The Power of the Cross by Pat Cirrincione

As a child, Easter and its true meaning didn’t mean much to me, except that the Easter Bunny—a bit like Santa Claus—was not going to come to our house until I fell asleep. In the morning came the joy of looking for the Easter eggs that the bunny had hidden as my siblings and I were fast asleep, dreaming of Easter goodies.  We not only found eggs filled with colorful jelly beans, but also our very own beautiful Easter baskets filled with small gifts and the piece de resistance, a chocolate Easter bunny!

Lest we think the bunny and his basket were all-important, there was always the new Easter outfit. A new dress, new white shoes and a pretty Easter hat to wear and show off at church. Yes, it was all about showing off your new clothes and checking out what so and so was wearing.

Then I learned about the Cross.

It began with Jesus, born to a virgin named Mary. It continued with stories of his life as a son of a lowly carpenter named Joseph, his speaking in the synagogue at age 12; then to the wedding feast at Cana when he turned water into the best wine. It became even more extraordinary when he was baptized in the Jordan River by his cousin John, and began his three-year ministry of proclaiming the gospel and his Father’s message of love.  And it all ended with his crucifixion.

For me, no longer was Easter all about a bunny, but a lamb, who would be sacrificed for our sins. The Passion’s principle player was Jesus. I had no idea, not being raised in a Christian household. I never understood the power of the cross.

Hebrews 13:11 speaks of the Levitical sin and guilt offerings; of a lamb without blemish. John 19:17 shows us that Jesus loved his Father, and us, through the agony of rejection, torture and disgrace. He bore our sins on the cross to save us from the penalty we deserve. It showed that we are infinitely valued and loved, and that the main ending point is not death, it is love. That Jesus laid down his life to rescue us from sin and the wrath of God. Jesus came to be killed because he loves you and me. His dying showed his magnitude to us, and made his name clear to all. He suffered for our freedom.

So, what is your primary God given duty? If Jesus stood before Pilate and the religious leaders today would you be one that shouted for his crucifixion? Whom would you follow? The way, the truth and the life, or would you be as weak as Pilate and give him over to die?

When I first heard the song, “The Power of the Cross,” it made me—and still makes me—want to crumble to my knees because Christ became sin for us.

Oh, to see the dawn of the darkest day. Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men, torn and beaten then nailed to a cross of wood.
This the power of the cross. Christ became sin for us.
Took the blame, bore the wrath. We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see the pain written on Your face, bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Every bitter thought, every evil deed crowning your blood-stained brow.
This the power of the cross. Christ became sin for us.
Took the blame, bore the wrath. We stand forgiven at the cross.

Now the day-light flees, now the ground beneath quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two, dead are raised to life.
“FINISHED!” the victory cry.
This the power of the cross. Christ became sin for us.
Took the blame, bore the wrath. We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to see my name written in the wounds, for through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death, life is mine to live, won through Your selfless love!
This the power of the cross. Son of God, slain for us.
WHAT A LOVE, WHAT A COST. WE STAND FORGIVEN AT THE CROSS.

Again, I wonder what is our primary end in life? To be caught up in the Easter Bunny parade of self, or in Jesus, the Passion Lamb. The victory cry of “it is finished” is victory for all believers, and he alone should be exalted above all else. This the power of the Cross.

Love, Lust and the Cross in Between, poetry by Alyssa Carlburg

Both words are four letters and they start with the same,

but their motives and desires are revealed in their names.

One longs for the physical, the temporal, the finite,

the other to serve and share the Divine Light.

 

Lust is a predator, a lion, a snake,

refusing to give, seeking only to take.

It devours and consumes like a hungry flame,

blazing and burning to hide its shame.

Relentless and cruel, it serves only the self,

ignoring the other like a dust-covered shelf.

But, the worst by far, is its separation from the Lord,

as it submits, body and mind, to the Devil he abhors.

 

Love is a healer, a lamb, a dove,

striving only to shine the Light from Above.

It builds and supports like a tireless mother,

silent and patient as it serves the other.

