Easter Reflections

“They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, “Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians”? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’ Moses answered the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.’”
‭‭(Exodus‬ ‭14:11-14‬)

The Hebrew people are terrified. Their lives are in great danger, as the Egyptian armies close in on them. They’re supposed to be being brought out of captivity and into freedom, yet here they are, about to die in the desert. Or so they think. This reading from scripture is often read at Easter, as it marks the point when God’s goodness and faithfulness deliver his people out of captivity, through water and into freedom. What does Moses say to them? What do they need to do?

Stand firm. Be still.

Isn’t that what the women did the day after Jesus’ crucifixion? The day before Jesus’ resurrection? They stood firm in God’s faithfulness, in the story of the exodus. They were still. How could they not be? It was the Sabbath. And then? What came next? What came after standing firm and being still?

Resurrection.

Deliverance.

Freedom.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

(Matthew 28: 1-10)

In the same way that God stepped into the fear of the Hebrew people and delivered them from their captivity, so Jesus steps into the darkness of all people and delivers us from our own captivity; from our own sin. That’s what we are celebrating today.

Resurrection.

Deliverance.

Freedom.

So we have these similarities in the two pieces of scripture: an urge to stand fast in God’s faithfulness, and a need to be still. But there is a third. First Moses, then the angel, and finally Jesus say the words, “Do not be afraid.” This Easter there is so much that we could be afraid of and yet God’s faithfulness throughout scripture shows us we need not be afraid… of anything.

John Mark Comer writes, “People all over the world are looking for an escape, a way out from under the crushing weight to life this side of Eden. But there is no escaping it. The best the world can offer is a temporary distraction to delay the inevitable or deny the inescapable. That’s why Jesus doesn’t offer us an escape. He offers us something far better: a whole new way to bear the weight of our humanity, with ease. With Jesus doing the heavy lifting. At his pace. Slow, unhurried.” In his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, Comer goes on to say that the only way to have a spiritually healthy life is to “ruthlessly eliminate the hurry from your life”. This is because hurrying is at odds to a life spent with Jesus.

The angel tells the women to not be afraid, to tell the disciples. And they go. But they hurry. Matthew makes a point of telling us that it is in their hurry that Jesus stops them in their tracks and repeats what they’ve already been told: do not be afraid. Go and tell my disciples.

If we let him, Jesus stops us in our tracks. He pulls us out of the darkness, out of the hurry of the world, and into new life with him. We don’t need to be afraid. We need to stand fast in his faithfulness. We need to be still.

The Next Right Thing

“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”
‭‭(Luke‬ ‭23:55-56‬, NIVUK‬‬)

They rested. But was it Sabbath rest? Or the rest of grief? The tiredness of grief that must have consumed them immediately after the brutal death of their friend and teacher, Jesus. This is the part of the story that I so want to read, and yet there’s so little detail of what they did. Is this it? Is this all they did? Rested?

Holy Saturday – Day of Sadness by Hanabella

This is the bit of the story that is scant with detail, but anyone who has ever experienced grief or loss knows what came next. The fatigue. The loss of appetite. The tears for no reason. The isolation. How could they have rested, truly rested, and worshipped at a time such as that? How could they have participated in Sabbath rest and worship?

We see this played out in Frozen 2, when Anna loses both her sister and her friend. She sinks to the floor, barely able to speak. She sits alone in the dark, a metaphor for the isolation in your mind after loss. When she sings, it is with a whisper.

I’ve seen dark before, but not like this
This is cold, this is empty, this is numb
The life I knew is over, the lights are out
Hello, darkness, I’m ready to succumb
I follow you around, I always have
But you’ve gone to a place I cannot find
This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down
But a tiny voice whispers in my mind
You are lost, hope is gone
.

“You’ve gone to a place I cannot find … you are lost, hope is gone.” Words sun by Anna in the song Do the Next Right Thing. It’s a hint given throughout the film: when all seems lost, we do the next right thing. Yet, Jesus gives the same instructions. He tells them to break bread and to do it in remembrance of him; to drink wine, remembering his blood poured out for all; to worship their God, without pretense, and with their whole hearts. Despite their loss, despite the hopelessness they find themselves inhabiting, the women, we are told, do the next right thing. They entered the Sabbath and they rested in their grief.

