Loss of Power

snow-covered trees and powerlines
Photo by Emil Priver on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

As a professor in 2023, the word “power” comes up a lot in my life, often in official sounding phrases such as power dynamics or power differentials. This past week, however, I had to think about power on a much more literal level. A winter storm brought wet and heavy snow to Minnesota, and as a result, we lost power in our home for parts of multiple days. At the tail end of winter and with a rural well that requires electricity to run, the loss of power presented practical challenges: how to keep warm, how to cook, how to flush toilets.

It also inspired me to think more deeply about the power of natural systems like storms, and the way in which much of my life around the farm is organized around keeping that power at bay. Such is life in Minnesota in the winter. As I walked around the farm after the storm, another power presented itself for reflection: the power of death. You see, we lost power because the wet snow toppled a lot of trees, some of which landed on power lines.

As I walked around to assess our own tree losses, it became apparent that not all trees had suffered equal losses. The majority of the fallen were ash trees. Our population of ashes in Minnesota have suffered from an invasion of emerald ash borer, a small beetle whose attacks weakens trees. The storm had ruthlessly hunted these weakened trees, causing them to snap under the weight of the heavy snow. Witnessing this, I reflected on the way in which the power of death often has a greater hold on the weak and the sick.

In our readings from Acts and 1 Peter this week, Peter reflects on the power as well. In his sermon in Acts, he refers to “power” twice and the second time explicitly refers to the power of death which could not hold Jesus (Acts 2:24). This is good news! That power of death which lurks around our doors cannot hold our Lord and our God.

But, you might say, if you are weary and heavy laden right now, what good is that for me? Of course, death cannot hold Jesus; he’s God after all. What about me, when death creeps close in my weakness and my sickness? For you dear Working Preacher, there is good news here, too, I believe. And I believe that we can see it in the story of Thomas in John. It is become fashionable in preaching to glorify Thomas’s doubts, but I think it’s also helpful to reflect on the privilege of Thomas and the reprimand that he receives.

Thomas makes a demand of God and God fulfills it, but the end result is that Jesus turns his attention away from Thomas and towards you, dear Working Preacher, whose demands of God may not have been fulfilled. In your sickness and your weakness, Jesus turns to you and calls you blessed: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29). This blessing is echoed in 1 Peter: “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

In the midst of a culture that equates “seeing with believing,” our texts for today point us in another direction. They point us towards not trusting our eyes, and in doing so, they teach us another lesson on power, a lesson hinted at it in Peter’s sermon in Acts. Though the second reference to power is about the power of death, the first reference is to the “deeds of power” that Jesus did to glorify God.

And to whom did Jesus direct his deeds of power? To the sick and the weary; to you, dear Working Preacher. This power in the midst of weakness highlights the great mystery of this Easter season: it was not a God clothed in thunder and lightning whom death could not hold. It was a crucified carpenter with nail holes in his hands and a spear wound in his side.

Even though the power of death could not hold Jesus, he still bears on his body the marks of human weakness. May the memory of those marks always remind you that Jesus is not ashamed to look upon your weakness and may that reminder make your heart glad, your soul rejoice, and your body rest secure (Psalm 16:9).