“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
It’s time once again for my annual post-Easter meditation. This year, while Pastor Kim was preaching, I thought of—of all things—our dog. For years, Teri, our 11-year-old Australian Cattle Dog mix, would miss us terribly when we were gone. It seemed as if she were sure we had abandoned her. When we returned home, she would greet us joyously, jumping up and down and barking furiously. And we would always say, “See, we didn’t abandon you. We came back again.”
During Kim’s sermon, “An Angel, An Earthquake, and ‘Do Not Be Afraid,’” she talked about the first Easter morning when “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.” (Matt. 28:1b ESV). They, and the disciples, were sure Jesus had abandoned them, that he was gone forever. But when they got to the tomb, an angel said to them, “‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.’” (vs. 5b-6a). So they ran to tell the disciples, and Jesus himself met them and said, “‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.’” (vs. 10b). Later, the disciples gathered on a hillside in Galilee and Jesus appeared to them there and said, “‘I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (vs. 20b). In other words, “I haven’t abandoned you and I never will.”
There have been a number of times in the Bible when people thought God—and later Jesus—had abandoned them. Psalm 22 begins “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Hundreds of years later, Jesus echoed these words on the cross. We can only imagine what David was experiencing that caused him to write these words. We know what Jesus experienced, dying for our sin. Many years after Psalm 22, David or another psalmist would write, “For the Lord will not forsake his people; / he will not abandon his heritage;” (Psa. 94:14 ESV).
One evening, Jesus and the disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee when there was a storm. Jesus was asleep in the stern and the disciples woke him and asked, “‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’” (Mark 4:38b ESV). “Teacher, why did you abandon us?” But, of course, he hadn’t abandoned them. He rebuked the wind and calmed the waves and then he asked, “‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’” (vs. 40b). “Did you think I had abandoned you? Of course not.”
After Lazarus died, his sister, Mary, said to Jesus, “‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’” (John 11:32b ESV). She was saying to him, “If you had not abandoned us, my brother would still be alive.” Jesus was so overcome he wept (vs. 35). He feels our pain today as he felt hers then. He understands our sorrow. And then he answered Mary and the crowd by telling them to “‘Take away the stone.’” (vs. 39a). They opened Lazarus’ tomb and Jesus raised him to life. And someday he will do the same for each of us. He hadn’t abandoned them and he never would, nor will he abandon us.
Even before the resurrection, Jesus told the disciples, “‘Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.’” (John 14:1 ESV). His words echo down through the centuries to us, his latest generation of disciples: “I will not abandon you.”
The words and feelings of these, our spiritual ancestors, mirror our own. We’ve all felt abandoned, we’ve all been certain God had abandoned us. Someone in each of our lives is feeling abandoned right now. Someone thinks God is absent, that love is far away. There will always be times of pain, times of feeling abandoned. It can be hard to see the promise through the pain. But we have a message of truth, a message of comfort, a message of unfailing love: “God will not abandon you.”
“‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.’” (Matt. 28:5b-7 ESV.)
Copyright © 2014 by David Phelps