Where Have All The Students Gone?

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This song has been in my head most of the afternoon.  Not sure why this song popped in my head on this day…but, then, as I looked out my office window I began to think about the emptiness of our campus.  With classes out and students on break, it is eerily quiet in the student center, on the quad and even around town.

I have occasionally heard ‘townies’ (as we used to call them when I was in school and I guess that includes me, now) complain about the students.  I have experienced some of those frustrations, too, for sure.  There were times during move-in and move-out weekends that I sighed with disgust as I navigated traffic.  My wife and I, while living in Pontiac, once made the mistake of going to Station 220 on a parent’s weekend and found ourselves crammed into a noisy dining room.  And, yes, I have felt disdain when I find nowhere to park or students walking on a street or through a parking lot in a way that leaves it impassable.

Yet, the experience of being on campus is predominately a good experience, for me.  Walking across the quad takes me back to my own days of going to class (or not going, as the case might have been).  When I go to lunch at the Bone Student Center and see the students and feel the energy of the place, it energizes me.  When I meet with students over in the Campus Café at Heartland I am amazed by the depth of community that exists there.  Most importantly, being on these campuses makes me feel younger than I really am.

I suspect that having a major University and Community College has had a profound affect on this community in ways we will never even know.  I think, though, it keeps us young and vital (and thinking) in ways we wouldn’t be otherwise.  First United Methodist Church, I am very sure, is affected.  Perhaps we are affected, because of our proximity, even more than most of the surrounding community.   For this pastor, I am most impressed by the possibilities that exist here on campus in communications, programs, and worship: for which most United Methodist Churches would be envious.

I am thrilled to live in Normal, to be in a community with Heartland, Illinois State, and nearby to Illinois Wesleyan (in Bloomington).  I think that the students and faculty (and wider community) have enriched me already and I look forward to the ministry to come!  So, today, as I look outside my window and listen to a Peter, Paul and Mary song playing on a loop in my head,  I wonder with longing, “where have all the students gone?”

blessings,

New Seasons of Life
Yes, I’m a church nerd, but I always look forward to the season of Easter.  I look forward to a great Easter Sunday morning at church, yes,  but, then, I enjoy reveling in the ‘afterglow’ of the next few weeks.  I spend those weeks looking for signs of new life, reflecting on the experience of the cross, and expecting resurrection, not just because of old stories found in the Bible, but I expect signs of resurrection in the world around me.  I suppose signs of new life are always present, but I get excited about the season of Easter because it helps me to pay attention to the amazing things God is doing in this world.  This year, though, Easter wasn’t the season I expected it to be.
This year, I found myself tired as I came to Easter because I was doing a mandated (by the United Methodist Church) internship at BroMenn Regional Medical Center along with my full-time job.  Because of my exhaustion, I didn’t really take in Easter the way I ought to have, perhaps.  More devastating, however, was the abrupt end to our pregnancy after Carrie and I suffered a miscarriage.  A season that was supposed to draw my attention to new life became a season of loss and exhaustion.
Today, as I look toward Pentecost (this Sunday) and a new church season, I realize something, suddenly:  Even though I had a difficult season…there is hope.  I have an opportunity to let go of the troubled weeks of Eastertide and celebrate the hope of a new season in my own life.
You see, professionally, as I plan worship, I will set aside the themes and scriptures of Easter and I will prepare for a new season of different scriptures, songs, and worship themes.  I guess, in my personal life, I would do well to set aside the difficulties of these past weeks and months, in a similar way, and allow myself to focus on a new season and find hope for better weeks ahead!
For me, the hope that comes in a new season is:
  • the possibility of getting pregnant, again;
  • welcoming a new pastor to my church and fostering a new friendship;
  • renewing my own body and spirit this summer with exercise, right eating, and spiritual disciplines;
  • working on my relationship with my wife that the experience of this season would help us to deepen our relationship for the next.
As we leave the Easter season, we don’t leave behind the message of Christ or hope for the future.  Likewise, as we move from one season of life to the next we should never lose sight the experiences we have had, yet we have an opportunity to look for new life and experience resurrection.  Over these next weeks, I pray that we will continue to experience Christ’s resurrection and I pray that it will draw our attention to the resurrection all around us and help us to find renewal in our own lives!
blessings,
Moments of Panic