Undying and enduring, it unceasingly gives,

relishing in the eternal life that it lives.

And, the best is its union with the Lord, faithfully true,

Given through the Cross, and the curtain torn in two.

 

The contrast is vivid, terrifying, and stark.

We can soar to the light, or drown in the dark.

The choice that we make reveals our desires:

To be slaves for the Lord, or burn in Hell’s fire.

So, let this be our prayer through each trial and test,

to give all to our God, and abandon the rest.

Rock of My Salvation by Cheryce Berg

Winter wanes and spring struggles. My faith mirrors the hyacinths outside my front door, straining up through cold stones looking for sunlight.

Easter catches me by surprise and I admit my heart is not ready to celebrate Holy Week.

I stop by to visit my friends Pete and June, newly returned from their first trip to Israel. Maybe what they saw there will enliven my weary heart. Surely walking where Jesus walked brings new life to Easter, even when you’ve celebrated it for almost ninety years, as they have.

I want to be refreshed.

Pete talks about the land. “But the land, you wonder how they can live in a land like that. Basically, you see rock and sand. . . You see trees by the thousands--fruit, bananas, figs, olives, apples, pears, everything you can think of. You would think the land cannot produce but it does. The land is an amazing land. I don’t know how it could produce the way it does.”

He keeps circling back to the land—and the rock which makes it. “It’s a beautiful country in a way. In another way, it’s probably not a beautiful country at all because there's so much rock and sand, but they seem to thrive on it so well. Amazing. Just amazing.”

And again, Pete remarks on the rock and land. “We would see sheep up in the mountains, going up there, with almost no grass.  But they would work what little there was.”

It sounds parched. Not refreshing at all. Not what I was envisioning.

Yet, in an upside down way, it is. I start thinking about those trees and sheep Pete and June describe, thriving in the rocky desert.

I decide to look and see what God does with rocks and stones in the Bible. 

I immediately see that water bursts forth from the rock for the Israelites at Horeb. Moses is hidden in the cleft of a rock as God’s glory passes by. God’s law is carved on tablets of stone. Stones adorn the priestly garments. Stones are set up as remembrance of God’s mighty hand and built into altars. David’s stone kills the Philistine giant. Solomon’s temple is constructed of huge, costly stones. God is called the rock, often combined with words such as salvation, fortress and refuge.

God promises a rebellious Israel that he will take their heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh.

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is described as the cornerstone. Stubborn Peter is the rock on which Jesus declares he will build his church.

And with Easter this week, I can’t ignore Jesus’ death and resurrection. The rocks are split at Jesus’ last cry. He is buried in a tomb carved out of rock and sealed with a stone. And it is this stone the angel rolls away, to reveal a resurrected Savior.

What message do I read in all these biblical connections to a land of rock and stone? I see a God who takes what is not alive and gives it life-giving purpose. He reveals glory, gives law, adorns with beauty, commands worship and remembrance, destroys the enemy, saves, protects and hides—all with rock and stone. He replaces hearts of stone with flesh, builds his church on rock, splits open rocks at his death.

He breaks free from a tomb of rock sealed with stone to be my Risen Savior.

Pete and June’s description of a land of rock and stone helps me see that God takes what is barren and breathes life into it. He chose Israel as the promised land, the place where he would send his Son, knowing its terrain.

God didn’t reject Israel because it was barren; he redeemed it in its barrenness.

Just like he did, and does, with me. 

My faith is refreshed at last. God has redeemed my heart of stone with Jesus’ work on the cross. I will worship him this Easter, the Rock of my Salvation.

Saturation Point by Lorraine Triggs

Easter egg dying is a weeklong project in our house. We begin dying eggs the Saturday before Palm Sunday and end the Saturday before Easter.

No Paas egg dye for us; instead we (or at least my husband and two good friends) create works of art with Ukrainian egg dyes, styluses and beeswax. Dipping a stylus heated by the flame of a candle into beeswax, we can make lines, circles and all kinds of varied colors. As the week goes on, dark colors cover up the lighter ones. Since each dye color saturates the egg, the trick is to remember the sequence of dyes—from light to dark—as you apply the beeswax to your egg to create its design.

