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A glorious, blessed Easter to you! I hope that you had a wonderful Easter Sunday - we really did. The weather was perfect here in Huntsville and it was such a lovely time with family and friends, made even sweeter by the presence of our precious baby grandson at his first holiday gathering. There was something so stirring and hopeful about four generations coming together in celebration of our faith. I encourage all of us - myself included - not to do our typical thing of immediately putting yesterday’s holiday up on the shelf to move on quickly to the next one. We had forty days of Lent to prepare our hearts for Resurrection Day, now let’s take some time to really ponder what this tremendous event means for our lives.
I have been thinking about some things in my childhood that were truly foundational to my life and faith. My father was a career Navy man, which meant that we moved relatively frequently. Of course, moving means that you get a new house to live in, a new school to attend, new sports teams to be on, and a new church home. My favorite place of all was Gales Ferry, Connecticut - a beautiful little town near the seacoast of New England. I have such fond memories of our time there, and a great percentage of those have to do with our church experience. It was a Lutheran church and so many formative events in my life took place there - Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, singing in a choir, being an acolyte, going to church camp - it was all such a wonderful and important part of my childhood.
As an aside, to all of you who have teenaged and adult children who were raised in church but have wandered away from God, please do not despair. In my own experience, and having watched many thousands of students over the last decades, the strong foundation of faith that was laid in childhood did not go anywhere during my season of wandering and rebellion, and when I did finally give my heart and life to Jesus, that foundation proved a great blessing to me. Keep on praying for them and speaking truth to them in faith.
One of my fondest memories of that church body in Connecticut was the celebration of Easter weekend. On Good Friday, we had a brief worship service that ended at midnight. It made such a strong impression on my young heart - we gathered in quiet and reverence, and the entire santuary was in darkness, lighted only by a solitary candle on the altar. A woman in our congregation with a beautiful alto voice slowly and contemplatively sang the song “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord” with no accompaniment. The pastor gave a message about the severity of our sin and necessity of the Cross, and then blew out the candle. We stood in silence and total darkness for what seemed an eternity to me back then, and then we all filed out in silence behind the pastor to go home and consider what that holy night meant.
But then, as it always and gloriously does, Easter Sunday morning came! We gathered together again in the full sunlight with sanctuary lights and candles blazing to declare with us the Great News that Jesus has risen from the grave! It does not end with death and defeat - rather Jesus’ death was the great victory and the Resurrection rings the truth that death has been defeated, and sin no longer reigns unchecked. We shared the broken body and blood of Christ together and then then absolutely belted out the song “Lift High the Cross” which even now as I write this, forty years later, is giving me chills as I think about it.
Come, Christians, follow where our Savior trod,
our King victorious, Christ, the Son of God.
All newborn servants of the Crucified
bear on their brow the seal of Christ who died.
O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree
your death has brought us life eternally.
So shall our song of triumph ever be:
praise to the Crucified for victory.
Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore His holy name.
Easter is not a quaint American thing, about bunnies and colored eggs and chocolate with vague connections to faith and church and family. Honestly, Easter is not even just a Christian thing, as though it was some sort of museum piece or artifact that we alone can contain and curate. The death and resurrection of the Son of the Living God is The Thing, akin to the discovery of the cure for cancer or aging except infinitely more important - something bigger and more impactful than any of us can fully understand.
This season is not just for us to reaffirm our faith and keep on doing the best we can to keep it, is is an explosive reminder that the King of the Universe willingly gave His life for us so that we could truly live, now and forever. Everyone must know this! My children, my church - yes, of course. But also my neighbor, and the young men who keep getting into trouble in my town, and the woman in the hijab I keep seeing at the grocery store, and the little boy in the village I have never heard of on another continent.
We run the risk of treating our faith so flippantly, and of being lulled into an inactive and ineffective sleep in the long years of waiting for Christ to return. We run the risk of believing the lies that either none of this is true and there is no such thing as God, or that maybe the world is right and all roads lead to heaven. But even events of the last few weeks are telling reminders, as though the Lord were speaking to us. A black hole pictured for the first time, a beautiful cathedral buring and stirring our hearts and emotions so deeply for what we almost lost - the Bible is all true, every bit of it. God created the heavens and the earth, Jesus is the glorious and risen King, and He is returing again one day in glory. The great patience and love of God is what the long wait is about. He is not willing that any should perish without Him.
