Thursday, April 11, 2013

Easter Sunday

Two verses came to mind Easter morning,

"Rejoice in the Lord always.
I will say it again: Rejoice!"
and the other,

"This is the day which the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it."
The fact that these two verses were jumping up and down in my head before my brain was even awake on Easter morning tells me God is trying to tell me something.  He is working on something in me; and even more than that, I am sure I am supposed to share it with you. No kidding, I have been working on this particular post for over a week now.  I had hoped to have a post ready to go Easter morning for all to read.  That was MY plan, but the post just wasn't ready in time, and I knew it.  So, it has been a work in progress, and I guess that is completely appropriate since God works in his own perfect timing.

So back to my post, the scriptures dancing around in my head are certainly appropriate for Easter Sunday.  Easter is a good and joyful day, and we celebrate our Risen Christ who saves all those who believe in Him from the too numerous to count fallible, selfish, misguided things we do AND he LOVES us through it all.  I could write pages and pages about that.  That is good news, friends, and rejoicing comes without much effort on good news days like this.  It isn't hard to comprehend that God MADE this joyful day.  God, by His very nature, is good. But, something tells me, I don't need to write about the obvious.

When I look around, it is easy to see that today is special.  But, what does Easter really mean for me and for you?  Is this special holiday about tradition, church, pretty dresses, handsome seersucker, colorful bow ties, sweet smelling ham, egg hunts, baskets of goodies, family, friends, passing of peace, smiles, hugs, sunshine and butterflies, bright blooms, and cute little bunnies?  My heart is telling me there is so much more to Easter than meets the eye.

Now, I have to make a confession.  I love Easter.  I love every bit of the Good News that comes with it, but until this year, I have avoided the full story.  I am guilty of being a selective hearer and reader of God's word, and I never really thought twice about it until now.  You know, the details about Jesus suffering on the cross?  I would purposefully skim over and even skip the negative, disturbing, gory details of Jesus' death, hurrying to the "good stuff," the resurrection and new life we find in Christ.  That's the part I chose to zoom in on and give the majority of my time and attention.

Just three short days ago marked Good Friday, though.  Sacrifice. Betrayal. Torture. Cowardliness. Brutality. Brokenness. Wounds. Pain. Suffering. Bloodshed. Weeping. Sadness. Anguish. Death. Emptiness. Loss. Darkness.  The reality of Good Friday is that it wasn't such a good day for Jesus.  It marks the day he was brutally murdered and died on the cross for me, so that I might have life to the full (John 10:10).  The details of which are not fun to think about and remember, but I have to recognize that they are part of God's Easter story so there has to be more to the unpleasantness I have tried to avoid for so long.

The Easter story can be a little confusing on the surface, really.  I mean, how is it we get from the very bad happenings of Good Friday to the pure joy, aliveness, mercy, and grace of Easter Sunday?  Apparently, I am missing some pieces to the puzzle.  Easter brings with it promises of eternal life, but let's face it.  As my minister puts it, unfortunately, "We live in a Good Friday world."  

We are forced to face the obvious pain and suffering, heartache, loss, and dreaded disease that can smack us in the face everywhere we turn.  And, let's not overlook the not so obvious but ever-present, internal discontent, anxiety, general indifference, emptiness, loneliness, and nagging lack of "aliveness" so many carry around inside but can't seem to figure out.  Whether we like it or not, some days are just down right dull, horrible, ugly, and heart wrenching. In those times, rejoicing is near impossible, unnatural, a real struggle.  What then?

What is it about Easter that changes everything?   Are we just supposed to be eternal optimists?  Are we supposed to plaster a smile on our faces and say "everything happens for a reason?"  Are we supposed to turn the other cheek and keep on trucking?  Are we supposed to beat ourselves up until we come back around to an all-positive, can-do attitude?  Are we supposed grin and bare it?  Are we supposed to think happy thoughts, and wish on a lucky star because Jesus died on a cross so that our sins are forgiven?  

Take it from someone who has tried all of these self-centered, self-talking methods at some point. These ideologies have an appealing ring to them because they give the illusion that we can control things by putting mind over matter, but they are nothing more than denial and avoidance tactics.  They may put a band aid on things temporarily, but they won't heal a thing.  I have a feeling we are doing ourselves a disservice and missing lots of God's important details if we go through life just skimming the surface in this way.  