Scripture: Luke 2:41-52 (CEB)

“…but the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t know it. Supposing that he was among their band of travelers, they journeyed on for a full day while looking for him among their family and friends. When they didn’t find Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple.”  – Luke 2:43b-46

About a year ago I had a ‘moment of panic.’  I had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor, I was working with two families experiencing loss, and the Senior Pastor at my church was about to leave on vacation for a month.  When I got to Christmas Eve at my church in Pontiac and as I shook hands and greeted people I began to feel overwhelmed.  What was truly overwhelming was the way in which person-after-person cocked their heads to say, “are you okay?”

Each thing on its own would have been fine, but this perfect storm hit that night.  During that service as I sat up front, when my responsibilities were concluded and my mind drifted a bit, it all washed over me.  I knew I was going to fall apart right in front of the entire church.  I didn’t.  I made it to the back steps of the church instead of greeting people and I fell completely apart crying. I sobbed, alone, in the dark for the longest time.  I collapsed in a ‘moment of panic.’

Have you ever had a moment of panic?  It is different for everyone, but I suspect most of us have felt a moment like that.  It could be a missing child, a confrontation, a call from a creditor when you have no money to pay, legal trouble, abuse, job loss, divorce…  I don’t know what you have experienced (or maybe you are experiencing), but I suspect this is a pretty universal feeling.

In the scripture above,  Mary must have found herself in a moment of panic.  I can almost see it and hear it:  She is in the midst of a loud parade heading home.  There she stands with voices, laughter, and rejoicing as her community heads home from the festival. Can you imagine how the world must have become muted and far-off when she had her moment of panic? Can you imagine how her stomach must have twisted and fallen when she realized her son was not in this large parade of safety and happiness?

In a moment of panic: Mary & Joseph must have been frantic and must have hurried back to Jerusalem.  They found the boy, feeling at home, in the temple challenging others and being challenged, himself.  Yet, the story doesn’t end when the young Jesus is found. The story is about more than a young boy being physically found by his parents.

This story is about a messiah who took Mary and Joseph’s moment of panic and turned it into something else. They worried for their little boy’s well-being, but the Christ child saw it differently:  He asks, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” They had a moment of panic, but young Jesus turned it into a moment of clarity.

I wonder, though, it you’ll allow me to go off-point for a moment.  I want to talk about where this all happened.  It’s the end of a festival.  When Mary & Joseph return the temple must have been nearly empty compared to a day earlier.  For us, on the week after Christmas it isn’t much different: Christmas eve and Christmas Day have come and gone; Warm feelings were felt as we sang ‘silent night’ on xmas eve; and then everyone returns home.  The temple…the church…is empty.

The good news is that our God can take a quiet temple and turn it into a place of growth and faith.  For us, today, this text reminds us that when we face a moment of panic, pain, grief, trouble, strife…when the world becomes muted and joy seems distant…we are to face that panic and return to the temple.

We are to return to our community of faith and when we come to the otherside of our trouble, Christ may just help us see the world differently.  Our panic and trouble can become a growing faith: through scripture, challenging questions, the people around us, and, of course, God’s Holy Spirit.

Christ takes our human worries and pain and asks us to look at the world from another perspective.  We are shaken by our pain & worry, but God helps us to see more clearly.

For me on that Christmas Eve that filled me with so much anxiety? I don’t know if I made it about Christ the way I should have.  I don’t know what I did right or what I did wrong.  And am sure that my life is no more valuable than others who didn’t survive when confronted by illness.

