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Monday, February 27, 2017

the end is praise

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

                                    ~T. S. Eliot

It seems that each year I approach Lent with a sense of heaviness and dread, as I enter into the season where I contemplate the cross, as well as all of my sin that made it necessary.  This is a good and fruitful (and necessary) process. I mean, after all, you can't know how good the Good News is until you have faced the bad, right?  But this little piece of poem by T. S. Eliot gave me a little hope; a little silver lining of the sun rising on the other side of the dark clouds.  For the end of this season is not the cross, but the resurrection.  And if somehow, as I go through the hard season of Lent, fully aware of the fact that the end of the story is resurrection, then it gives me hope and strength and life to persevere through the difficult reality of the sin that I must face.  But I always must remember that sin is not the end of the story; forgiveness is.  Death does not have the final word; life does.

Years ago (many years) I was doing a program for a ski camp at Windy Gap with some friends of mine from Knoxville.  The camp was for a Florida group and began on New Year's Eve.  The downside was that Tennessee was playing Miami in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's night and we would have to miss it.  Well, being the huge Tennessee fans we were, we asked a friend who was the Area Director of YL in Asheville at the time (Howie Burkhalter) to tape it for us and bring it up late New Year's night so we could watch it when our program responsibilities were over.  Howie kindly agreed to do just that and brought the tape up around 1:00 AM.  This was way before the days of cell phones and there was no TV reception on the property at Windy Gap in those days, so it was pretty easy for us to NOT find out who won the game before we watched it.  The only thing Howie said when he gave us the tape was, "Don't stop watching it."  Well, we all settled in and began to watch.  Miami was a huge favorite and could possibly win the national championship with a victory in this game, so none of us were very hopeful, though Howie's comment at least gave us hope that it might be close.  Miami received the opening kickoff and drove straight down the field for an easy touchdown and it seemed like we were in for a long night.  I'll have to admit, we were already exhausted from camp and the prospects of staying up until 4:00 AM to watch us lose didn't seem appealing to any of us.  But Howie's words gave us a glimmer of hope, so we kept watching.  Well, long story short, from that first touchdown on, Tennessee put the beatdown on Miami and won one of the most storied games in the history of UT football.  And if not for a little word of hope from Howie Burkhalter, who had seen the end of the game, we would probably have turned it off and gone to bed.

I've been reading through the Psalms lately.  I am also reading back through a book called Answering God by Eugene Peterson (which I would highly recommend).  And the book of Psalms ends with a section called "The Halel."  It is a section of psalms of praise.  The book of prayers and songs that are the Psalms end in praise.  This is no accident.  The Psalms know the whole story.  They know how it ends.  They are full of doubt and desperation and questioning and lament and confession and struggle and a constant battle with enemies, but they end in praise.  And they end in praise because the Story--God's story and our story and the story of a broken and hurting world--ends in praise.  Therefore, since we know the end of the story, there is hope and strength and perseverance to endure through the times where things are tough and look pretty bleak. 

This seems especially appropriate as we enter the season of Lent; as we journey to the cross with Jesus, which takes us right through the valley of the shadow of sin and death and darkness.  But sin and death and darkness are not the end, so he travel through this season of Lent with hope.  Yes, reflect and confess and repent, it is necessary and good.  But do so knowing that the end is praise.  In the end Jesus is raised from the dead; and because of that, so are we.  Thanks be to God!  Have a rich and wonderful Lenten season!

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