Forgive and Release
by Karen Bates-Olson
T.S. Eliot wrote a poem called “Journey of the Magi,” in which he describes the call of the Eastern Kings to come to see the baby heralded by a magnificent star. Toward the end of the poem Eliot says this: “this Birth was/Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.”
While it might seem out of season to call to mind a Christmas poem during Holy Week, Eliot’s words strike a chord even now. Jesus’ death on the cross and his victory over the grave, promise us birth and new life. “See, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). And in the unfolding events of Holy Week, that’s exactly what God does.
Jesus’ walk to Calvary is not one more sad story whispered by a sad world. The cross has meaning, purpose, drive. By it, God’s ways—birth and life—prevail. Resurrection comes in the middle of the absence of hope. Easter light comes only after its absence at noon the Friday before.
Birth, rebirth, new life comes because God so loved the world, God sent God’s only Son.
But the new life—the birth—given in Easter asks for something of us. Something like what Eliot has described in his poem: a “hard and bitter agony . . . like Death, our death.” A grain of wheat, Jesus has said, cannot bear fruit unless it is first buried in the ground (John 12:24).
Any living thing—people, congregations—cannot come to life in Christ without first reaching the end of the rope in themselves. It’s in graveyards, after all, that the promise of resurrection sings best. So it is also true: When we seek the life of forgiveness, a letting go, dying is almost always involved.
The Rev. Karen Bates-Olson serves as pastor to the good and forgiven people of Lutheran Church of the Master in Pasco, Wash. She and her husband, Kevin, are the parents of two beautiful daughters, Amy, a junior in college, and Katie, a sophomore in high school.
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