But I know with certainty that I grew and, as I look back, I see that others grew out of my ‘moment of panic’.  I also know that my community of faith and my God: loved me, challenged me, prayed with me, and, ultimately, changed me.

I do know that on the other side of my own “moment of panic” I see the world differently and, I hope that,  I love more fully.  Oh, I’m not perfect – not even close.  I’m not even sure if I’m better than I was.  God doesn’t promise that, but in my moment of panic and struggle: God & my community helped me through that terrible time.  They helped me to look back with clarity and insight.

When you find yourself struggling, I want you to know that church should be a place to struggle.  When you feel lost or broken, I want you to know that you can be found.  When the world has taken something from you, or you feel loss: know that you can gain something from a community of people who live out their faith and, of course, from your God.

In your moments of panic and trouble.  Go with haste to your true home.  Find a church that cares and allows you room to struggle and grow.  I know you would enjoy mine

Making Facebook Work This Year.

I’ve been contemplating the efficacy of facebook for a church (or other organization).  I’d like to take some time this new year to reflect on what seems to work and what doesn’t.

What you see above doesn’t work.  It gives information, you’re right.  It shows what we were doing, at the time, certainly.  There is nothing wrong with sharing information and announcements on facebook, but that can’t be the totality of it…in fact i’m not convinced that facebook is even particularly good at working like a calendar or bulletin, but I think there are ways to do that…I’ll get to that in another post.   What I want to say today: facebook is meant to connect with people on a relational level.  There should seldom be a post that doesn’t share a photo, video or link to an interesting story.

But, just because you have a link or a photo doesn’t mean its good.  Some churches augment their ‘announcement feed’ with links to denominational news stories or, worse yet, stock photos**.  If that is the extent of what we do, then we are doomed.

I want to suggest that developing a successful church facebook page comes with continually developing original content.  There is no other way to do it effectively…

Photos:  Pick up a digital camera or the nearest smart phone and take photos.  Not blurry snapshots and not all of them can be from the back of the room.  Get in close to people and show happy expressions.  OH, and please, get a variety of people.

Get Permission:  It should go without saying, but please take the time to ask permission from adults to use their photos and make a permission slip for photo an video a part of your sunday school registration so that you can easily know which parents are cool with you using their children’s photos and which ones don’t.  Don’t post photos where children’s faces are clearly visible without permission (the exception, for me, is public performances where the photo or video is of a large group from a distance)!

Video:  It can be as simple as an iphone or as complicated as a professional camcorder, but there are middle-of-the-road options for most churches.  Get a digital camcorder with an external mic plug (there are some inexpensive ones).  With an adapter or two from radio shack you can plug the church microphones into your camera and have decent sound if you do an interview.  But, again, don’t just put up anything.  Just because it is video, doesn’t mean it is good.  Just panning across a crowd will cause yawns to form and people will not click your next video.  Sure, pan the crowd and get videos from behind children and adults so that you have some b-roll that you can use without faces…but get some close up videos and pull people out of the room and ask them to tell what is happening; why they chose to come; and what they like about the event / the church.  Remember, we are not reporting just WHAT happened, but who and how it makes us feel.  and then… most computers have a basic video editing program.  open it up and put together a short video.  For the most part (for shots around the church or short interviews): don’t go over 2-3 minutes, in fact, 30 seconds – 1 minute will give you the best results in my experience.

Recommendations:  There is a very under-used section on facebook pages called recommendations.  For a company it is used for customers to ‘recommend’ the company or the product they sell: “I love [restaurant]’s food because it makes me think of home,” “Everytime I walk into this [business] it makes me think of the day I got engaged.”  Companies use this section to connect.  Churches need to start asking people to think about what they love about the church and post it there.  It is called evangelism and this is a very simple yet powerful way to share our feelings about our church in a visible way.  Oh, and don’t be afraid to remove unhelpful recommendations or comments that get put there… and seek out a variety of voices for this section: get your youth and college students involved here.

