Do we live in the joy of a people redeemed?
What marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad. Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage as streams in dry land. Those who are sowing in tears will sing when they reap.—Psalm 126:3-5
You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.—1 Peter 1:18-19
I will never forget the moment I first learned, while watching some movie in my church’s youth room, what it meant that Jesus was the Lamb of God. I remember spluttering with wonder and excitement — just as an unblemished lamb was slaughtered and the Israelites marked with its blood so that they might be saved from death — the unblemished Lamb of God was slaughtered and we were marked with his blood so that we might be saved from death. The lamb was sacrificed at twilight; when the Lamb was crucified, darkness covered the earth. They ate its flesh just as we eat his flesh. It was stunning to me, this perfect parallel between the paschal sacrifice of Passover and the paschal sacrifice of Easter.
It still is. The Bible is, if nothing else, a literary masterpiece. But I think it also shows that its author worked a masterpiece in salvation history. Every reading of the Old Testament reveals another layer of self-revelation God was working. Even the ugly stuff. Even the flood and the kidnapping of Joseph and the slaughter of the first-born. Every word of the Hebrew Scriptures sheds light on the love of God for those who have ears to hear.
But the fulfillment is always more powerful than the shadowy prophecy. The Israelites were saved by the sacrifice of a beast. You and I were saved by the blood of God himself, more precious than silver or gold. This marvelous deliverance sets us free not from slavery to Pharaoh but from slavery to sin and death. We have been delivered from the anguish of unknowing, from the futility of a life of sin, from the guilt and despair of life without Christ.
Do we live that way? Do we live in the joy of a people redeemed? The people of God knew what it was to suffer and what it was to be set free. In Psalm 126, they rejoice that God has liberated them from their captivity in Babylon. Finally, they are free men again. But they’re returning to a land that has been left untended. Their fields have gone to seed, their roofs fallen in. Wild animals roam their streets and brigands patrol the highways. They live in joy at their redemption but face a lifetime of hard work as they seek to be restored to what they were. Despite the toil that lies before them, though, they are certain of their victory. They know that God will restore them, that he will strengthen and protect them. They will sow in tears, in the labor of our fallen world, but one day they will sing.
We Christians live in this same place, in the already-but-not-yet of the redeemed striving for holiness. The victory has been won but we’ve got a lifetime of skirmishes ahead. The temptation, I think, is to be weighed down by the hard work of fighting sin, accepting suffering, and handing our hearts over to the Lord. Sometimes it seems there’s nothing constant in my life except my sin and I can’t help but be discouraged. Other days I’m just overwhelmed by the day-to-day too-muchness of it all.
But it’s because I’ve forgotten that my life isn’t defined by today or this week or even this decade. My life is defined by a moment 2,000 years ago, a victory won on my behalf. My hope isn’t in the election or the stock market but in the Lamb of God slain for me and risen from the tomb.
Mother Teresa says it in perfect simplicity: “Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of Christ Risen.” This Lent, let’s remember that we’re fasting so that we can keep the great feast, the joyous celebration of God’s triumph over sin and death. And when the trials of life cause us to forget the freedom we’re living in, let’s turn back to these Scriptures that remind us of our redemption and promise the joy that is to come.
Meg Hunter-Kilmer writes for her blog, “Held by His Pierced Hands,” and travels around the country speaking to youth and adults, leading retreats and parish missions.