I know God does not mean for us to trivialize our own pain or the pain of our brothers and sisters.  After all, Jesus didn't do that.   Isn't that clue, alone, a red flag that we shouldn't do that either?  So, what does Easter mean for our day to day living?  I don't know about you, but eternity is a long way away when I am struggling in the hear and now.

In an attempt to connect the dots, I have to take a look at the reality of the Easter story in its fullness.  First, I am drawn to the words of Jesus' close friend and one of the 12 disciples, John. The book of John describes the intricate, inseparable relationship between God the
father and Jesus.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

In other words, God not only reveals himself in the good news of Easter Sunday, but all parts of Jesus' story, His faith journey.  Even the dark parts serve as "the light of men" and God is the source of it all.  So who am I to pick and choose what I read and hear, what I rejoice over and what I do not?  I don't know the bigger, glorious picture God has designed for me.  It's just another area of my life me in which I have to let go of thinking I know what's best.  Reading bits and pieces of the Easter story takes God's Word out of context and trivializes the carefully planned, purpose-perfect, intricate details of His story.  It's time I pay attention to the details.  After all Jesus is our example, counselor, and comforter for living out God's purpose for our lives, as brothers and sisters in Christ,

"For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters."

I encourage you to bite the bullet and read Matthew 26-28, gory unpleasant details and all, with me.  Keep in mind, Jesus was an innocent man, our Messiah.  He was God in the flesh, one man, whose love defies all boundaries, preconceived prejudices, and our faulty human logic.  He is the only human to be perfect and free of sin.  Jesus' crucifixion comes head to head with the age-old question, "If there is a God, a good God, a God of love, then why do innocent people suffer?"  Why did Jesus, of all people, have to suffer? 

We, as imperfect human beings with the freedom to make choices, opened a can of worms in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:15-3), and we have been messing up ever since, suffering the consequences.  God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to save those who believe in Him.  So first, he had to get us TO BELIEVE.  That's where Jesus' life in this world comes into play, born of the Virgin Mary (Matthew 1) student and teacher of God's word(Mark 10:17), friend, healer, and servant to all (Mark 9:35), and we can't forget, miracle worker (evidence throughout the New Testament).  Jesus was God's own son, so God could have kept him from his undeserved suffering and horrific death. Yet, God had a much bigger story to tell through the most monumental of bad days in human history when Jesus died on the cross. 

God made the ultimate sacrifice down to every last detail so that the most important man to grace the face of the Earth would embody ultimate, immeasurable humanness in His suffering AND unconditional, transforming, divine love and Godliness, all at the same time. That's why Jesus is the perfect role model.  

Human flesh meets divine perfection, giving me inspiration, purpose, guidance, and hope for my own life no matter what kind of day I am having.  So coming back around to my question earlier in this blog post, "What about those days that are just down right dull, horrible, ugly, and heart wrenching?  What then?"   "Just hold on tight," as my minister says.  Hold on to your cross, or help a friend or stranger hold on, whatever is, just like Jesus did for us.  That is what we are called to do.

 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

Jesus suffered and sometimes we will too.  Jesus went before us, not only to show us the way, but to walk with us on our way.  We have an unconditional, lasting friend in Jesus.  That's why the full Easter story, gory details and all, is such Good News.  The God planned details are our guidebook in helping us hold on until we reach the eternal glory we all long for in Heaven as Christians. 

That friends, is how we get from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.  Risen Christ. Promises. Triumph.  New life.  Resurrection.  Forgiveness.  Redemption.  Healing.  Joy.  Hope. 

So, whether it's a Good Friday kind of day, an Easter Sunday kind of day, or an in between kind of day, God made it, and He sent his son, Jesus to be with us and forgive us when we fall short of His perfection, forever and ever (Matthew 28:18-20). So for that reason, I can

"Rejoice in the Lord always.
I will say it again: Rejoice!"
and be thankful,

"This is the day which the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it."

FYI- Matthew 26-28 is loaded with words to live by, really valuable stuff, too much for one post (more on these verses and the Good News we can find in the bad news of Good Friday in another post).

A prayer for today-
Dear Lord and Savior,
Thank you for sending Your Son, Jesus, to save me from all my mess-ups, my sins, and my fallible human logic. I pray your Holy Spirit will dwell in my heart and work in me, good days and bad. Help me to see the face of Christ in every person I meet, and may every person I meet see the face of Christ in me.
In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit I pray,
Happy Easter everyone!
Love of Christ be with you all,

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