Saturday, April 25, 2020

Everything is Beautiful

Photo by r Նարդուհի Էքիզեան-Մարկոսեան 2019

One of my favorite songs in the musical “A Chorus Line” is called “Everything Is Beautiful at the Ballet.” In this song, one of the dancers explains how going to see the ballet as a child allowed her to escape from hard times and abusive situations at home into a fantasy world of sugar-plum fairies where the heroine always found her Prince Charming. Dancing then became her life’s passion and dream, so that she could share this beauty with others. 

I was blessed to first discover the beauty and creative outlet of dancing as a young child, and to continue expressing myself through this unique art form, in which the dancer herself is the artistic instrument. One of the many joys of dancing is that it demands complete focus, especially Theatre Arts partnership dancing with overhead lifts that my husband and I enjoy, for to lose focus could mean serious injury for one or both of us. 

And while we’re concentrating on perfecting a particular lift, there is no mental, emotional or physical energy to waste on worrying about coronavirus or anything else that might be troubling us. With God’s empowerment, the end result (although never a reached destination; always a work in progress) is a fluid series of moves that reflects an emotion or idea conveyed by the lyrics, typically a Christian theme in dances that we choreograph. 

Yet the “Chorus Line” song also reminds me that the process leading to the beautiful ballet is often fraught with pain. My husband and I have at times worked through bouts of back, knee and shoulder injury; plantar fasciitis; and recovery from a heart condition or pneumonia. Each of these stressors required unique adaptations of our bodies and training to accommodate the movements we could perform without further injuring ourselves, but what we learned in the process often improved our dancing. 

Even as a young ballet dancer I remember battling bruised toenails from dancing en pointe, particularly in a vigorous, athletic ballet piece demanding repeated jumping and landing on the tip of one toe. Before performances, the wardrobe mistress would pour wintergreen oil on my purple toenail to numb the pain. But once I was on stage, the adrenaline and sheer exhilaration of dancing made everything beautiful once more, and I was blissfully unaware of the throbbing until the dance was over. 

Although I was then not yet saved by trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), I still somehow understood that suffering can have a higher purpose. This was fully epitomized In Christ’s supreme agony on the cross, required to pay the sin debt of all mankind so that sinful man could be reconciled to Holy God (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ephesians 2:16). 

He was marred beyond recognition, so that all would recoil from His frightful appearance. Yet had He not been willing to subject Himself to that ordeal, we would never experience the eternal beauty His salvation brings (Isaiah 53). 

In far lesser degrees, God allows His children to go through various trials (Romans 8:28) to strengthen their faith in and dependence on Him (Romans 5:1-5); to give us experience and compassion to help others going through similar trials (2 Corinthians 1:4-6); and to mold us into His image (Philippians 3:10). My daily prayer is that God is using the coronavirus pandemic to accomplish these ends in His children, as well as to lead the unsaved to trust Christ as their Lord and Savior

The media focus on all that is ugly about the coronavirus pandemic, and there is plenty of that – sickness, death, unemployment, isolation, global financial collapse. Health care workers and others on the front lines describe their new normal as a “war zone” or “nightmare” in which they battle constantly to save lives while endangering their own. 

Yet there is an unexpected beauty in many of the consequences of the pandemic. Many in isolation now have more time to get alone with God, pray, study His Word, and to engage in quality time with family with whom they are sheltering in place. Many are restoring their homes and dinner tables to living artworks where they can share God’s blessings with their family and thank Him for His abundant love, mercy and grace. 

Although some try to profit financially or politically from the widespread misery, others step up to the challenge, helping those in need by donating money and supplies, praying, and sending messages of encouragement and hope. Businesses and churches have shut down, but so have drug cartels and gang wars in hard-hit cities. 

Another prayer for these perilous times is that we would all gain a new-found appreciation for the many God-given blessings we so often take for granted, including the privilege of congregating together to hear God’s Word, to worship Him, and to uplift one another (Hebrews 10:25). 

