I was reading through some old journal entries recently and stumbled across one from the Easter season two years ago. At the time, I had been on a spring break mission trip to a community center in Indianapolis – the same community center, as it turned out, where I would spend a year working after graduating from college. Four days into that trip, I received the news that my great-grandfather had passed away. The next day, I wrote the following:
“I’d known for a few days previously that Grandpa Max wasn’t doing well, but it was still rough [when I found out]. That afternoon and the following morning, I found it almost impossible to focus on serving, and even though I was in control emotionally, I felt really, really tired. Honestly, all I wanted to do was go home.
“But then something happened. At first, I blamed myself for feeling lighter, convinced I wasn’t grieving as I should. But now I think it’s more of a reprieve brought by the prayers of my team, my family, and a few friends I told. For now at least, I’m able to focus on serving. I know God has a purpose for my being here this week.”
That following week, as I continued to reflect, I wrote more about the experience:
“…Being present is something I struggle with. As a worrier by nature, it’s difficult for me to let go of my fears for tomorrow in order to focus on today. Last week, I was able to focus almost solely on ‘today,’ which was a sweet and refreshing gift.
“In part, I think this was made possible by our crazy, shifting, unpredictable schedule. I couldn’t worry about tomorrow, because I hardly ever knew what was going to happen two hours from then, let alone the following day. In learning to be flexible, I learned to be present. I can only credit the prayers of family and friends for how I was able to be present, rather than worrying about my trip home for Grandpa Max’s funeral or about the hundred and one things I have to do this week.”
“…As it turns out, despite timing that seemed less than ideal, this time was extremely important and enlightening and right for me. I learned about Christ’s provision in times of weakness and grief. I learned about openness with others and a little more about relying on them. I learned to let go of my plans and worries and trust God to work things out. I learned about being present in the moment instead of dwelling on the past or rushing off to the future. I learned about the grace of God and its presence in my family. And I learned about the passion God has placed in my heart for ministry.”
The funeral for my great-grandfather was held on Good Friday, and for me, all of the emotions of the week became mixed up with the grace and hope of Easter.
This year, I’ve been reflecting again on Easter and all of the emotions that come with it. I’ve tried to put myself in the place of the disciples during those long, dark Friday and Saturday nights.
I wonder if they could even contain their grief. I picture them weeping until they ached. Yet I wonder too if their throats were as tight with guilt as with sadness. Why didn’t I stay with Him? How could I have denied Him?
I wonder if they lost faith. They had believed Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, yet they watched Him die. Were we wrong? Was He wrong? God, what are you doing?
And then came Sunday morning and with it came the rising Son and the surprise of joy.
Yesterday, I was opening a set of Resurrection Eggs with a group of elementary kids.
“What do you think is inside the last one?” I asked. The other eggs had contained a donkey figurine, silver coins, a metal cup, a crown of thorns, nails, a burial cloth…all reminders of the events leading up to Easter.
“Jesus!” one kid guessed. “Jesus’ head!” another said.
I opened the egg to reveal an empty center.
Their surprise was palpable. “Whaaat?”
That’s the wonderful thing about Easter I think. The beauty and utterly unexpected surprise of an empty tomb, of resurrection, of joy after mourning. You find that you weren’t wrong after all, that He was right, and that His plan is good. Worry over the past and fear over the future slip away as you find yourself resting in the grace of His presence.
Good Friday is grief and doubt and death all wrapped up into one package, but when you unwrap that package Easter morning, you find joy and faith and life instead.
“The greatest of these” may be love, but thank God for the Hope of Easter.