Winter is gone. Spring has come.

IMG_0025 As I drive down Lakeshore Drive in Birmingham this week it is as if every living thing is in bloom. What appeared dead and dull and bare last week is now shooting forth leaves and blooms this week. The changing of winter to spring has always been my favorite time of the year because there’s a rebirth in nature. The plants that once lay dormant for many months are now standing upright; trees, which showed no sign of activity, now wave their branches clothed with life. It’s a new dawn, a new day, a new season.

 

What I have seen unfold in nature in Birmingham this past week correlates well to what I see happen in the Lent and Easter season. In Lent it is intended that we reflect on the gravity of our sins and the separation from God that our sins bring. For it is these two aspects that Jesus carries with him to the cross and bears with him on the cross. We prepare our hearts as we journey with Jesus in remembrance to Good Friday. It is winter. Death hangs over us.

 

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." -- Romans 3:23

"For the wages of sin is death..." -- Romans 6:23

"But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." -- Romans 5:8

"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." -- Isaiah 53:6

 

But on Palm Sunday the tone begins to change. Seeds of hope sprout forth as Jesus, fulfilling his role as the promised Davidic King and Messiah, comes riding into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey.

 

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." -- Zech. 9:9

 

The people spread out palm branches, and, although they didn't understand the significance of what they were saying, they rightly praised him as King of kings. This triumphal entry and branches serve as signs of his coming victory that “spring” was coming, although on Friday it would seem like the world would forever be in a perpetual winter.

 

And to be sure the deepest, darkest day of winter would come on Friday, when the King of kings, the Son of heaven, would die on a cross. The Son of God, who left all the riches of heaven and the blessed, eternal company of the Father and Spirit, came down, taking on the form and nature of those whom he created, whom had rebelled against him. Those who said they didn’t love him. Yet he still came down, not to show us how to do this life only or how to succeed and become the greatest. He came down to die, to suffer the just punishment of God, so that we, who believe, wouldn’t have to.

 

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." -- 2 Corinthians 5:21

 

What great, great love that God has for us that kept Jesus from calling down angels, from taking himself off the cross and executing judgment on those overseeing his crucifixion, and enabled him to suffer all that he did with grace and submission. It was this incomprehensible love for us that took Jesus to the grave.

 

And there his body lay for three days.

 

But on the morning of the third day, the women were too sad, too heartbroken to have noticed that there was a change in seasons. Yet, God in his loving-kindness sent an angel to meet them at an open grave. Jesus, who was once dead, had now come back to life.

 

This Easter is a reminder for those in Christ and an invitation for those who are from Christ: that in Jesus we have passed by eternal death and have entered into eternal life.

 

Winter is gone. Spring has come.

 

“It is right to praise you, Almighty God, for the acts of love by which you have redeemed us through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. On this day he entered the holy city of Jerusalem in triumph, and was proclaimed as King of kings by those who spread their garments and branches of palm along his way. Let these branches be for us signs of his victory, and grant that we who bear them in his name may ever hail him as our King, and follow him in the way that leads to eternal life; who lives and reigns in glory with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen." (The Book of Common Prayer, Palm Sunday, Collect)

 

 

The God Who Covers Our Shame

TGWCOS

When we sin as Christians, we immediately (should) feel shame.

When I lose my temper with my spouse or child, when I hurt a friend with my words, when I break the rules, or when I lie, what inevitably results is shame. I feel so ashamed I don't know how to face myself let alone God. What will God think of me? Will he still love me? Will he be able to forgive me again or for such a sin as this?

These are thoughts and questions many of us experience in the heat of our shame. How do I approach God? How will God respond? Many times in my shame I want to run away or hide from God. Have you been to that place?

I think a good place to turn in our Bibles to address these questions is to the very beginning. Prior to the Fall, the author of Genesis describes the condition of the first man and woman in the garden as that of innocence and purity. They "were both naked and were not ashamed" (Gen. 2:25) as a result of being in a right relationship with God.

Then some time later the serpent enticed the first couple with his lies and the woman and man fell for it and sinned against God. Because of their sin, they went from being in a state of honor to a state of shame. "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked."

They tried covering up their nakedness, their shame, with some fig leaves, but when God came "walking in the garden in the cool of the day" they still hid themselves even though they were "clothed."

"But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, 'Where are you?' And he said, 'I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.'"

Why was Adam still afraid of being naked if the text just told us he and Eve had made clothes for themselves? There are several possible reasons. Possibly "because I was naked" meant he was now conscious that he was naked. Possibly because his attempt at clothing was poorly done and he still felt ashamed to be naked. Possibly because it signified that he ate the fruit and sinned. I think all three possibilities are very plausible. The point is that when Adam and Eve sinned it caused distrust in their relationship with God that was once full of trust.

But God, after issuing the punishment that was justly deserved, looked upon this first couple whom He had made with compassion and mercy. He saw them in their misery and shame and before sending them away performed an act of mercy. He clothed them. "And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them" (3:21).

God takes their shame and covers it with grace. He replaces their poor attempt at clothes with something better that will cover them, protect them and keep them warm. To be sure, though, the garments -- this act of mercy -- came at a cost; it costed the lives of animals.

The beauty of this account is that it is both historical and universal. The Genesis account tells us the story of our ancestors as well as the story of our own humanity. This story, in addition to being about a particular time in history, is a dramatization of what happens every time we sin.

How often have you hid from the Lord because you were afraid and ashamed over your sin? Our sin breaks a trust that we have with our God and causes us to doubt and fear Him. But what I witness about the character of God from the very beginning proves to be true over and over in Scripture. That is that in our misery and shame God looks down on us with compassion and acts mercifully toward us.

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you have been saved -- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 2:4-7)

When you sin, instead of running away or hiding from God, turn to God in repentance knowing that He is rich in mercy and will look upon you with compassion.

Here is the cool thing. When Adam and Eve left the garden they left with clothes stained with the blood of animals. When we as the people of God reenter the garden we, too, will be clothed with garments made by God. But these garments will be white, and they will have come at a different cost. This time it will not be the cost of an animal, but rather it will have come at a greater cost — the blood of God, the incarnate Son.

"'...For the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure' — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints."

"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law ... the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe."

God's mercy which was evident from the beginning continues throughout time, even to today, until the kingdom of God is fulfilled. So when you sin, when you experience great shame, turn to a God full of compassion and mercy who wants to meet you and cover your shame.