The final dye color in which we dip our beeswax covered egg is black. The entire egg, with its beeswax designs (squiggles in my case) and layers of color, is completely saturated with the darkest dye. The egg starts white and by Good Friday, ends black.

The fun comes when we melt the wax over low heat, and carefully wipe it off the egg to reveal the design under the black dye and wax.

I've gone to plenty of Palm Sunday (and Good Friday and Easter) services with my hands stained from the dye. The dye eventually fades, but on Palm Sunday, no matter how loud I shout, "Hosanna," my heart remains saturated and stained with sin.

And none of my good works or self-efforts can wipe off the stain. I need another color, a crimson stain, to cover my sin. I can't even cover it myself. And it needs to soak into my heart, mind and soul to create a new life in me, a workmanship created in Christ Jesus.

Now that's worth shouting hosanna as I look to a cross outside the city.

A House Full of Cares by Virginia Hughes

A hoarder lurks between the layers of despair. My niece, Kay, was a hoarder. She hoarded enough things to fill an entire house. She knew the love of God and family. We cared about her. We aren't sure why things got so bad for her. It is certainly beyond us now, and the sad cliché, “too little too late,” rattles in my head.

When Kay stops inviting family members or friends into her house, it is disquieting. Too many times she uses the same excuses:

It’s too messy, I'm too busy, not today.
There are repairs making a mess everywhere.
I’m making props for the church play and stuff is everywhere.
The carpet is being replaced and stuff is everywhere,

Meanwhile, Kay continues to collect other people's junk. Boxes of discards find a home in her house too many times. Old furniture and several boxes of rubbish fill the garage after Grandma moves to the senior home. No doubt the items may work as props in an upcoming play. Nothing wrong with re-purposing things. She hunts down deals and uses coupons like other frugal people. The stacking continues.

Kay catches a bad cold that settles into a deep cough, but insists she is doing okay. Months pass, and she is still coughing. Brows furrow and uneasy feelings grow among friends and family as Kay promises to see a doctor between coughs.

One day, Kay’s mother drives her home and asks to use the bathroom. Kay refuses, exits the car and rushes inside the house. Her mother is left outdoors knocking and calling out to no avail. This story compels me to think that I would knock the door down. I'm a battering ram kind of mother, no door is getting between me and my stubborn child. But this mother let her adult daughter be. She did not beat the door down. None of us beat the door down later either.

Kay is a grown woman. It's her house, and she can keep it as she chooses, but she is hiding something in there. So what, if she likes to collect too many things? Whose business is it that she’s a pack rat? Not ones to force one’s way in, siblings had stopped asking to come inside her home. Kay joins the family gatherings at local restaurants or other relatives’ homes.  None of her four siblings nor her mom enter the house while time passes. Life takes over. The issue, “What is going on in your house?” stews on a dismal back burner and Kay is still struggling with that terrible cough.

Then one day, after work, Kay faints in the parking lot by her car and a coworker calls an ambulance. Kay never regains consciousness and dies a few days later in the hospital. The shock of her sudden death reverberates throughout the family with a crashing jagged rhythm. We gather to mourn her in the church. It is all so sudden; unexpected. We are haunted by the loss of her.

Opening Kay’s front door reveals the enormous piles of stuff filling all the space in the house.  A clear path is not obvious beyond the towers and stacks. The bedroom is impassable as are the hallways. Each room is filled to overflowing. Blanket and pillow reveal her bed, the living room sofa, spilling over with old pizza boxes and used paper plates. Numerous shopping bags have items with tags still on them. Every room has piles of broken junk mixed with new things. The family pulls the house apart, carrying most of it to a rented dumpster while processing their own layers of anger and regret.

