The up and down nature of the Easter story literally rises and falls with Christ on the Cross. The roller coaster starts with Jesus rising to go to the garden of Gethsemane, on the mount of olives, then falling into the hands of His captors. The brutality of his punishment rising on the cross, and the pain of his passing and his descent to the lowest depths of death to defeat the hold it once held on this life. The rising of His ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit to dwell with us until He once comes again.
A week before Easter I get the news that a friend of mine loses their daughter and son in law in a freak accident whilst on holiday. Two young lives taken too soon. Lives that loved each other and loved Jesus. Tributes pouring in as a real testament to their kindness and compassion and their Christ like nature. Days before I heard the news, I was celebrating with friends of the same age, seeing them make a public vow of love till death they do part. A real celebration of love between a couple centred on God, seeking first the Kingdom in all they do and all they are.
A week prior to this we see the celebration of another young couple who are madly in love and always point all they do to Jesus. I am honoured to be asked to speak in the position as brother to the bride. And at the same time, I sense the honour of a proud father when I speak and share about how this couple grows from strength to strength.
I get a glimpse of why Jesus chose a wedding to be the place for the first miracle. The joy and love of relationship. People sold out for something greater than themselves. A celebration that indicates humanity was never meant to be alone or isolated from anyone or anything. If that is not conducive to things of wonder, then I am not sure what is.
Yet come Easter Saturday, there’s a prayer and memorial service for the couple lost; I see the nature of brokenness in a father so full of love, grieving for someone they hold so dear. A prayer and memorial service as well attended as either wedding, as a community gather to share in the love, they have for this couple that have departed from our side of the Kingdom. We pray and show our support for the faithful departed, for the family who grieve and the community who mourn. This solemn Saturday for me brought home the reality of the Easter Saturday all those 2000 years ago.
Romans 12:15 – Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.
As the heaviness of the reality hits us I’m struck with the image of a Father God who is sitting at the foot of the cross mourning the loss of His Son. A Father grieving after something so precious to Him. Just because the sacrifice was required it didn’t make it any easier to do. A God who knows what we as humans go through when we experience loss and grief as He experienced it Himself. The humanity realised for us and through us as we are made in His image.
And then a new reality hits me – This young couple who died had a relationship with Jesus. They personally knew Jesus. A Jesus that rose again and was there to say to them ’Welcome, I’ve been waiting for you to come and join me’. Standing with open arms to surround them with love. The image of the prodigal Father awaiting the day for the children to join the banquet. Each testimony about this couple says, this is what they were running towards.
And this is the beauty of the Cross. We have the same reality in the present.
A Jesus who is there saying to us ‘Welcome, I’ve been waiting for you to come and join me’. This is not a reality that death holds for us. But a reality we can take hold of in the here and now!
Mark 1:15 – The time has come; the Kingdom of God is at hand. Change your life and believe the good news.
This transformation I have never seen truer than in the life of my Mum. The Easter Weekend provided the weather and the capacity for a clear out of the garden. This is Mum’s domain. This is her safe space and her happy place. I’ve seen her health go up and down over recent years, I see her energy drain from her as she feels alone because of the actions someone who was called to love her yet chose to abandon her. Yet this new journey has seen her thrive as she has discovered the reality of the one who promises never to leave and never abandon and to always love. Mum’s journey with Jesus in this season mirrors the encounter that Jesus shared with the couple who passed away. ‘Welcome, I’ve been waiting for you to come and join me’.
My Dad over the Easter weekend mourns the loss of his brother many years ago. He loved his brother and looked after him like he was his own son. My Dad always had the pain in knowing that he couldn’t be with his brother the moment he passed. And yet Dad walks in the promise that Jesus was there to welcome his brother with open arms because of the relationship they had.
A couple of weeks later, we see a fulfilment of the promise Mum walks into as she goes through baptism. The sign of a filling of the holy spirit, falling to the things of yesteryear and rising into the promise of new creation.
But we come back to the Easter weekend, and I see the culmination of the Father in the hands of my Mother. Her garden is her world. She cares for her garden as much as she cares for her children. Each day that she is not able to go into the garden, you see the pain and anguish in her face. It becomes messy, it becomes wild, it starts to break, and weeds start to take over. Mum is tired and busy and worn out most days, yet when she gets to be in her garden, her energy supernaturally comes back, her face glows and her demeanour changes. She talks to her plants and calls them by name, and they listen to her voice. She gets to work, pruning, weeding, cultivating, planting, sowing and growing. She begins to re-enact the promise she has walked into. The hope of new creation and growth. But it is one particular plant that draws me to stillness. I witness a vine that wants to grow but is surrounded by weeds, climbing alongside it and choking it. For me, the thing to do is to pull the weed and drag it forcefully away from the plant as sign of strength, that it will not take over anymore. Yet here I see my mum, tenderly work with the weed and gently unwrap it. So not to damage the plant and yet at the same time release the freedom the vine needs to thrive. Once completely unwrapped, she then uses her strength to remove the roots to the weed from the ground so that it can’t come back again.
God is removing the things that choke us and restrict us gently so that we slowly experience the Freedom he promised us but without unnecessary harm. Then he will remove the roots that try to take their hold strongly so that we can live free of fear that it will come again. We start to feel the healing that comes with the promise of the Easter cycle that means that we will always rise with Christ no matter how far we think we have fallen. A hope that goes beyond all human understanding.
During this Easter and every Easter, may I invite you to take the vision of the temple curtain tearing in two; torn from top to bottom, removing the barrier, that for many years meant we had limited access to God’s Presence. The actions of your teams, reaching out into the needs and hearts of your community, is symbolic of the curtain being removed as you carry God’s presence to those who may not know how to receive it. You create opportunities for people see glimmers and glimpses of the invitation that Jesus has waiting for them. Be encouraged that you are a revelation of the risen Christ inviting them to take their place in the Kingdom.
Whilst God’s promise is to never leave us nor forsake us, we can’t help but feel the pain and grief of people we love that do abandon, be it through life or death. Yet the hope of Easter gives us the promise that we will rise again and when we do, be it in life or in death, there will be Jesus saying ‘Welcome, I’ve been waiting for you to come and join me’