Insights:  There are a million tutorials for facebook and the most accurate are right in the facebook help section…  spend some time learning about insights.  They are powerful tools that help you understand how your page is being used.  Very basically, the more that people like, share and comment about a post or recommendation…the more others are going to see your church and know that your organization is an active force in the community (that is “Reach”)

Comment, Share, and LIKE:  Talk with your church staff or leaders to set an expectation that they would spend some time on the page and encourage them to regularly like, comment and share posts.  Now, here is the thing:  discourage people from liking everything.  Why?  My friends are likely to stop paying attention if something from my church comes up on their feed 5 times a day from me, but when staff and church leaders see something that actually connects with them – they should be sharing it.  When a person sees a variety of postings from your church that many of their facebook friends are connecting with, they may actually pay attention!

Oh, and if you are the page admin, don’t be afraid to share items to other people’s timelines.  For instance, when we had a Cantata I put up a video ‘as the church’ and then shared it to the choir director’s timeline.  If it is an item that especially needs attention, “Like” it yourself or comment on it (as yourself, not the page).

Voice: I can not stress this one enough…  Use the right voice on facebook pages!  There is a blue bar at the very top of the page, if you are the admin.  It will look something like this:

For most posts for major events, youtube videos, etc. I make sure that I am posting, commenting and like as “Normal First UMC,” but the staff and I have been trying to upload some photos short video clips and comments using our own voices…  (just go to the blue bar and click to change to your own “voice”).  In the new facebook timeline they appear in a seperate section that gets less notice on the page, but they don’t have to stay there!  Go to the “recent posts by others” click on “see more” and you’ll see all the personal posts that have gone up.  Click on the X.  It doesn’t delete it (although you could) but it gives you options and one of those options is “allow on page.”  That moves the post by someone else to the main part of the page.  It gives a more personal face to the page and to the church.

Hiding:  One last thing, this season we did advent devotional.  Each day I wanted to put up the most recent devotional as a note, but, I didn’t want 31 notes clogging up the page and making it look…well…boring.  So I put up the next day’s note each evening and “hid” yesterday’s note.  The note wasn’t deleted and people could still comment on them and they were still showing up in people’s feeds, but there weren’t 31 notes in a row on the timeline by now, either.  This is critical to understand: what you see on your page timeline is not the totality of your church’s presence.  Facebook is a complicated mix of timeline, notifications, newsfeeds and ads.  Posts exist even when they are hidden from your timeline and old items can be made new, simply by having people go back and like them (or re-sharing an old photo or video).

A successful page will have annoucements (although usually in the form of “events”), sure, but will have a focus on relationship building and content that is personal (not stock photos or, too often, denomination news links).  If you’d like to see some of things I’m talking about in action, feel free to stop by www.facebook.com/normalfirst.  Our page is far from perfect, but we are moving in the right direction.  I think that the staff are making great strides in how we take our church online and aim to ‘connect’ not just inform.

I hope your new year on facebook will be fruitful for you and your church!

**Hey, we occasionally use stock photos…but I suggest there is usually something better to use, it just takes more effort.

A Weekend of Wonder

Contemporary Worship this week at Normal First United Methodist Church





Here is my message from this past weekend at Normal First United Methodist Church.  If you live in the Bloomington-Normal area or are ever passing through on a Sunday morning, I hope you will join us for worship.  I generally preach and lead worship at the Contemporary 11:10 am worship service in the fellowship hall, but we have 3 worship services on Saturday evening and Sunday morning to meet your needs!


Scripture 
Psalm 130

Sunday’s Message
Not exactly as preached, but you get the idea, at least…

This psalm has turned out to be timeless.  It has appealed to people throughout time:  Calvin called it a Pauline Psalm because, he said, it contained the truth of the gospels.  John Wesley heard this psalm sung earlier in the day and it prepared him for an evening on Aldersgate street when his heart would be strangely warmed.