Most perplexing are the boxes full of unwrapped gifts in groups of five. Name tags on packages identify her three sisters, one brother and her mom. Under the gift wrapping there are flat screen TVs, dated computers never opened, various tech related gifts, clothing, and household goods. Thousands of dollars spent on gifts she never actually gives them. Her brother remembers a discussion about an item he unwraps. Apparently, she buys items in groups of five not wanting to leave out any of them.  Kay is generous. There are several sets of these gifts. Why has she never given the things to her loved ones? What is she waiting for?

Her personal anxieties manifest in throwing no thing away as it may be needed later. Professionals write volumes about the anxiety-ridden complexity a hoarder lives within. There is professional treatment available which is met with varying degrees of success.

Keeping gifts instead of giving them stems from worrying too much that a chosen gift is not suitable. Better deliberate some more and keep the item for another time. Keeping all sorts of things becomes important. Eventually nothing is thrown out. Trash is saved as one loses track of value, and worries increase that something of value may fall into the trash. Better save it all. The inward and outward life is a swirl of confusion. Holding onto things brings a sense of comfort while it strangles the holder.

The never opened gifts, such as technology items bought years ago don't appear to have been plugged in or used. They are outdated and not useful now. In this case, thieves do not break in and steal, but moth and rust do corrupt, and mice in various stages abound throughout the mess.

It takes several weeks to clean out the house. If you've never watched television shows like “Hoarders,” or “Buried Alive,” don't start now. The problem is repulsive and heartbreaking. The whole scene clashes with one’s righteous desire for cleanliness and order. It is painful to witness a hoarder falling apart as a piece of trash is taken from the hoard. Even if children are suffering, marriages ending, and lives are obviously breaking beyond belief, anxiety over losing a shred of the hoard overwhelms the hoarder. The line between what is useful and what is trash has long been blurred beyond recognition. “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” is all depressing rubble made of wood, hay and stubble.

The family is stricken that no one knows how desperate things are for Kay until now. There is never a rock ‘em sock ‘em intervention to fix her as seen on TV. We can't help but blame ourselves for not fixing her; even knowing she didn't want help when offers were made. We believe she loves the Lord, but where does this hideous mess fit into that? A lethal combo this: anxiety, mental illness and desperation. We can't help but feel we let her down. We weren't there for her in the right way. She has such a void to fill, it can never be filled with things which pile up to sicken and enslave her. They are part of the lie belonging to the Prince of Lies.

Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes. And you are your sister’s keeper and your niece’s and your neighbor’s keeper too. I face it. There are times when I am doing a lousy job of it. I can't do everything, but I can better care. We wish we had broken through the front door so we could at least say, “Remember that day we cared so much that we broke down Kay’s door?”

After several rounds of frustration and many dumpsters later, the weeks pass. The family feels distraught and relieved as voices echo throughout the empty house now free of all the clutter. Amidst hugs and tearful promises to stay in touch, the metal FOR SALE sign remains to rattle in the vacant front yard.

The true end of the story is hope waiting patiently for love at the end of our weak passage. In the midst of human weakness, love breaks through. Love breaks through death to surround Kay with the eternal care for which she longs. She believes in Jesus. Therein lies hope enough for all of us. Enough grace to quiet a rattling care.

Before Cares Are Cast--poetry by Virginia Hughes

If I am loved with an
everlasting love,
it is finished.
And so am I,
if the best that I can
offer is myself.

Doubt blinks
focus into blur.
Worry counts care, 
better formed in prayer.

Not for striving,
climbing, falling.
Not to answer,
am I pleasing you each day?

But to simply know the
One who loves me,
Unborn yet purchased
by precious blood.
How well I am loved,
how well.

Know it.
Know it completely.
Know it every day.

Remembered
before I forget, 

Found
before I seek,

Quenched
before I thirst,

Calmed
before I quake,

Soothed
before I ache,

Healed
before I break.

For love has caught
my tears that fall,
before I cast my cares.
Before, the throne of grace above,
True love has caught it all.

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)

Cast all your cares upon him and he will sustain you. He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. Psalm 55:22 (NIV)