April 11, 2009
“Shhhh, they’re coming! Everybody be quiet.”
Quickly we all scrambled to our hiding places waiting for the pivotal moment. The party had been planned for weeks, a 50th birthday celebration for a close friend of ours. Dozens of expectant revelers, eager for a good laugh and a chance to honor a loved one, had gathered at the palatial home of one of her many friends. The invitations had come via stealth emails from the birthday girl’s conniving husband. “Be careful not to let her know about this,” he wrote. “It’s a surprise!” To avoid tipping her off as to our presence we had all parked a few miles away and were taken to the party location in a van pool. The guest of honor and her husband, under the pretense of coming for a quiet, intimate dinner engagement, were to show up about half an hour after we had all arrived.
Finally the moment had come. The reluctant fifty-year-old arrived in front of the house wearily dragging her feet up the walkway, burdened with life and not at all thrilled to be reaching such a significant milestone. She could not have imagined what was waiting for her. The doorbell rang and a houseful of secret guests tried valiantly to suppress their giggles. The door opened and the birthday girl walked into the waiting ambush. “SUPRISE!!!”
The whole house trembled like it had just been hit by a violent earthquake. Shouts came from every direction followed by a stampede of people rushing to the entryway to congratulate the guest of honor. Our friend was dumbfounded. I’ll never forget the look of utter shock on her face. Disbelief gave way to amazement which turned into tears of joy. She was overwhelmed that we had gone to such an extent to show how much we cared. Suddenly, turning 50 wasn’t such a bad deal. It must have been especially sweet to realize she had so many friends who were willing to walk through this trial with her.
The pre-dawn darkness hung like a shroud around a small group of women as they wound their way through the streets of the sleeping city toward a lonely cemetery just outside the city walls. On their heads they carried heavy jars of spices. In their hearts they carried an even heavier weight of grief. The spices were meant to anoint the dead, but nothing could sweeten the smell of their loss. Three days earlier they had watched as their fondest dreams, their highest hopes, and their greatest joys were nailed to a cross, ripped apart, and destroyed. Prevented by Sabbath restrictions from doing so earlier, they came now to perform a final act of love, to prepare the body of their Lord for burial.
With eyes red and swollen from weeping and with hearts aching from unimaginable sorrow they wearily made their way, step after painful step, toward the tomb. They wondered aloud if the guards would move the stone and allow them entrance to fulfill their gruesome task. Despite the likelihood of being turned away they were determined to try. They also wondered silently how they could even go on living after so profound a loss. Why bother to continue breathing when hope itself had died? But none of them could have imagined what was waiting for them.
Surrounding the tomb, hiding behind their spiritual veils, a group of the heavenly host was waiting for the pivotal moment. “Shhhh, they’re coming! Everybody be quiet.” This encounter had been planned for ages. It would be a celebration of life that would change the course of history and forever destroy the fear of the grave. All of heaven was watching, eager to see the moment when a new faith would be born, when the power of sin would be crushed, when death would be dethroned and a gateway opened to eternal life.
Finally, after centuries of planning and waiting, the moment had arrived. The small group of unsuspecting women was approaching the tomb. The secret guests hiding in the cemetery tried valiantly to suppress their giggles. Suddenly the signal flashed from the throne room of heaven. Death had been defeated; victory was achieved; the Son was alive! A violent earthquake shook the ground, the huge stone that had been placed in front of the tomb rolled away, and the guards shook with fear and became like dead men.
“SUPRISE!!!” “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples…” – Matthew 28:6-7.
Don’t you wish you could have been there to see the expressions on the faces of these women? I’m sure they were all dumbfounded. Perhaps disbelief gave way to amazement which turned into tears of joy. I can imagine that the jars of spices came crashing to the ground as they ran back down the path to the city. Death would not be anointed today. Joy had returned; hope itself had been resurrected. The burden had been lifted from their heads as well as their hearts. I suspect they were all overwhelmed that God had gone to such an extent to show how much He cared for them, indeed for all mankind.
Perhaps you are wearily winding your way through a period of darkness in your life, your mind burdened with despair, your heart filled with loss. Maybe you have just watched your fondest dreams, your highest hopes, and your greatest joys ripped apart and destroyed. Is there a giant stone that stands between you and your goals that has you wondering how you can go on? Has hope itself died for you?
At the risk of giving away a secret I’d like to let you in on something. You may not realize it now but you are walking into a surprise party, one that God has been planning for some time now. And you are the honoree! “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” – Jeremiah 29:11. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” – 1Corinthians 2:9.
To be sure, there is a surprise party being prepared for the day when we finally complete our earthly sojourn and step into glory. But there are likely other joyous celebrations waiting for us along the journey as well, just up the road apiece, concealed from our immediate view, hidden behind the stone of impossibility and those who would in vain guard the power of God from reaching our need. Praise the Lord; we serve a God who delights in surprising His children with grace! “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” – Romans 8:31-32.
What’s the message? Don’t stop on your way to the tomb. Don’t give up before you reach the glorious resolution to your dilemma. No matter how impossible the situation, no matter how large the stone, no matter how fierce the guards, no matter how burdened your footsteps, keep moving forward. You are not alone in your despair. Heaven is watching, and for all you know there may be a surprise party waiting for you around the next bend. Is that the sound of giggling I hear? Anybody feel an earthquake?
Bill, a child of God expecting a party