The plague and pestilence we now face, as well as global reports of famine, storms, wars, rumors of wars, and false prophets all remind us that we are in the End Times (Matthew 24). No man knows the day or the hour that the Lord shall return to Rapture His children to ultimate and eternal beauty, joy, and peace (1 Corinthians 15:51-54), but we know that it is one day closer today than it was yesterday (Matthew 24:36). 

As the apostle Paul wrote under Holy Spirit inspiration, we are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; and perplexed, but not in despair, for Christ has transformed our fate from the curse of sin and death to eternal glory (2 Corinthians 4:8-18). Praise the Lord, He has made everything beautiful in its time! (Ecclesiastes 3:11). 

Through faith in Him, we may be sorrowful in this ugly world, but He will give us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. He will plant us as trees of His righteousness, to His glory!  (Isaiah 61:3)

© 2020 Laurie Collett



Saturday, April 18, 2020

Don't Touch Me!

 In a phone conversation this morning, a friend told me that she was going through "hug withdrawal" because of social distancing related to coronavirus. As a "hugger" myself, I know how she feels -- virtual or phone encounters are a poor substitute for the body of Christ assembling together (Hebrews 10:29), greeting one another with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16).

Yet Scripture tells us that there is a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing (Ecclesiastes 3:5), in the present situation the latter, out of love to protect one another from potentially lethal infection. Although the circumstance were totally different, the command to refrain from embracing reminded me of when Jesus Christ in His glorified body told Mary Magdalene "Don't touch me!" The post below originally appeared on this blog in 2014:

After Christ’s resurrection, why did He tell Mary Magdalene not to touch Him when He appeared to her at the empty tomb? This seems to contradict His instructions to Thomas and the other disciples shortly thereafter, when He told them to “handle” Him and to feel His side.

John 20:17 Jesus saith unto [Mary], Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
…27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 

It seems that in both these appearances, Christ was in His glorified resurrection body, and not a disembodied Spirit. Mary did not recognize Him (v. 14) until He called her name (v. 16), but there must not have been anything ghost-like about His appearance, as she assumed He was the gardener and asked Him questions about where they had taken her Lord (v. 15). 

Some suggest that this was a gender issue – that it was not appropriate for Mary to touch the risen Christ, whereas Thomas and the apostles were permitted to do so. But during His earthly ministry, Jesus did not rebuke the sick woman who touched the hem of His garment for healing (Luke 8:43-48), nor did He prohibit Mary from anointing His head and feet with oil and drying His feet with her hair (Luke 7:37-39; Matthew 26:7-13). According to social standards of the time, Mary’s lavish physical acts of worship would have bordered on scandalous, but He did not deny her this intimate contact. He knew that her motive was not fleshly lust, but pure adoration of her Lord.

Clearly His glorified resurrection body was different from the physical body He inhabited during His time on earth, but would that alone have prevented contact? He told His apostles to “handle” Him to see that He was made of flesh and bone (but not blood; Luke 24:39-40), and He ate in that body (Luke 24:39-40; John 21:15). Yet He was able suddenly to appear and to vanish, apparently instantaneously passing through solid walls (Luke 24:31,36; John 20:19). 

Jesus in His risen body told Thomas to thrust his finger into His nail-scarred hands and his hand into His pierced side. The other apostles had already seen these wounds and believed Jesus had risen (John 20:20), but Thomas demanded a tactile experience (John 20:25), which the Lord did not deny him. 

At first reading of John 20:17, it might seem that between Christ’s appearances to Mary, and then to Thomas and the others, He ascended to His Father. If that is the case, it might be that Jesus had to present Himself to the Father to verify His completed work on the cross (John 19:30; Hebrews 2:14-15), and He had to remain pure of earthly contamination until then. This does not seem sensible to me, as even stepping on the ground might be a form of contamination – particularly the ground around a tomb, which would be unclean by Mosaic Law (Leviticus 10:10; Numbers 19:11,14,16). 

