Grace-givers

Last year, we all celebrated James’ and Tiarna’s engagement at a church beach retreat, exactly where I am now, exactly one year later. Yesterday was their seven-month Wedding anniversary – So yes, we’ve had a big year.

Last time we were here, I wrote:

James came down the stairs (of another unit) at exactly the same moment that I’d determined to give each one of my family members a hug.

I went to him, arms outstretched.

‘But I can’t hug you back!’ he said, as if I didn’t notice that his arms were stuffed full of the weekend’s rubbish, headed for the bin.

‘That’s what grace is all about. Isn’t it?’ I teased. ‘When you receive and you can’t give back’.

I continued down to the beach.

Grey sky. Storm clouds. Crashing waves. I noted the contrast between the heat of yesterday and the refreshing cool of this morning.

Into my heart flowed ‘God of wonders, beyond our galaxy, You are holy. The universe declares your majesty…You are holy’.

The song continued in my heart and I joined in praise and worship for a brief moment bathing in glory…until a friendly dog came up to me, licked my shoe and then my hand, and splashed me with my second shower for the morning. I laughed, and the poor dog looked up and ran off towards its owners, one of whom was dressed similarly to me.

My walk continued – and so did my contemplation of the ordinariness of our lives in comparison with God’s glory.

But God gently reminded me of my hug with James and of how we often welcome new members of the family. Most often He gives us babies into our family—little ones who can’t coordinate anything yet, can’t do anything to receive our love, our service, our all.

God gives us others who can’t give back, to teach us grace–to gift us with the joy of being grace-givers, and thereby to learn something of the love He has for us.

 

*Song by Third Day

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Love Easter (and Les Mis)

‘I love Easter.’
‘Why’s that?’
‘Chocolate!’ he replied as he rubbed his hands together with glee.
‘Is that all?’
Then came the reply I guess I was seeking — though I would have preferred it to come without prompting.

‘It’s about Jesus coming back to life on Easter Sunday.’

‘Ah, yes! That’s the answer I wanted’, I thought to myself, patting myself on the back for having achieved such a good result.
Then I stopped to think about the memories of Easter we had in our home.

One of our sons was baptised on Easter Sunday. That was an exciting weekend, with friends staying overnight and a chocolate-egg hunt for seven children all over the house and garden. We were still finding chocolate eggs in concealed places up to 18 months later.

I remembered our family staying on a farm with my godmother and her husband for Easter when I was little. Their home still had a pump for water in the kitchen, and a pit-toilet, real pigs in a real pigsty — and a blackout while Mum was in the bath! You don’t forget an Easter like that in a hurry.

But I stopped to think about it a bit longer.

I thought about how Lent this year has almost become a non-event for our family. We frequently miss Ash Wednesday because of sporting-team commitments. And we haven’t been to many of the studies in the church on Wednesday evenings.

Yet years ago we were the ones throwing stones at other families when we had little ones and were always there — looking upon the failings of others with a sense of self-righteousness.
This week, I watched my two favourite Easter movies. Chocolat and  Les Misérables – the non-musical movie, starring Liam Neeson.

The movie is slow. It is long. But it’s compelling — so compelling that the first time I watched it, it got me out of bed at 4:30 in the morning to see the ending.

To tell a long story in a few words, and hopefully with no spoilers, the story is about a convict who makes good.

The main character Jean Valjean is a convict who, having been paroled after years of hard labour, turns up at a priest’s home. Valjean is fed and given a place to sleep. But in the middle of the night he steals some silver candlesticks from the priest’s home. Valjean flees but is soon caught by gendarmes who bring him back to the priest, expecting to have the priest charge Valjean with theft.

But instead, the priest demonstrates mercy and grace by telling the gendarmes that the candlesticks were a gift. The priest then admonishes Valjean that he had forgotten the rest of it, and gives him even more silver.

The story continues years later in a different town, where Valjean is living with a different identity. He has changed his life so much that the people of the town, not knowing about his past, elect him to be their mayor.

He is recognised by a gendarme (played by Geoffrey Rush) who had been a guard where Valjean was imprisoned. This gendarme makes it his life’s mission and obsession to destroy Valjean.

But Valjean responds in the same way that the priest responded to him — with love displayed through grace and mercy.

This movie wins five stars from me. Wow!

And why do I rate it so highly? It was breath-taking. Neeson and Rush are superb.

But, more significantly, it gives me the sense that I am observing the story of Easter, and it draws me into observing Lent.

I want so much to identify with the grace and mercy of Valjean and the priest. But more often than not, I find that I am probably more like the self-righteous gendarme — judging others by laws and expectations, by their past actions or by dumb things they still choose to do, instead of looking at them through eyes of love and forgiveness.

I find myself hating the gendarme; but I also recognise myself in him.

Like the movie Chocolat, Les Misérables is full of contrast: good versus evil, light versus darkness, love versus hate.

Both have vigilant law-abiding citizens using the law to clean up their societies. Both demonstrate that love is much more powerful than the law.

In both movies love triumphs — like at Easter.
Yet what do we read in our papers? Why do we lose our hope? What was the last ‘good news’ headline we read in the paper or watched on the television?

Apparently blood sells. So does evil. So does fear. And it sells only because we buy it. Funny that.

Why do we buy papers that tell us about terrible things? Is it because of our compassion, or our safety concerns? Or is it that we, too, become the self-righteous gendarmes and measure our own righteousness against the failures of others? Perhaps, having other people’s fallen lives and misdemeanours in print gives us an opportunity to forget about the logs in our own eyes.

I remember one particular Easter. I’d just had an altercation with a friend. I could not understand where she was coming from — until it hit me that she had never realised that Easter was for her. She reacted violently against Jesus’ words, ‘Don’t weep for me; weep for yourselves!’

Then the realisation hit me. My friend could not understand Easter because she’d never recognised her need for forgiveness: Surely nothing she’d ever done warranted anybody dying for her. She possibly remains convinced of that.

In contrast, I remember being with another friend who came to the realisation that it didn’t matter what she’d ever done, Christ’s death on the cross covered it all. Her response was pure joy — an absolute life-changing experience for her. (And for me, too, having only recently learnt a quick ‘formula’ for sharing the gospel, which was the instrument God used in that particular circumstance to bring a life to its fullest.)

Every Easter I come to a new realisation, a new reality. This year it is that the log in my eye is pretty darn big!

Thank God, though, that he uses the logs in our eyes, and our misdemeanours, to help us to realise that Easter is for us. For me! Jesus died for me! His love overcame the death prescribed for me. His love was, and is, triumphant over death.
And that is why I love Easter.

 

Originally published as ‘I love Easter (and Les Mis)’ in The Lutheran, 2009, April edition.