Can there be a day beyond this night?
I don’t know anymore what is true
I can’t find my direction, I’m all alone
The only star that guided me was you
How to rise from the floor
When it’s not you I’m rising for?

In the immediacy of losing Jesus, they must have wondered what happened next. Here was a man who’d taught them so much, proclaimed to BE the truth. The way. The life. But now he was gone. They had rooted their lives in his; where he went, they followed. Even until the end, even with the danger of being associated with this man, the women followed to the cross. And to the tomb.

In the same way, Anna’s life is rooted into that of her sister. She finds her truth and identity in being Elsa’s plucky but vulnerable younger sister. She’s not the queen, but by blood she is royalty. And when her sister is lost, Anna doesn’t know how to do the next right thing. Why? Because the one who guided her towards that thing has gone. I wonder if the women felt this despondency. How do we rest and worship when the one who guided us to rest and worship is gone?

But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing

They must have felt lost. Yet they had a deeper faith, rooted into a tradition of worship and rest found in keeping the Sabbath. They knew that Yahweh had delivered the people they belonged to out of Egypt and through the waters into new life. They had to believe that if they did the next right thing, if they stepped into the Sabbath to worship and rest, that Yahweh would deliver them out of this grief, through their tears and into new life. The life he had promised them. The life where they would no longer hunger or thirst.

Of course, this is the turning point in the song, where Anna’s voice strengthens and she starts to make a move. She becomes resolute in what she has to do next. If this were a musical about Jesus’ death and resurrection, one of the women would sing this. At this moment, though, they’d have been mourning and resting in the darkness of their own home for 2 nights and a day. They’d be getting ready to make a move out of Sabbath and into the next right thing: returning to the tomb to continue mourning.

And, with it done, what comes then?
When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again
Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice
And do the next right thing.

That first Holy Saturday wasn’t just about darkness and isolation, grief and loss. It was also about Sabbath: rest and worship. Worship that no doubt included loud cries and wailing. Rest that no doubt included both silence and noise. Today, as sit in our own social isolation, I wonder if we have lessons to learn about how we rest and worship this Easter.

It was that line which made me first thing of the crucifixion story: “What comes then? When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again.” I instantly imagined Mary and the other women yearning for yesterday, mourning not just the loss of their beloved friend, but also the loss of life as they knew it. Life as they’d hoped it would be. Yet, they made a choice: to rest into their grief and loss. They made a choice: to wait and return to the tomb after a day of Sabbath. They made a choice, to hear God’s voice. To do the next right thing.

Forsaken

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,[a] lama sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
(Matthew 27: 45-46)

Forsaken. Abandoned. Deserted. 

Jesus hangs, laid bare for all to see, broken for all to mock, dying for all to live. Jesus hangs, forsaken. First abandoned by his friends, and now his God deserts him. Our God deserts him.

Jesus cries in pain, the pain we cause in our separation from God. The pain we feel because of our own separation from God. The pain we embrace each time we sin. 

We look at the cross today. We see Jesus feel forsaken. And I wonder if, in this current time, we feel forsaken too. Jesus was never separated from the Father, he merely allowed himself to enter into the experience of sin itself. We see in these words on the cross, an entering into the human experience of separation from God. 

Just 15 weeks have passed since Christmas, when we celebrated Immanuel: God WITH us. We are a resurrection people. A people who know that ultimately God IS with us. And yet we are a Good Friday people too. Just as we have many hours of lockdown left, we have many hours of forsakenness before our resurrection celebration on Sunday morning. We have hours in which we can, as Walter Brueggeman challenges us, reflect on the fake promises of the world around us, and on the truth of our lives before the holiness of God. 

NT Wright writes, “the mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments.” We are not alone in our feelings of forsakenness and grief. God IS with us. As we dwell in abandonment until the resurrection of Easter morning, as we fix our eyes on Jesus’ forsakenness, may we see clearly our own abandonment and that of others. 

The loud cry will turn to loud praise. But before that, it is a loud cry. It is a loud cry for all the abandoned. It is a loud cry for all the sick. It is a loud cry for all those in our world who are yet to know the truth of Immanuel. 

