New Easter Clothes...
I haven’t had a “new Easter outfit” for
decades. The last one I remember
was in my 20’s—and I sewed it—a navy blue dress and jacket. I hadn’t even thought about anything
new for this year’s Easter…and then some friends came to stay with me for the
week-end. They flew in from
Uganda, where they’re involved in significant ministries with the most
vulnerable populations of Africa.
They live and work in difficult situations, and I was thankful that I
could provide them with comfortable and lovely accommodation (see previous
journal about the “new home” that God gave me.) My friends needed good R & R—and their first priority
was shopping! We headed into
Amsterdam on Saturday and I left them off on a shopping street while I had a
meeting about an upcoming conference where I’ll be speaking. I finished my meeting early, and was
wandering around a department store, waiting for them, when I found a lovely
matching aqua sweater and shirt—on sale!
I decided I really did need a new spring outfit, and bought it. After the 3 of us met up, we headed
downstairs, and walking through the accessories department I found the perfect
scarf for the new sweater set…but decided it was too expensive, and that I had
a necklace at home which would work just fine. (Hang in there with me, men...there is a point to this!)
On Easter Sunday morning, as the 3 of us were
getting ready for church, I was thinking that the scarf would have made the
outfit perfect, and was regretting my decision to not get it. Just at that moment, my friends came
into my room, handed me a bag, and said, “Happy Easter!” At some point during our shopping, they
had diverted my attention, and had bought the scarf! Tears came to my eyes at their kindness and generosity, the
wonderful surprise! I thanked God
for friends such as these! The
scarf, originally given up, will now not just be a piece of clothing, but a
memory of friendship and caring.
And so we all went to Easter Sunday services
in new spring clothes. For the
first time in weeks, it was gloriously sunny here in Holland—and as we walked
into the church while the brass quintet played triumphantly, my joy was
overwhelming. The cross in front
of the church, which had been shrouded in black, was now covered in
flowers. It, too, was wearing “new
clothes”! The pipe organ played a
lively introduction to “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today”, and I so desperately
wanted to sing those words, but all I could do was cry. Jesus has risen! Hopelessness has been overcome! We celebrate life’s greatest surprise!
And then the pastor started to preach his
sermon. It was focused on the
cross, and helped us to understand that not only does the cross represent a New
Life, but also a Resurrected Life.
Because of the cross, we can look squarely at ugliness and pain and
disappointment—not deny them, or turn away from them—but straight at them, and
know that there can be Hope, there can be Resurrection—a New and Surprising
outcome that only God can bring about .
As I sat there in the pew, I thought about 3
days before: I was in a Thai sex
club, giving out beautiful little Easter gifts, with messages of Jesus’ Hope. Sitting in front of me was an
11-year-old child, the daughter of one of the women. Her mother works here in Holland and the daughter lives with
her grandmother in Thailand, but had come during the Thai summer holidays to
visit. She sat in the waiting
room, with all the women, bored, playing a game on an iPad, while her mother
waited for customers. I am
dismayed thinking about what this vulnerable child sees and hears. I’m terrified that prostitution in this
family will continue through the generations. I feel helpless, and hopeless.
Helplessness and hopelessness are human
conditions that give us 2 choices:
ignore the suffering around us that bring them on; or face the suffering
and pain, trusting that Jesus is with us.
We are not alone.
Jesus sent me to be with that mother and
daughter that day, to keep them in my prayers and endeavor to stay in contact with them. Jesus continues to send many people into places of darkness,
like that Thai brothel, not with promises of glorious outcome, but with confidence
that he goes with us. And the
experience of the cross teaches me that ultimately, Jesus wins!
The desolation of death and then the victory
of resurrection: both were
necessary. My friends and I
continued to celebrate on Easter Sunday—a sumptuous brunch in a lovely
restaurant and Henri Nouwen videos at home. We enjoyed each other’s company, and then on Monday,
returned to our work with vulnerable and desperate people. This Easter, I not only have new
clothes—but ever so much better—I celebrate a re-newed cloak of strength to continue looking sadness in the face
with more confidence than ever of Jesus’ resurrection presence and activity.
Thank you for your support and encouragement
to me as we continue the journey together!