The Line in the Sand

And it is the will of him who sent me that I should not lose any of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them all to life on the last day. ~ John 6:39

As Easter approaches, my mind is awash in many painful stories. I’m aware that “Easter” and “Pain” are not words we often put together, but please be patient with me as I attempt to sort through all of this.

For the past few months I’ve been listening to seasoned fire fighters tell their stories (I recently joined the department) while at the same time I’ve been working as a chaplain alongside local law enforcement. I find myself asking “What does the resurrection of Jesus mean for people who face ungodly things?” Or to put it another way, “Does the celebration of Easter ring hollow in the ears of those faced with life’s deepest pains?”

The work that those in our police and fire services do often calls them into the ugliest situations in our communities. The stories I’ve been hearing in my firefighter’s training reflect this. Firefighters are asked to walk into extreme situations where lives can be on the line, and those situations don’t all end with wins. And in chaplaincy work with the sheriff’s department over the past few years, I’ve witnessed some of the most difficult and traumatic things I can imagine. Just hours before I sat down to write this piece, I spent most of the morning with a mama and daddy who had just lost their baby girl. The grief I witnessed in that home, as these poor parents held their little girl for the last time, was indescribable. But I was impressed with the care and compassion with which the medical examiner and the local police officer did their work.

The stories that these emergency responders can tell aren’t often their own—they belong to you and to your neighbors—but these men and women become carriers of these stories. And listening to them reveals the depth of the pain that exists in our communities. The weight of that pain can seem overwhelming, and coping with it can be difficult—there’s a reason that gallows humor exists—but as we approach Easter, I’m thankful for those who work in those hard places, not least because they remind us that celebration is the farthest thing from many minds.

Some of you know the unspeakable grief of the family I sat with this morning. You’ve experienced the pain of a life-changing diagnosis. You’ve had loved ones taken too quickly. This kind of pain can be horribly destructive—it can tear families apart, it can isolate people from their neighbors, it can rob us of our hope for the future.

So again, “What does the resurrection of Jesus mean for people who face ungodly things?”

The true power of the gospel message is that it speaks loudest into the dark and ugly corners of our lives, the ones marked by death and loss. Easter doesn’t look like a celebration in these places, but it’s no less powerful for that. No, in these places, Easter is simply a line in the sand, declaring to death “This far you shall come and no farther!” In a world that can take so much—when the things and the people most precious to us are ripped from us—the resurrection of Jesus speaks a promise that nothing precious is finally lost, for we go as he goes: from death to life.

Whether Easter in 2017 will be a celebration or a line in the sand for you, the promise that our Lord loses none of what is his, and brings life into death is for you. May it be for you a firm and certain hope. For he is risen. He is risen, indeed.

Pastor Clifton Hanson

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