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Take Off Your Grave Clothes

Easter Season is an invitation to reflect about how Jesus resurrects us to new life, lifts us to stand with him, and fills us with the Holy Spirit.

By Afrika Afeni Mills, Faith Avenue Champion, GC Steele Creek, Charlotte, NC

In this season, we focus on the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and the manifestation of the promised Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.[1] We are reminded of our desperate need for God to awaken and breathe new life into us. When the world feels especially hard and heavy it can be easy to forget to behold the miracle of what this season means for us.


I am reminded of the story of Lazarus; his resuscitation was an allusion to resurrection. John 11:43-44 tells us that after Jesus called Lazarus forth from the tomb with a loud voice, he came out with hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and he had a cloth around his face. We all have our tombs, don’t we? Places where fracture, brokenness, limitations, and pain can overtake us. It doesn’t feel good to be there, but there’s a certain comfort we can receive from the familiar. Like Lazarus, our hands and feet are bound, and our faces are masked. This tomb-state can shape how we understand God and Scripture, and it can darken the way we see ourselves and other people.

But just as with Lazarus, Jesus doesn’t leave us in our tombs. He shouts our names, awakens us, and tells us to come forth. He tells those around us to take off our grave clothes and to let us go. An important question, though, is do we want to be made alive, or have we become too comfortable in our grave clothes?

Preparing ourselves for spiritual formation

One of the spiritual formation practices I’ve been engaging with for the past few months is the Examination of Consciousness, or Examen. It offers an invitation to reflect honestly on our spiritual formation journey and who we are becoming in God, paying particular attention to our consolations and desolations. Desolations turn us in on ourselves, drive us down a spiral into negative feelings, cut us off from community, cover up the signs of our journey with God, and drain us of energy. Conversely, consolations direct our focus beyond ourselves, lift our hearts, bond us more closely to our human community, and show us where God is active in our lives and where God is leading us.[2]

I never thought of myself as being resistant to resurrection, but I noticed something while engaging with this practice. Initially, while my consolations felt easy to name, I found that I wasn’t being honest about my desolations. In reflecting on Psalm 23, for example — one of my favorite Bible passages — I experience consolation when I think of lacking nothing, green pastures, quiet waters, and a refreshed soul. If I’m honest, however, sometimes I also experience desolation when I wonder if God is really with me, and if there actually is comfort for me. Sometimes this valley feels a bit too dark, and I do feel afraid. I long for the overflowing cup, but it feels jostled, tumbled over, and spilled in the torrent of the world’s adversities. Sometimes I feel like I can’t find this table God has prepared for me, or his goodness and love, so I don’t want God’s comfort. I want to pursue my own.[3]

One of the books that has helped me to prepare to honestly engage with the Examen practice and to be honest with God about my desolations is Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero.[4] The tagline for the book is, It’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. This book has helped me to become my authentic self and break the power of the past over my thoughts and feelings. I now have a better understanding of the reasons why I tend to seek distraction from looking at my fractures, why I avoid the root of my defensiveness, and why I have an aversion to forgiveness. I am learning to truly understand the nature of and need for confession, repentance, and repair. There is no shame or hiding. There is truth and hope. I am learning to see the healing available to me beyond the tomb.

During this Easter season, I encourage you to prepare yourself for and engage in the practice of the examen. Let these words of David be yours, too: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”[5]

I use an Examen Journal,[6] and it includes these daily prompts on each page:

  • “I felt alive in your presence today, God, when . . .”
  • “I struggled to feel your presence today, God, when . . .”
  • “God, I want to share more deeply with you about one moment that stands out from today. Through this experience, I think you might be telling me . . .”
  • “As I think about tomorrow, God, I pray that . . .”

In this season, we are reminded that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus is with us. Though we carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus and we are tempted to keep our grave clothes on, let us remember that the life of Jesus is revealed is us, and we have been resurrected with him.[7] Let us remember that Jesus has ascended, and the Holy Spirit breathes new life into us, so our grave clothes are gone. We are awakened, unbound, unmasked, alive, and free in him!

[1] John 14:16-17
[2] Ignatian Spirituality.com/consolation-and-desolation
[3] Psalm 23:1-6
[4] Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Health Spirituality.
[5] Psalm 139:23-24
[6] Williams, Mary. The Examen Journal: Finding God Everyday.
[7] 2 Corinthians 4:10

3 thoughts on “Take Off Your Grave Clothes”

  1. Thanks, Afrika. As we get older, we often come to see the truth of the saying, “We may think we are done with our past, but that doesn’t mean our past is done with us.” The Examen is a formational exercise I have found especially helpful in breaking the grip of my past on me. I pray many take you up on your advice.

  2. I’m in for the challenge (love journal-reflection questions). And I need to crack Peter Scazero’s book that I bought months ago! Thanks for your insightful words, Afrika.

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