This loud cry of forsakenness can be our cry this Easter. It tears the temple curtain in two, it is so powerful. And behind the curtain, revealed to us, is the God who turns the world the right way up. And he chooses to do this through weakness. As we sit at the cross, may we hear Jesus cry, may we be reminded of our own weakness, as we ask God’s spirit to cry within us today. 

Weeping: Good Friday Reflections on Mary at the Cross Pt 4

Fac me tecum pie flere,
crucifíxo condolére,
donec ego víxero.

Juxta Crucem tecum stare,
et me tibi sociáre
in planctu desídero.

Let me mingle tears with thee,
mourning Him who mourned for me,
all the days that I may live:

By the Cross with thee to stay,
there with thee to weep and pray,
is all I ask of thee to give.

Weeping. See Mary at the foot of the cross. When Mary stayed at the cross, did she know she would be given a new son? Someone to look after her and someone for her to mother? While she wept, did she say anything to Jesus? Did she cry out to God? Where was his mercy for her? How could he leave her? What was her prayer?

Do we look at the cross and see the pain? Or do we look away, only inviting the joy of the resurrection that we know is coming? Mary did not know. She did not have hindsight.

Look at the cross. See Jesus the son, wrought with pain. See Mary the mother, stood below, watching, waiting, weeping.

Let us hurry not to the Easter tomb, with gleeful joy.

Let us watch.

Let us wait.

Let us weep.

Waiting: Good Friday Reflections on Mary at the Cross Pt 3

Pro peccátis suæ gentis

vidit Iésum in torméntis,

et flagéllis súbditum.

Vidit suum dulcem Natum

moriéndo desolátum,

dum emísit spíritum.

For the sins of His own nation,

She saw Jesus wracked with torment,

All with scourges rent:

She beheld her tender Child,

Saw Him hang in desolation,

Till His spirit forth He sent.

 

Waiting. See Mary at the foot of the cross. Her face is turned up towards Jesus. She sees his frail body, hanging bleakly. While Mary waited, did she think of her life with Jesus? What was she remembering in her grief as he went from her? Perhaps the moment she was told of his birth? Or the miracle of turning water into the finest wine? So far from the wine vinegar he tasted on the cross. As we look with Mary, what do we remember of Jesus’ life?

Do we look at the cross and see the pain? Or do we look away, only inviting the joy of the resurrection that we know is coming? 

Look at the cross. See Jesus the son, wrought with pain. See Mary the mother, stood below, watching, waiting, weeping.

Watching: Good Friday Reflections on Mary at the Cross Pt 2

Quis est homo qui non fleret,
matrem Christi si vidéret
in tanto supplício?

Quis non posset contristári
Christi Matrem contemplári
doléntem cum Fílio?

Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear Mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain
from partaking in her pain,
in that Mother’s pain untold?

Watching. See Mary at the foot of the cross. While she watched, we know she must have wept. Her son lay bare for all to see, broken for all to mock, dying for all to live. Is her face blotched and stricken with angst? Perhaps you can hear her cries from all around? Or is she weeping more silently, more controlled? 

Do we look at the cross and see the pain? Or do we look away, only inviting the joy of the resurrection that we know is coming?

Look at the cross. See Jesus the son, wrought with pain. See Mary the mother, stood below, watching, waiting, weeping.

 

Watching, Waiting, Weeping: Good Friday Reflections on Mary at the Cross Pt 1

Mary, at the cross with Jesus, is an image immortalised in Stabat Mater art – Stabat Mater meaning mourning mother. Sometimes this art portrays solely Mary with Jesus, sometimes the other women are there too, as in John’s Gospel, but mostly it is Mary on Jesus’ right hand side and John on the left. These images portray the artists’ impressions of how they see what John wrote about. The Stabat Mater is also a 13th century hymn, and I want to use some of the words to help us reflect on Mary and her thoughts and feelings as she stood at the cross with her son.

Stabat mater dolorósa
juxta Crucem lacrimósa,
dum pendébat Fílius.

Cuius ánimam geméntem,
contristátam et doléntem
pertransívit gládius.

At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.

Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
all His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.

Watching, waiting, weeping.

Mary was promised by Simeon that her soul would be pierced too. She was not promised a lifetime of joy with her beloved child, but an eventual sharing in his pain and anguish. She did not run away and hide, as the disciples did, but stood there until the end.

