Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"The thing with Feathers"

April 1, 2009

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a man who was much too young to die. His two, beautiful young children walked down the aisle of the church holding their mother’s hands, crying. I cried quietly with them. And as we sang and prayed and heard about the accomplished and devoted life of the father, the children cried audibly the tears of children – honest, forthright, unassuming and free. As I tried to muffle my own weeping and maintain adult composure, I found myself being envious of my little wise friends. They innocently shared their broken hearts with all of us and it was like a soothing balm. As I sat there, I prayed that God would minister to their tender hearts as they gave to us something very dear – love expressed freely and with emotion, love that walked down the aisle and participated fully, walking out, clinging to hope represented in the hands of their grief-stricken mother.

What would we do if we could not cling to hope? Emily Dickinson said,
“Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul
and sings the tune without the words
and never stops at all.”

Hope does not need words. Hope is active and busy. Hope surprises us and strengthens us. Hope makes us laugh when we think we might never even smile again. Hope lifts us and cheers us on. Hope allows rest, and then challenges us to move on. Hope wakes us each morning and reassures our time for sleep. Hope always points to a future.

If hope can be defined metaphorically as a thing with feathers, then the birds outside my window become even more near and dear to my heart. For they have represented this mystery of hope. They have perched outside my window and in my soul and have sung a million songs to me through sorrow and death. But it is not the bird that I worship, but the Creator of the bird. I was at a retreat recently where the leader reminded us that God created the heavens and our earth with streams and forests and fish and birds. Then He created humans for a relationship with Him and all of his creation. And when life does not make sense, one only has to look out the window and rediscover God’s plan was and is very good. It is where our only hope abounds as life crumbles apart.

In the Christian church, this Sunday is Palm or Passion Sunday where Jesus makes his entry into Jerusalem. But looking beyond the triumphal entry, we witness a theme of mockery and death. Almost all of Jesus’ followers abandoned him and he was left to be beaten and tortured and ridiculed to death. And the gospel of Mark records the words of Jesus that have new meaning for me, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Those words were the same words we read in some of the great psalms of lament. They question God, but the despair is a hopeful prayer offered faithfully. Jesus did not want to die. He pleaded like we do for life, not death. But he trusted in his father and obediently walked through the events of the week to the cross, knowing that through his death, he would provide hope for the world – His world – to be fully restored. He gave his life for us. Jesus paid the sin debt of mankind and opened up the door to eternity with God. That is the good news of the Cross of Christ. God is the hope that “perches in our soul” and sings to us on the darkest of days. There is life after death. We have hope.

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