1 April 2018Opinion
For many people, Easter is just a long weekend holiday that is associated with eating chocolate, spending time with family, running around looking for eggs, maybe having a bit of a rest, and hot cross buns. Oh, and being advertised way too early in the stores, just like Christmas is.
Many people probably know the basic story of Easter. Jewish religious guru gets a bit too big for his boots, the other Jews develop a bit of tall poppy syndrome, so they put together a sham trial and get him executed by the Romans. And then he apparently comes back, because he was God!
But many people see it as just that—a story. Put alongside characters like Hercules, or Robin Hood, or Santa Claus, as tales to maybe tell the kids; but not real. Well, for once, this isn’t an article trying to convince you of the reality of Jesus. But I do want to draw some lessons out of the story, that I think can really help us today—and perhaps something that you can use to really enjoy this weekend to its fullest. I’m going to use four points, for the four days. But we’re starting on Thursday.
Thursday was the day of the Last Supper; when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, then went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray with them, and was met by Judas and the soldiers a bit later on. It’s a day that goes from community and celebration to betrayal and desertion.
There are so many things you could take from this day. But what I want to focus on is Jesus’ perseverance, and determination. When he went to pray, he was so earnest, so emotional, so terrified, that he was sweating blood. This is an actual condition, by the way, called hematidrosis. It’s said to only occur under “intense fear or stress.” Jesus knew that he was going to die, in less than 24 hours. I’d say that’s pretty intense. And yet, he didn’t run away—he prayed. Yes, part of his prayer was, “…let this cup of suffering be taken away from me…”, but immediately following it was, “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
There are going to be times in life when you are also facing intense fear or stress; when something is looming that you don’t know how to face, or perhaps you feel that you can’t face it. The temptation is to run, to hide. Sometimes, you may need to. But this day challenges us to press forward, even when the path is hard, or seems impossible. And that it’s okay to ask for help, for strength, for support.
Friday was the day that Jesus died, but that wasn’t until the afternoon. Before that, he was denied three times by Peter; beaten and whipped; brought before Pilate (the Roman ruler) and Herod (the Jewish king) by the Jewish council; then finally condemned by the crowd, and made to carry his own cross up to Golgotha—the place of the skull.
We sometimes call it Calvary, which actually comes from the Latin Calvariæ Locus. When Jesus died, it’s said that the skies were suddenly dark, that the ground shook, that the curtain in the temple around the Holy of Holies tore in two, and that people came out of their graves and went into the city—as you do. He was then buried in a tomb that belonged to somebody else; a follower of his, Joseph of Arimathea.
Amidst all of this, Jesus took the time to tell one of the criminals hanging with him that today, he would be in paradise with him. He took the time to make sure that his mother was cared for by one of his closest followers, John. The lesson here is that whatever you are going through in life, whatever struggle or pain, find the time to think of others. To encourage them, to help them, to be with them. Often, it will also help you with what you are going through.
Saturday is the day that most people forget about. They think that nothing happened on Saturday. But actually, that’s not the case at all. The Jewish council went to Pilate—on a Sabbath, mind you!—to get him to put a seal and guard on the tomb, to prevent anyone from stealing Jesus’ body. And the apostles—well, they were in hiding. Their leader had just been publicly arrested and executed by the Romans, in the way reserved for the worst criminals, and they were, quite rightly, fearful for their lives.
There are times when we are like this. When everything is crashing around us, and we don’t understand what’s happening, and when things have gone pear-shaped faster than we can blink. When every instinct just turns to survival. But when we look at this Saturday, we have the benefit of hindsight. We know that it was just one day, but the disciples didn’t know that. And it’s often like that when you hit rock bottom; you can’t see the way out. But that doesn’t mean you won’t get out, that there won’t be a light, that Sunday won’t come, that there isn’t hope. It just means that you need to be a little more patient. All things come to an end; all things must pass.
And finally, Sunday. It’s here at last! The day when Jesus comes back to life, when everything goes crazy, and the tomb is empty, and angels are around; it can get a bit much after the three days we’ve just had! But this is what everything has been building towards.
Not just these three days, but everything; all of what Jesus has been doing, all of what God has been doing, has lead up to this incredible moment of new life, of rebirth.
Down here in Australia, we’re in the middle of autumn. But in the northern hemisphere, Easter is really the time of spring; of new beginnings, when things are being made new and fresh. And this is what we bring from today; that there is new life, there is a refreshing, there is a hope that we can have; as sure as the sunrise that comes each morning. Just like the seasons, we work on these cycles; and after winter, comes spring. After night, comes the morning. After fire, new growth. Do not despair. There is hope. There is life.