This is far too magnificent for us to keep to ourselves, and to just sit around and worry and fret endlessly about how people just don’t live right anymore. They have not yet had an encounter with the Resurrected King - we must tell them about Him. We must open our mouths and share the Good News. We must open our hearts and wallets and give generously to send missionaries around the world, so that everyone may hear. We must lift high the cross, today and every day until He returns, until all the world adore His holy name.
This week marks the Holy Week of our faith - commemorating the week leading up to the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. It began on the day that Jesus and his disciples came back into Jerusalem for the last time. They had been staying away because the religious leaders were determined to kill Jesus - He had embarrased them one too many times and they had had enough. Up until this time, it had not been the right time, but now Jesus’ time had come.
He led his disciples back into the big capital city, which was swelling with people because it was the week of the Passover feast. This was a huge celebration to commemorate the time many hundreds of years earlier when the people of Israel were still captive in Egypt, and Moses was pleading with Pharoah to let God’s people go. Of course, we know from reading the book of Exodus that Pharaoh continually refused and hardened his heart, so God sent ten terrible plagues to get the king’s attention. WIth the last and worst of the plagues, the angel of death swept through, killing all of the first born people and livestock - exept those whose homes were covered by the blood of a precious lamb that was slain. It was to remember that amazing night of deliverance that Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims and visitors.
So it was that day when Jesus arrived, a great crowd gathered to herald His entrance into the city. The Bible tells us in Mark 11: 8-10, “Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields.Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,“Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
They had seen and heard about this man, Jesus. He healed people, He set their neighbors free from evil torment, He had even raised a few people from the dead. He taught with such passion and truth - like no one they had ever seen. I am sure many people had heard, too, about the way the religious people hated Him and were out to get Him. That would still draw a crowd today, and people were curious and excited to see Him.
The account of this same day in the book of Luke gives more insight into what Jesus was feeling. It says in Luke 19: 41-44. “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
This week is a time for us to reflect on what the suffering and death of Jesus means.
Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. He has been since time without beginning, and was present for all of the events we now read as stories in the Bible. He knows intimately what occurred during all of creation, and also what happened on that terrible day of the fall of man, when fellowship between God and man was broken. Jesus watched on as Noah built the ark to specification and with plenty of room, and as everyone else just walked past and ridiculed, happy in their sin. He was the One who met with Moses in the burning bush in the desert, and told him, “I Am.” He certainly knew of the terrible night of the original Passover in Egypt, when warning and provision was made through the blood of the lamb, but as so many suffered for not heeding the warning.
Jesus also knew exactly what He was marching towards as He entered Jerusalem that day - the cross and the ultimate price that had to be paid for the sin of mankind. He knew how many people were once again seeing and hearing, but not caring enough to try to understand, and how horrendous and final a choice they were making in their hearts.
The city that He loved, the people that He loved - if only they would hear and see and understand what all of the old stories and experiences had been about. If only they would understand that God loved them and wanted to be with them forever, if only they would listen and repent. Our religious systems and governments cannot save us from our sin, and judgement really is coming. It came with the flood, it came with the angel of death, it came with the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, and it is coming again with finality, and soon.
Now it is our generation’s turn, will we heed the warnings and repent, or will we just gather in curiosity to watch? The people in all of those old BIble stories were people just like us. They were living their lives - planning weddings, taking care of their kids, worrying about how to pay their taxes, going to work. It is not hard to imagine people getting ready for bed the night before the rain began, or the passover, or the cross thinking, “That was such an interesting preacher I saw today. I wonder what they were so worked up over?”
This week is a reminder that our sin cost God everything, and that He lovingly and willingly paid the price with the precious blood and life of His own Son, Jesus. We know that the BIble teaches plainly in Hebrews 9:22, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Have our hearts been cleansed by His blood, have we received God’s forgiveness?
This week is a reminder that judgement really is coming some day, even if it seems to be taking a very long time. God is patiently waiting for every man, woman and child all over the world to hear the good news of His Son, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14.) We must not be the people who gather for a week to celebrate a great deliverance, but who refuse to try to understand what it all means and take action. The King is coming, and we must be ready. We must help others be ready.
This week, as we contemplate all that Jesus did for us, let us follow the prompting of the early church father Methodius who said,
“Instead of our garments, let us spread our hearts before Him.”
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)