in Psalm 121, we raise them to the hills—that is, if we incline our heart and soul to a new horizon—then we more clearly feel the presence of God by our side.

When we look with hope through the eyes of God’s promise, dominoes of light spread out into the darkness. We notice something we didn’t sense before: God has been there the whole time.

“… The Lord himself watches over you;” Psalm 121 assures us.
the Lord is your shade at your right hand,
So that the sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night….
The Lord shall watch over your coming out and your coming in,
from this time forth for evermore.”

When we keep faith with God, God is able to keep faith with us. God is able to bless us and, crucially, make us a blessing to others. That was God’s promise to Abraham. That is God’s promise to us. When we make a leap of a faith in response to God’s call, a faithful landing awaits.