Colors of Life: Ash Wednesday. Maundy Thursday. Good Friday. Easter.

In Mark Helprin’s short story “First Russian Summer,” an eighty-year old man living in a home for the aged is reflecting on his life, recalling a summer visit to his grandfather’s timber forest in Russia. “The greatness of the world he thought is not in anything man has done but in what God has done. And this made him remember a long time ago. It was a simple memory, but he loved it, and recalling it he felt the color of his life.” (My thanks to Pastor Steve Menshenfriend of Dundern, Saskatchewan, Canada for reminding me of this stunning Helprin short story).

Elie Wiesel wrote “Night” so we would never forget the inhumanities and horrors of the Holocaust–so we would remember. Two thousand years earlier another Jew memorialized a meal of wine and bread with the same purpose in mind. Jesus signaled the significance of his impending death during the Passover meal. We are told “and he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” In the communion meal we remember as Alexander Schmemann says, “Jesus was the perfect Eucharist; He offered himself in total obedience, love and thanksgiving to God. God was His very life. And He gave this perfect and Eucharistic life to us. In Him God became our life.”

In Helprin’s story the “remembering” results in the old man “recalling the COLOR of his life.”

As I look back on my life and ask what is my life’s color, I realize that some of my deepest memories are painful ones; my brother Timmy’s brain damage at birth, a divorce, an unjust career disruption, personal failures as a husband and father. Over time every life becomes a collection of memories, bright and dark–what we do with those memories makes all the difference.

Memories of Jesus’ life begin with bright lights, sparks, pierced darkness angelic announcements of great joy celebrated each Christmas. By way of contrast, the Easter season commences with our descent into the darkness beginning with “Ash Wednesday” through Maundy Thursday until Good Friday.

I write these words in the staggeringly hopeless days between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Metaphorically Jesus observant followers are trapped inside the cold, dark, dank tomb. To be in the moment with Jesus requires grim remembering. The disciples are scattered, Peter is descending in a downward spiral of deep despondency; we share their pathos, hopelessness, fear–without Jesus we will carry the load of unrelenting dark memories locked in their dark tomb forever.

On Easter Sunday the story’s color changes to brightness. The stone is rolled away, we hear reports of Jesus leaving the tomb, offering us bright hopes as he ascends to prepare a place for us. Yet to be honest, I still cling to my personal dark memories. When I do I realize that I am not allowing the color of Jesus story to become my own. Some of my friends talk about the healing of memories and I think this is one of God’s greatest unclaimed gifts. The progression of Jesus’ story from brightness at birth, through the dark affects of human fallenness to Jesus ultimate victory is the template for our own.

Realists understand that we remember the whole of Jesus story-the drama of this weekend requires light preceded by dark, but he is a fool who clings to the dark of Jesus’ story at the expense of the bright. Remembered properly the dominant goodness and richness of Jesus’ story mutes the darkness as light forces darkness to recede into the background. As we remember Jesus broken body and shed blood we should realize Jesus offers us an opportunity to change the color of our life story.

The Prophet Isaiah said if the suffering Messiah,

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement
that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Jesus story is a glorious mix of colors and as we allow his story to become our own, the color of our story will become richer and our memories brighter. Jesus took upon himself the darkness of my story: my brother Timmy’s brain damage at birth, a divorce, an unjust career disruption, personal failures as a husband and father. In absorbing the darkness of my story, their memories should recede against the backdrop of my brighter story of God’s love and grace, which draw out the rich tones of the goodness in my life.

May we join Jesus in very aspect of his story, dying to self that we might experience newness of life.

In Jesus, God intends to restore all that unraveled in the Fall and to make our lives glow with the spiritual, intellectual, relational, moral, creative capacities quickened by the indwelling presence of the risen Lord.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in April 15, 2006 by | No Comments »

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