International Ministries

Unwrap the Grave Clothes

March 31, 2012 Journal
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Slightly more than a week before Easter there was a resurrection.  Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, claiming “I am the Resurrection and the Life!”  He had the stone rolled away from the tomb then shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”  Lazarus came out, alive, but still wrapped tightly in the grave clothes.   Jesus then commanded the stunned family and friends to unwrap the grave clothes to complete Lazarus’ liberation from his bondage to death. (See the story in John 11.)

Grave clothes can come in many fashions.  When Christ brings new life to a believer some of the rags of the old man or old woman still cling to us.  Old habits, old wounds, old bitterness, old self-limiting beliefs, and old fears can still be wrapped around us limiting our freedom of motion even though fresh new life courses in our spirits.  Jesus gives us the task of unwinding one another’s grave clothes.

This past week I was doing a workshop in Central Asia and was able to help unwrap a 30-year old winding sheet without even knowing it.  I was teaching about taking transforming initiatives from the Sermon on the Mount, dramatizing turning the other cheek, giving one’s garment, and going the second mile (many of you have seen that teaching).  I was acting the role of the Roman soldier in Palestine looking for someone to carry his pack.  I’d picked out a certain person, but as I stepped toward her it seemed that God nudged me to a woman two seats over.  I hadn’t noticed her for the exercise, but in that half second suddenly I was pulling her to her feet and forcing her to carry my pack. 

When we got to the end of the “first mile,” I told her she had been listening to Jesus, so she took the lead going a “second mile.”  Instead of staying in the identity of victim, which I as the Roman soldier was giving her, she was claiming her own humanity by initiating her own action.  She was the “gift-giver,” offering help to someone who evidently needed her help.  She turned the act of oppression against her to an act of kindness and generosity toward the oppressor.

After the break she sought me out with a translator.  We found a quiet place away from the other participants, and she told me her story.  Thirty years ago she had been victimized.  She had forgiven the one who injured her so grievously, but she had felt guilty for getting into that situation.  So often victims of abuse end up despising themselves, and she carried that self-hatred for thirty long years even as her life developed and she became a pastor.  There was still that hidden story wrapped tightly away in the grave clothes of self-loathing.

When I seized her she was thrown back into that moment of oppression and abuse.  Then she heard the echo of Jesus calling her to claim her humanity.  In going the second mile she could shuck off that winding sheet of self-hatred and claim her full being raised into the new life of Christ.  Tears streamed down her radiant face as she told us her testimony.  The “new creation” promised to the one who is “in Christ” was stepping out freely into the second mile of her life and ministry.  The translator and I prayed for her, praising God for this new freedom she had found and committing her way ahead to the Christ who loves her and liberates her.

As we approach Easter we rejoice in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  Life has triumphed over death through his resurrection.  That life will continue to work death backwards until the day comes where sorrow and sighing will flee away and death will be no more.  But each day someone’s grave clothes are unbound, the Easter celebration continues.  Each day those rags of death are pealed off someone’s body, someone’s mind, someone’s spirit, the ripples of Easter spread.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  And today a sister is walking free of her own grave clothes thanks to that resurrection power.

You can celebrate her freedom from her grave clothes not just in Christian empathy, but in having played a part in the experience.  God used so many of you to send me to Central Asia.  God used the prayers of so many of you to keep me tuned to those heavenly nudges that push me out of the path I was planning into the place God was truly taking me towards.  So thank you for your part in this Easter celebration, a few days early or a few years late depending how you figure it, but in God’s timing at just the right moment.

In the joy and hope of Jesus,

Dan Buttry