I think this psalm is timeless because everyone can relate to these words.  Despair is a universal experience, isn’t it?

After my mother was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma -an ear tumor- and had brain surgery to remove it about a year ago:  I immediately realized that I had similar symptoms.  So, last July, I went to my doctor.  That was a long wait in the waiting room. They called in an audiologist, then an Ear Nose Throat Surgeon…intense and long waiting.

They wanted only to ‘rule out’ an acoustic neuroma.  So we thought we were coming to some resolution when we scheduled with BroMenn for an MRI.  It turned out that I didn’t have one of those…but they found a totally unrelated brain tumor in my cerebellum

It was four o’clock on a friday and I found out there was a mass in my brain.  That weekend our imaginations went wild.  My wife and I fell into the depths of waiting and waiting can cause despair.  That weekend was the longest wait of our lives.

I waited until January for a plan of action and to schedule surgery. I waited until February for my surgery.  After my surgery I thought I had made it through…but a spinal fluid leak brought me back to St. Louis for another operation in April.  It turned out that recovery is just another kind of waiting!

It wasn’t just a brain tumor that left me waiting during this past year.  Because my church knew they could no longer afford two pastors, I’ve known I was leaving Pontiac since last fall.  If there has been a theme for my year, it is waiting and despair.

Even once it was announced that I would be coming to First United Methodist Church, I found myself excited, but still on medical leave and still waiting.

Like so many people who have come before me, I identify with the Psalmist.  A psalmist who was in the depths and waiting… and waiting… and waiting, “more than the night watch waits for morning.”

The psalmist reminds us of the importance of faith that a new day will come.  The psalmist reminds us that no matter how far we are lost into the depths; no matter how alone we feel, no matter how much has been placed upon us…  no matter what has set us back…   hope is the greatest ally we have.  That is to say:  leaning on God, and having faith that a new morning will come is the greatest comfort we can experience.

I imagine each person here has a time when they were in the depths and waiting.  This church has been waiting and in transition these past few months and, I imagine, there is anxiety as you wait for a new pastor.

I have faith that my appointment at Normal First United Methodist Church is the new morning I have been waiting for during this long hard period ‘in the depths.’  I have faith that the people of First Church, the community of Bloomington-Normal and the campus community will bring light into my world and strengthen my faith!

And I hope, that after months of transition and months of waiting for a new associate, that I will brighten up your world, support you in your faith, and join in your disciple-making work here in this community.

What A Week!
The beautiful stained glass at my new church in Normal.

This past week has been an incredible journey and I want to thank all of the people of Pontiac and Normal who have made this such a positive and faith-filled transition!

The people of Pontiac shared with me during a farewell reception and the thoughtful cards, gifts, and well-wishing touched me and ensured that we left Pontiac feeling cared-for!  Meanwhile, the people of Normal have welcomed us with graciousness that we could not have expected.  For instance, two members of the Staff-Parish relations committee (my liaisons with the congregation) showed up on move-in day with a large laundry basket filled with house-warming gifts:  things we would need as we started unpacking.  They also presented us with gift cards for Steak-N-Shake and Avanti’s.  How thoughtful!  The Avanti’s card paid for our pizza that night, because we had no dishes unpacked nor energy for cooking!

Fast forward to this past weekend.  I had a funeral on Saturday morning and preached at a worship service on Saturday night and two worship services on Sunday morning.  I made it though the weekend in pretty good shape, but had a moment during the 9 am worship service communion when fatigue hit me.  I had to hold on to the wall and rail to finish, but once I sat down and got to rest, I was fine again.

There are moments like that which remind me that I’m still recovering from surgeries, but, mostly, I don’t feel any different than before my medical problems began.  I just have to watch for my moments of stress, weakness or fatigue and know when to slow down or rest…

Mostly, this week has been a joy.  I feel as though I have experienced love from one congregation and great hospitality and welcome from another.  Who could ask for more than that?

blessings to you,

Parents, ugh!

