Why did he linger? Jesus had endured the worst of the world. He had slept in its stables and faced its beasts. He had borne its insults and faithlessness. He had tasted its tears and vinegar. He had cringed under its whips and thorns, and agonized under its spikes and sins. He descended to the deepest place a soul can go, to a dungeon which no key had ever unlocked. So, when he had wrenched the heavy doors of death from their hinges and walked free why did he linger in the graveyard? Even the most breathtaking spring dawn has about it the pall of death compared to the fragrances and breezes of heaven.
Why did he linger when all heaven waited to welcome him? With the chance to bound from the pit of impenetrable darkness to the glory of ineffable light, from the screams of demons to the songs of the angels, from the agony of death to the ecstasy of glory, why did he linger? When all of heaven waited to welcome him home, when a new song waited to be sung, when the throne awaited its king and the crowns their sole sovereign, why would he linger to be mistaken for a gardener at the grave? Why return for Thomas’ skeptical examination? Why stroll unrecognized with the grief-stricken disciples? Why did he linger?
Upon the cross Christ had cried with his dying breath, “It is finished.” Salvation was secured. Death defeated. The Holy Spirit ready for his Pentecostal arrival. It seemed as though there were no loose ends left, no details unattended, no work undone. So why would he linger?
He lingered for love’s sake, of course, to convince his followers—more than 500 eyewitnesses—that he was indeed alive. Not just resuscitated either, but a new Adam, fashioned not from dust but the firstborn from among the dead. When he breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he gave them their first inkling that they would no longer be what they had been. Ever since, faith in Christ vitalizes us with the breath of his life, day in and day out, now and forever.
Dying would come, too. Jesus’ followers all carry crosses. We all die daily. That is especially and painfully true for those who shepherd the Lord’s flocks. The work has been discouraging, the Lord’s people—some of them—worse than unkind. A lot of pastors are gasping these days. Many are breathless. In order to persevere we must breathe deeply of the risen Christ, inhaling his Holy Spirit. Otherwise, we will suffer spiritual emphysema. Paul, who knew about ministry mortality, tells us his remedy:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)
A young pastor who I respect deeply told me, “Even when people were cruel to me I wanted to die for them. I bear the weight of a thousand stories no one else can know. And as I do, I feel from somewhere deep within me a glimmer of hope, that just as it was for Jesus, after the weight of suffering comes a place without tears and a crown for the one who suffers well.” He added, “You have to think about this stuff. Either that or I’ll quit, and I can’t do that.”
Jesus lingers for you, willing to share your sufferings so that you might inhale his life.
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He is the author of Feels Like Home: How Rediscovering the Church as Family Changes Everything and Pastoral Graces: Reflections on the Care of Souls (Moody Publishers), as well as being a frequent contributor to Preaching Today and CT Pastors. To learn more about his Pastors' Gatherings visit www.leeeclov.com.