Do we look at the cross and see the pain? Or do we look away, only inviting the joy of the resurrection that we know is coming?

Look at the cross. See Jesus the son, wrought with pain. See Mary the mother, stood below, watching, waiting, weeping.

Wounded, Crushed, Healed

  
This is a favourite passage of mine, especially at Easter time: a brutally honest reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice for all of humanity. When it came up as my verse of the day on Maundy Thursday, I spent my quiet time reflecting on the entirety of Isaiah 53. Three words stood out to me: wounded, crushed and healed.


Wounded

What Jesus endured in that period of time becomes more and more incomprehensible as I get older. Not only did he experience enormous physical pain, but he must have also felt incredible emotional and spiritual pain too. Jesus was alone. Not lonely, but alone, abandoned and separated from all he knew and loved. He was, after all, human and capable of feeling the full range of our human emotions. When was the last time you felt alone?

For me, it was 4 weeks after my daughter was born. Despite knowing that there would be times of loneliness in motherhood, I wasn’t prepared for how I felt that Wednesday. I didn’t just feel lonely, I felt alone. Isolated. I remember sobbing, whilst my husband and I walked around the block with our daughter. Probably a mixture of postnatal hormones, being an extrovert, and leaving a noisy, busy working environment led to these feelings. It was further compounded by the lack of baby groups, as it was half term, and the fact that I hadn’t really made mummy friends yet.

But I wasn’t alone. Not really. In fact, my husband suggested I send a message to a friend whose little girl is a year older than ours. I did, and she replied instantly. The next morning I was at her house, finding that she too had felt this way, and it did get better. Even if she hadn’t replied though, I wasn’t alone. I had God. I have God. I will always have God. In the darkness of death, however, Jesus really was alone. He was cut off by our sin and his death, and abandoned spiritually for 3 days.

Yet another reason why Jesus’ sacrifice means so much to me this Easter. It means I am never alone, even at 3 o’clock in the morning when I’m sat feeding my daughter in the literal dark. Even when she has one of those nights, like last night, where she just has no interest in doing anything other than grazing on me. I might be tired. I might be lonely. But I am not alone, and this passage is yet another reminder of that.

Crushed

Something else hit me whilst reading this passage. My sin literally crushed Jesus. And my daughter’s sin will also literally crush Jesus. When I look at my daughter, I see beauty and joy. I see love and happiness. But what I see mostly is hope. She has so much potential, and no-one (except God) knows what that unique potential could lead to. Right now, she isn’t capable of doing a whole lot, because she’s only 9 weeks old. But in the future, who knows what she will be able to do. To think of the endless possibilities, as I gaze into those lovely eyes, is really quite mind blowing. So. Much. Hope.

And so, it hadn’t occurred to me until I read this passage, that my beautiful, perfect daughter is the same as me. She will sin, and those sins play a part in the Easter story. They nail Jesus to the cross. 

What it also means though, is that Jesus’ sacrifice is also a story of great hope for my daughter. What a wonderful, beautiful truth that is to behold. It makes this first Easter as a mother all the more exciting. This truth isn’t just for me and my husband anymore. Not just for the people we encounter on the street, or at work. It is a truth for our most precious loved one. A truth for us to share with her as she grows.

Healed

This is what it comes down to. Humanity suffers from a dreadful illness (sin) which leads to eternal death. Except it doesn’t have to. Tomorrow, Christians across the world will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Why? Because it means eternal healing. All that sin, all that death, completely paid for by his blood. We. Are. Healed.

  

2000-ish years ago, an ordinary man from Galilee arrived in Jerusalem with his friends. This man had drawn crowds, and proved a popular speaker. He spoke words of hope and truth; words which shone a light in the darkness. This man’s wisdom and compassion had ruffled some feathers with leaders of the established church of the time. These leaders plotted and were complicit in setting up an arrest, trial and death sentence. What was this man’s crime? He claimed to be the Messiah. The Christ. This man was mocked, whipped, and nailed to a cross. He died, on a piece of wood, cut off from those who he loved.

“Who do you say I am?” Jesus asked his disciples, before he died.

I say he is the only son of God. I say he is the bringer of truth and hope and light. I say he is the greatest ever teacher, and the world’s healer.

Who do you say he is?