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.

“Pretty Pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel, less than perfect…”

Driving home after dropping my daughter at nursery the above song came on my local radio station: Perfect by P!ink.

If you don’t know it, it’s a gutsy song about how we believe the bad things we think about ourselves, and what other people may say about us. It’s a call to empowerment for us all, with the following lyrics.

Pretty pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel like you’re less than,

Less than perfect.

Pretty pretty please, if you ever ever feel like you’re nothing,

You are perfect to me.

Powerful stuff, yes. Admittedly, I loved this song when it came out. And, honestly, I love most of P!nk’s material. I find that she doesn’t write about meaningless things, and much of what she has recorded spoke to me in my early 20s. However, I was listening to the song on the radio and I couldn’t help but feel the message was perhaps not the message needed to be heard by people.

You see, despite it currently being popular for daytime tv shows to tell us we are all fine as we are, we are (as a society) experiencing greater levels of depression and anxiety than before. In fact, it was recently reported that, in just 1 generation, depression during pregnancy has soared by 50%. It is staggering! And, in self help sections of book shops, there are more books to help us love ourselves and embrace our identities than you could read in a year. It has become cool to practise self-love: be kind to yourself. Accept who you are. You are perfect.

The problem I have with this is that is just isn’t true. We are not perfect. We all think, say or do things which are unkind, even if it isn’t often. We all decide to not to the thing that we should do. Keep quiet when someone is being made to feel uncomfortable; walk by the homeless man and pretend we don’t see him; join in with gossip about colleagues or friends, when we should really be keeping our nose out of their business.

We are not perfect people. I think it verges on dangerous to believe that we are fine just the way we are; we don’t need to make apologies for who we are and how we act. If you don’t love me the way I am, then I’ll find someone who does. (That’s not to say that anyone deserves to be mistreated, nor that we should stay in harmful situations because no-one’s perfect. No. That’s baloney. If you think you might be in a relationship that isn’t healthy, go here or here. Speak to someone, anyone.)

We are not perfect. God created us perfect, sure. But when Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, sin entered this world. Sin is all the bad stuff that is unkind or hurtful to other people and the world around us. We are born inherently capable of doing bad things to ourselves, to others and to this beautiful world we live in. To pretend that we are fine is to ignore all the selfish behaviour, the desire for convenience and the greed that is present across our societies.

I believe that if God were to write P!nk’s song, it would go a little differently.

Pretty pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel like you’re worthless.

You’re not worthless.

Pretty pretty please, if you ever ever feel like you’re nothing,

You are worth it to me.

Even in all of our imperfection, God says we are not worthless, we are not nothing. God says that even with all of our selfishness, lazy, greedy, envious ways, we are worth it. We are so worth it that he sent his son to die a humiliating death, killing all of our behaviour with him, and then brought him back to life.

When we acknowledge our imperfections, turn to God and apologise, he forgives us. And in Jesus’ death and resurrection, he gives us a promise of a new life after death. A new life, where we will truly be perfect.

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?