To me, it makes more sense that as His physical body perished, His Spirit went immediately into the hands of the Father (Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46) and was in Paradise that same day (Luke 23:43). Three days later, as foretold by the prophets and by Himself, He rose from the dead and appeared to His followers in His glorified resurrection body (Luke 24:7,21,46, 1 Corinthians 15:4; etc.). 

Scripture tells us that Christ ascended into Heaven 40 days later (Acts 1:2-11), being observed by the 11 remaining apostles and by angels. “I ascend” in John 20:17 therefore seems not to mean “I am at this moment completing the act of ascension,” but rather, “I am in the process of ascending, or about to ascend, which will not be completed until 40 days later.” 

Yet something important and wonderful had clearly changed since Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead on the third day, as He told Mary to tell the news not to His “apostles,” or “disciples,” or even His “friends,” (John 15:13) but rather to His “brethren!” (Matthew 28:10; John 20:17) He was their Lord and Master (Matthew 10:24-25; John 13:13-14), but because He had now paid the price for all our sins and redeemed us from sin and death (Romans 8:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:25-27), all who trusted Him became His brethren (Hebrews 2:11,17). 

As Jesus Christ would later reveal to Paul, believers in Him were now His joint heirs, adopted children of the Father (Romans 8:14-17); and even His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). Yet Jesus is the only begotten Son of the Father (John 3:16), and the Lamb of God (John 1:29,36), which is why He made the distinction between “my Father” and “your Father” and “my God, and “your God” (John 20:17). 

The best explanation for why Jesus told Mary “Touch me not,” may center on the word translated “touch” in the KJV. Some other versions translate this as “cling to” or “hold fast,” which may be closer to the Greek word haptomai, which some commentaries say means “grab hold of.” We see the other women holding the risen Jesus by the feet to worship Him as they realize Who He is (Matthew 28:9). 

What was Mary’s reaction as she realized her beloved Jesus was not dead, but standing beside her? Any of us encountering a loved one we had given up for dead would have the same reaction – to want to fling our arms around them, clasp them tightly, and embrace them as if we would never again let them go. 

But Jesus did not rise from the dead to give earthly comfort to those He loved during His ministry; He rose to give all who trust Him eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:12-26). He wants us to cling to Him, abide in Him (John 15:4-7), and remain in Him (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 1:2; etc.) – not physically, but spiritually. 

Not until we reach Glory will we have the awesome privilege of not only seeing Him face to face, but of knowing Him fully as He now knows us (1 Corinthians 13:12). Not only may we fall prostrate at His feet and feel His healing touch (Revelation 1:17), but He will tenderly wipe away every tear from our eyes (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 7:17; 21:4). I believe He will embrace us lovingly as He did the children brought to Him for a blessing (Mark 10:13-16). 

I believe Jesus was telling Mary, in effect: “Don’t try to keep me here with you, as much as you want to, but know that I am going to my Father so that all who love me can abide in me spiritually until I come again to bring all of you to myself. I have walked the earth with you for three years, but now you must learn to walk by faith, not by sight.” (John 14:1-3; 2 Corinthians 5:7

So why did He allow Thomas to perform a physical examination of His wounds? Thomas’ motive for touching Jesus was different than Mary’s. She wanted to cling to Him out of love, blended perhaps with fear that He would again leave her. The other disciples trusted their vision to know that Jesus’ wounds proved His identity, yet Thomas doubted their account and needed tactile proof. Even though Our Lord was merciful in allowing Thomas the evidence he needed, He said that those with greater faith, who did not need sensory evidence, were blessed indeed ((John 20:25-29).  

That would be all of us who have faith in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only way to Heaven (John 14:6), based on His Word, without the luxury of having seen or heard Him in person! Praise God that Jesus Christ did not remain on earth, but instead ascended to the Father, where He continually intercedes for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25), and where He is preparing a special place where each of us will spend eternity with Him! (John 14:1-3) Praise God that He ascended so that He could send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter (John 14:16,26; 16:7), to live within each believer’s heart! 

© 2014 Laurie Collett
Edited and reposted from the archives