Parents are wonderful.  Okay.  I know, I know, if you are a teenager it may not seem like it, right?  I remember that feeling.  As a teen, it is terrible when your parents show up…or don’t show up…look at you wrong…or don’t…or, well, when they speak.  Ugh, how could they be so weird and goofy?

If you are a teenager, am I on the right track?

Let me tell you, at 32 years old I have a different take.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t always have a great relationship with my parents.  Sometimes they get on my nerves and sometimes I get on their last nerve, but, especially this week, I’m SOOO glad they are coming to help me.

First, let me tell you what next week is going to bring for my wife and me.  I have some work and then early in the week we have to go pick up a whole trailer full of stuff in St. Louis and move it to Normal.  Then, on Thursday the movers come (so the house has to be packed and cleaned), We move in and have a half day to unpack and then I have to leave for a wedding rehearsal (fri) and wedding (sat) that I am co-officiating in Pittsfield… then I have to be back Saturday night so I can be rested for my Farewell Sunday at Pontiac… and then Sunday afternoon I start as a chaplain for church camp at East Bay in Hudson, IL.

So I’m thrilled that my mother-in-law is here right now cleaning and helping us pack; my mother and father are coming next week to help us move and then my mother-in-law will be back to stay with carrie and help her pack while I’m at the wedding and camp.

When I was younger I was embarrassed and stressed out by my parents (I still have my moments :-), but as an adult I see blessings in their presence.  It turned out that having parents was actually an asset, who would’ve known?  I am so glad for my parents and my in-laws and all that they do for Carrie and me.  Whether you are young or old, I hope you will, this week, take a moment to think of how your parents are a blessing for your life.  If you are a teenager it may not be easy at first, but there are things your parents do that make your life better, I imagine.  Think really hard about it and you may see that they are a blessing for you!

Title image found at:  http://conflictremedy.com/finding-new-solutions-for-parent-teen-conflict/

Today’s Scripture: 1 John 1:1-2:2

We will look more closely at just a few of these verses:

2 The life was revealed, and we have seen, and we testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. 3 What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy can be complete.

Think about it for just a moment. It would not have been very difficult to believe in Christ just after the resurrection. Oh, it might have been difficult to believe, i suppose, but it had just happened! I mean, if there was a time when it was easier to believe, that would have been the time, right? If we read the gospel of John we find that Christ has appeared to the disciples. It seems assured that Christ has, indeed, risen from the dead!

But for the next few generations of Christians it must have been increasingly difficult. There were not any gospels for a while and stories were handed down, but Christ wasn’t there to be seen or touched.

The problem that becomes apparent in this scripture is that people were mixing up the message of Jesus Christ and so 1 John attempts to put the message of Christ back into order. “We have seen,” and “we testify…to you.” Those who knew something about the life and death of Jesus are writing these words to ensure future generations of Christians will understand the message of Christ.

Resurrection and New Life is not just for one time or one group of people. The message of New Life in Christ is for all times and all peoples. This letter is written to us that we might know Jesus’ love. Christ overcame death and so might we!

Resurrection & New Life: A Good Friday Homily
image found at:  http://poeticmindstate.com/tag/poems/


Rev. Mike Rayson, a United Methodist pastor here in Illinois is giving this homily today at Westminster Abbey in London as a guest preacher.  He has agreed to share his message here as part of my guest blog series on Resurrection and New Life!  (Thanks Mike!)  You can find out more about Mike, his wife, and their ministry by clicking here:  http://stpaulumcbrighton.blogspot.com/


