It has been a rough last twelve months. Since last Easter we have lost three dearly loved members of our family and a couple of friends. So this morning as I sit down to write this article I find myself thinking about the realities of life in the here and now, as well as the events we remember and celebrate during this holy season. Perhaps in my reflections written here you can find a little something to keep in mind as you face the realities of your life.
As I think about Easter this year, I am not focusing so much on the usual remembrances of Jesus' last supper with his disciples, his trial and crucifixion, or even the amazing account of his resurrection. Those are of course central to the story, but it is also too easy to read the text and gloss over it as if it is a newspaper article about some distant event that captures our attention for a moment but really doesn't affect us directly. No this year, I am focusing more on the background details. What were those disciples of Jesus thinking now that Jesus was dead? What did his mother think about? What was the world doing?
If you have ever experienced the death of a loved one, you know that there is a sort of numbness in the days that follow. Your thinking fluctuates in an out of moments of clarity and moments of utter sadness. The reality of what has happened is occasionally broken up by mental streams of past memories and the accompanying smiles they bring.
On top of it all comes the question of, now what? You know life will never be quite the same, even if the memories never fade. And then there are the regrets; the things you wish you had said or done, or had not said or done; the things you think you could have done better.
And all the while there is the rest of the world, going on around you, casting the occasional glance, wondering what you are thinking and experiencing, maybe feeling bad for you, but not really affected by your tragedy. The world goes on as you grieve and try to pick up the pieces.
Not much has changed in the last two thousand years. Do we really think the disciples were somehow different than us? Do we really want to read the Easter one more time, never really thinking beyond the words on the page?
The people who knew and loved Jesus in the flesh were just as human as you and I, and their grief was just as real and wrenching as the grief you and I experience in our own losses. I imagine Mary must have wondered how all this could have happened. I imagine she must have wondered if she had somehow failed as a mother. There was her son, accused and condemned as a criminal, mocked by people who hardly knew him, except for the talk of the day. Mob mentality had taken over and her little boy, man that he was, was paraded and executed.
I imagine Peter, sitting alone in a dark room somewhere weeping. He must have been so filled with regret and shame for failing to stand up for his friend, even to the point of denying he even knew him. Peter had not only chickened out, he outright rejected the one he called friend, brother, and Lord.
And as for the rest of the world, it went on with life as usual without Jesus around. Those who cared, grieved. Those who did not know him were unaffected. The world looked at Jesus and his followers with disdain or simply dismissed them as fools, even if they did seem to be decent enough folks. Like I said, not much has changed in the last two thousand or so years.
And then, there was the breaking of a new day. A day that seemed like every other, but a day that would change history forever. It was a day when all the grief and regrets and wondering would be forgotten, paling in the light of new hope and new life.
"He is risen!" they exclaimed to one another.
Mary could smile again. Death had lost its sting. And even though Jesus ultimately had to depart this temporal realm, she could have the joy and hope of knowing that there is life beyond what we see and beyond the grave. What hope we have for today knowing that he who conquered death and the grave says to us, I am going to prepare a place for you!(1) In Jesus we can have the same hope; the hope of being with him one day, and the hope of being reunited with those have believed in him who have gone before us.
Peter could forget his shame. The one he had abandoned and rejected looked on him with love and forgave him his failures and shortcomings. His friend loved him and forgave him for what he must have felt was unforgiveable. What a beautiful example of the forgiveness we also have in Jesus! All of those things we have done that we thought no one could ever possibly forgive dissolve into nothing when we believe and receive him as our Lord, for, as the Bible says, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.(2)
And as for the rest of the world? It went on, much as it does now. Those who knew and loved Jesus carried the local headlines from Jerusalem out to the rest of the world, telling the message of the hope and forgiveness available to everyone who believes in Jesus and receives him as their Lord. Some listened and believed, but many rejected what they had to say, dismissing them as fools, shaming them publicly, lying about them in order to destroy them and their message, and even putting some of them to death.
But though the world dismissed the message of the cross as foolish, it did not diminish the power of cross or of the risen Christ. His forgiveness was real and is just as real for you and I today. The hope of a future with him, and his presence with us today is also just as real. I hope you have that hope. I hope you are sure that God has forgiven all you have ever done wrong.
If you do not have that assurance, you can. It really is available to you, too. It is simply a matter of believing that Jesus lived a life perfectly pleasing to God, then died innocently and sacrificially in your place, taking the full punishment of God that you would have been due for your sin. Three days later, he rose from the dead, an affirmation from God that He accepted the sacrifice of Jesus for you and all who would believe in him.
If you confess to God that you are guilty of sin, and you believe in your heart Jesus lived and died for you, and you truly want him to be in your life as your Lord, you will be forgiven. The Bible says, if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.(3)
It's that simple. But it isn't easy, either. See, God loves you too much to just hear you say some words and then never think about it again. God calls us to a new way of living and thinking. He wants us to live a life pleasing to him. He wants us to serve others. He wants us to reject wrong doing. He is a loving father who knows what we need and what is best for us. Just as we teach our children to do right and wrong because we love them and know what is best for them, God teaches us and wants what is best for us. But what we find is that we naturally want to fight against him, as a teenager fights for independence. It can be hard at times to do life God's way, but it is so worth it!
I know many of those who read this are Christians, but I also know that some perhaps are not. So, if you want to be forgiven, but you don't know what to do, here is a little prayer to help you get started. There is nothing magic or special about it. Prayer is just talking to God:
God, I know I have sinned. I want to be forgiven. I want to live for you and have hope and peace. I believe Jesus is Lord. I believe he died for me and that you raised him from the dead. I receive him now to be my Lord and savior. Please forgive my sins and welcome me into your presence. Lead me and teach me to live a life pleasing to you. May today be the first day of my brand new life in you! --Amen
If you have prayed that prayer for the first time, I'd love to hear from you. I also want to encourage you to find a good church that teaches faithfully from the Bible. It isn't good to try to live without the friendship of other likeminded people. If you have a Christian friend I encourage you to tell them you prayed this prayer so they can celebrate with you and help you navigate these new and unfamiliar waters.
Wherever you find yourself today, Happy Easter! He is risen... He is risen indeed!