It has been an active Easter weekend thus far for me and my family. I spent Good Friday with some of the members of my church home group, watching The Passion of the Christ and being reminded once again of the tremendous sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us. Reading the passion story in the gospels tells us all we need to know about Jesus' willing journey to the cross, but the visual horror of it as depicted in this film causes the tears to flow and the heart to ache. This is only the second time I've watched it in its entirety, and it is an inspired piece of art that touches the soul deeply. Today was spent running errands in anticipation of Easter Sunday. I stepped up a bit more this year than last because my wife has been struggling all week with severe pain in her lower back, probably a recurrence of sciatica after a couple of years without it. I hate to see her so uncomfortable and miserable, so I wanted to do as much as I could to make it easier on her.
As I was shopping and cleaning, I had a spring in my step and joy in my heart because I knew what the next day held. I will be in my usual place, singing with the choir for the three services at our church, and then I'll come home with the rest of the family and get the table set for us and those in our church home group who will be joining us for an Easter meal of leg of lamb and ham with all the accoutrements. It will be a great and wonderful feast with family and friends in fellowship with one another, celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and Savior.
As I sit here, however, in the quiet of the evening, the day's work behind me and the celebration of Easter before me, I'm thinking back to the time of Christ's crucifixion and the utter despair and brokenness that his disciples must have felt on the day after their master and teacher was murdered for all of Jerusalem to see.
Certainly, they were afraid. They were in hiding, terrified that a knock on the door could be the authorities coming to seal their doom as well.
Peter was probably inconsolable. He had done the very thing he said he wouldn't do, but which Jesus said he would indeed do, and I can only imagine the rending of Peter's heart after he had denied his Lord three times, and their eyes met:
At that moment, the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered that the Lord had said, "Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny me three times." And Peter left the courtyard, crying bitterly. ~ Luke 22:61-62
John, who called himself "the disciple Jesus loved," was probably sitting in a corner, wondering how the rest of his life was going to play out. He was the only one of the Twelve that was with Jesus at the end, and he experienced Jesus' love and trust in a poignant and painful way at the foot of the cross. When Jesus spoke to him in the midst of his agony on the cross, John must have felt the weight of the world being placed on his shoulders:
When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, "Woman, he is your son." And he said to this disciple, "She is your mother." And from then on this disciple took her into his home. ~ John 19:26-27
John must have felt like he was at the reading of a will, except that the deceased was not yet dead, and was using the few breaths He had remaining to bequeath to him His own mother.
"Take care of her for me," He was saying and, to John, these words reflected both the confidence Jesus had in him to care for Mary, and the finality of what was unfolding before his very eyes. He must have heard Jesus' words and said to himself, "He's dying and He's not coming back."
As a group, they were shattered to the core. They had lost their master, their rabbi, their Lord, in a manner they never anticipated, even though He told them repeatedly that He must die to fulfill his mission.
"How could He die?," they were probably asking themselves. We saw Him demonstrate power over the very forces of nature itself when the winds and the waves ceased their fury at the sound of His voice. We saw Him heal sicknesses and wounds of a lifetime with just the touch of His hands. He raised a dead man to life after three days in a tomb just by issuing the command: "Lazarus, come out!"
Not only were they mourning the loss of the man they were convinced was the long-foretold Messiah, they lost one of their number, Judas Iscariot, first to betrayal, then to remorse and death by suicide. While they hid to escape the wrath of the Pharisees and the Romans, their erstwhile friend and fellow traveler was swinging from a tree limb, food for the flies and other vermin that found their nourishment in the flesh of the dead. The aura of death and loss enveloped them like a fog.
They probably didn't remember Jesus' words about tearing down the temple and rebuilding it in three days, or if they remembered, they didn't understand. These simple men and women probably thought it was another one of His parables or sayings that they always seemed to have trouble grasping. But even when He was clear on what was to happen to Him - and He spoke of His impending death many times - they either didn't get it or refused to believe it:
"The time of judgment for the world has come, when the prince of this world will be cast out. And when I am lifted up on the cross, I will draw everyone to myself." He said this to indicate how he was going to die. "Die?" asked the crowd. "We understood from Scripture that the Messiah would live forever. Why are you saying the Son of Man will die? Who is this Son of Man you are talking about?" ~ John 12:31-34
Put yourself in their sandals, and you can see that the day after the crucifixion was a time of utter darkness and despair for them. They had given three years of their lives to a man they thought was the Messiah, and now He was buried in a tomb, having met the fate of all the men before Him who claimed to be the chosen one.
We know how the story turned out. At the time, they didn't. We are light-hearted with anticipation, because we know the celebration is just hours away. They doubted they would ever celebrate or have joy in their lives again.
Yet they are the fortunate ones. For just as they were mired in their own fear, hopelessness and immeasurable sense of loss, He stepped back into their lives, powerfully, indescribably, and dramatically, and once the terror subsided of seeing the one they thought was dead in their midst, their hearts must have been filled to the bursting point:
That evening, on the first day of the week, the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! "Peace be with you," he said. As he spoke, he held out his hands for them to see, and he showed them his side. They were filled with joy when they saw their Lord!" ~ John 20:19-20
The story didn't end there. The disciples made sure of it, and they gave their lives, many dying horrible deaths, because they knew their story would change the world as it had changed them. Nothing could ever take from them the incredible joy of being in the presence of their resurrected Lord.
Yes, we will celebrate tomorrow because Christ rose from the dead those thousands of years ago, and forever altered the path of human history. But all our singing, preaching and feasting can't possibly compare to the celebration of his disciples who, in one moment heard the gates of hell rattling in their ears and, in an instant, had their dread driven away, and their hearts consumed by the light of eternity and the warmth of endless, unconditional love. Christ stood in their midst, and they knew that God had won, and the victory was theirs.