A Good Friday Homily by Rev. Mike Rayson

Grace and peace from the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, our Bishop Gregory Palmer, and from the good people of St Paul’s congregation  in Brighton Illinois, where I am currently appointed to serve together with my wife, the Reverend Amy Rayson, and our children Laura and Oliver.
Since Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, it has become for us the bearer of good news and of bad.  Serving a vibrant and growing congregation means that the phone in my home rings several times each day.  A church member who wants a friendly chat… A troubled soul seeking guidance… A local needing assistance with food… and sometimes news of illness, hospital admission, and even death.
It was the ringing of a phone one Monday morning in May 2007 that brought such news to my family.  I’m sorry… your son, 11 year old Samuel, has been tragically killed.  It was the beginning of a lifelong journey of pain for me, a truly Psalm 23 experience of moving through the valley of the shadow of death. 
They say a clergyperson shouldn’t officiate at the funeral of a family member… but for me, as Sam’s dad, I knew I must.  He was my son, and as I had served him in his life, so to I would serve him in his death. 
The most harrowing and traumatic moment of my whole life happened that day.  Not when I gave the eulogy… led the gathered faithful in prayer… or read from Matthew’s gospel of the one sheep who wandered away… but when I, as pastor and as daddy placed my hands upon the body of my child and recited the words…
Almighty God, into your hands we commend your son, my son, Samuel Thomas William Rayson.  Born March 28th 1996 in Port Lincoln South Australia, died May 14th 2007 in Geneseo, Illinois.  This body we commit to the flames.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust 
Nothing ever prepares a parent to bear the death of their child.  We use the word widow for one who loses a partner… orphan for those who have lost their parents… yet our English language does not provide a word for a parent who must live and grieve for their child.
Nothing could have prepared Mary, the Mother of Jesus, for this.  No broad shouldered support she received from the disciple John at the foot of the cross could have made the events of that terrible day in Jerusalem any easier to bear, as she watched her son put to death at the hands of a blind regime who wanted to hold fast to their religious power and authority.
In the heat of the afternoon on a hill of shame, a mother watched.  Whilst the world cursed and crucified the babe she had nursed at her breast, a mother grieved.  As the boy who had played at the feet of his mom was tortured and terrorized, scorned and shamed, despised and denied – the light that shone in a mothers proud eyes was extinguished, leaving in its place a wounded and suffering woman.
In the death of Christ, God Almighty embraced everything Mary experienced – the worst that we could ever experience; throwing his arms around our lost-ness, our shame, our sin, our alienation, and our pain… all the while whispering a simple word…
No… No… NO…
For this son of man, sent by God, truly God, came to seek and to save the lost, to embrace the darkness with the light of life… to redeem the tears of a woman whose heart had shattered at the vision of her son’s death.  ‘No’ cried God – this was not how it was meant to be for her, or for us.
In the words of theologian Dr. C Baxter Kruger, “there on the cross, he penetrated the last stronghold of darkness.  There he walked into the utter depths of our alienation.  There the intolerable No!, shouted by God the Father at the Fall of Adam, found its true fulfillment in Jesus’ Yes!  “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit,” as he took his final step into Adam’s disaster.  Jesus died–and the Fall of Adam died with him”.
As a Dad, grieving for a little boy, my tears have truly fallen… leaning on the arms of her son’s beloved disciple, the tears of Mary, the mother of God must have fallen… and I know your tears too have fallen in the presence of death as you have encountered it.
For it is the thief says Jesus, who comes only to steal and kill and destroy;yet it is in the cross, underscored by what C.S Lewis’ referred to as ‘the deeper magic’, that Jesus has gathered back the tears the thief has stolen from us, and proclaimed that we are made for something beyond than the cold hands of death.  Something more than mere extinction or annihilation.  Something above the hands of time.  We are made for life and life more abundantly.
And so it is we wait… silently, painfully, expectantly… for that Sunday bloom of sheer grace and liberating life to rain again upon our broken and weary souls.  For as sure as the sun will rise on the dawn of tomorrow and as certain as the daffodils bloom each February and March, so death will NOT have the last word. 
Not for Mary, not for me, and most assuredly not for anyone who trusts in the one who died for us all.