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Recently, while on a drive from Muscatine to the Quad Cities, I began to smell something like smoke. Seeing no other car in sight, I couldn’t blame it on someone else’s old muffler. Becoming concerned, I checked my mirrors, making sure that nothing was wrong with my car. No sight of anything. But, as I continued my drive, all of a sudden, everything made sense. Up ahead, I began to see a group of people burning the ditches.
Many of us have likely seen it before, and many of us have likely seen the swaths of blackened earth that those controlled fires leave behind. On the surface, everything looks dead. Barren. Exposed. But any naturalist would tell you loud and clear that for prairie lands to grow, the old must occasionally be burned. In short, death is necessary for new life.
In the Christian church, we have embarked on one of the most sacred weeks of the church’s calendar, Holy Week. This past Sunday, Christians around the world waved palm branches, remembering Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem as a different kind of king. But, by the end of this week, the crowds’ cries will turn against this beloved king, Jesus, as he is condemned to death.
One would think that with the death of Jesus, everything was over. If there was any hope, it seemed to have vanished as Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Abandoned, alone, and suffering on the cross, where was God then? In the hours of darkness, pain, and death, where was God then? It might be easy to say that in that moment, God was absent. But, knowing the end of the story — that in three days Jesus would be raised to new life — we can dare to trust that God was not only present in that moment, but at work bringing life out of death.
Each and every year, the Christian church remembers this sacred story, the ground of our faith. Some years, it might sound like great news, bringing excitement and jubilation as we shout out our “alleluias” with gusto. But, some years, this story of Christ’s resurrection might feel empty, or feel disconnected from the reality of our lives or our world. Because, all around, there is darkness, despair, and brokenness, isn’t there? It’s not just swaths of land that appear to be dead. The blackness of our souls, our communities, and our world might be too much to bear at times. But, even in the midst of death, we can dare to trust that God is at work bringing about a new beginning, something we might not have even imagined.
So, as you gather with friends and family this Easter weekend, I invite you to look around you, and look within yourself. Be real with yourself and with what you see around you. But even as you see signs of things that are barren, dead, or exposed, choose to take heart. Because the truth that we proclaim on Easter Sunday is not only the new life of Jesus; it is also the new life that has begun for ourselves and for the whole world. Death is real, but death is not the last word. Because in Christ, God is making all things new.

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