To use a cliché, or a variation on one, life can be a rollercoaster of emotions and this time in the Church’s year can evoke similar feelings. We have Lent, the time for reflection and self-examination; through the high of Palm Sunday with the crowd crying ‘Hosanna! Praise Him’; to the poignancy of the Last Supper; the darkness and suffering of Good Friday; right to the wonder and awe of Easter Day. So come with me as we follow Jesus on part of his journey.
There is a tendency in church when people ask us ‘How are things going?’ to say ‘fine’ and carry on, even when things are completely falling apart. Jesus was honest and vulnerable about the dark times.
Then Jesus said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26: 38, 39)
It doesn’t mean that we have to be positive when things are falling to pieces, it is just one seeming blow on top of another, or pretend that everything is OK, or equally that we have to pour our heart out to everyone, going on and on why things are so terrible; but rather that we can admit how we are feeling, be honest and vulnerable about the difficulties we are facing. It can be overwhelming at times. And just when you think things can’t get any worse…
They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. (Mark 15: 22-24)
We all face dark and difficult times as an individual, as a family and/or as a church; times when there seems to be no hope, no light, no end. We wonder how we will keep going, how we will get through.
Imagine the thoughts and emotions of the disciples as they see the story of the man they have followed and shared their lives with for three years seemingly come to an end. This man has been tried unjustly, flogged, stripped and cruelly nailed to a cross before dying and being buried in a tomb. What next? What will happen to us? Seemingly no hope, no light, no way out. All the disciples can do is hide; huddled in a room scared, frightened, not knowing what to do, too numb to do anything. This man seemed to have the answers, even if they didn’t understand what he said at times, but now he is gone. He said he was the Messiah, they called him Lord, but now he is gone.
It seems that at times the difficulties are unrelenting, the darkness unremitting and there is no end in sight. But we have a Saviour in Jesus who has been there before us. He has walked the hard road of suffering and doesn’t ask us to walk anywhere he hasn’t. So that when we are in despair we can cry out to him “I’m hurting. I’m struggling. I don’t know if I can carry on”. And Jesus will reply “I know. I’m with you all the way. I’m holding your hand”. Jesus didn’t promise us an easy life free from trouble. Instead his promise was that he would never leave us, never let us go.
That is our encouragement and hope because fortunately for the disciples and us the story doesn’t end there…
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (John 20: 19)
Imagine the thoughts and emotions now; excitement then disbelief ‘Is it really you? Can it be true?’ and the answer is ‘yes’ as unbelievable as it seems; probably closely followed by shock ‘How? Why?’ Jesus is alive; Jesus has been raised from the dead; death has been defeated, hope has been restored. Life will never be the same again. Let’s celebrate!
Being a Christian is not all doom and gloom, dark and difficult times. There is light; there is hope; there is love. So when things are going well for us, when we can see God at work in our lives and the life of his church then we should not be frightened of saying “See what God is doing. Let’s rejoice and give thanks”. We can do this because Jesus who suffered and died, rose gloriously again to life. Through his anguish his love remained unshaken. In the words of a song ‘Your [God’s] love never changes. There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning’. This is our hope, our light and our salvation.
So this Easter whether we are facing difficulties, life is just bumbling along, or God is doing amazing things, let’s celebrate and give thanks that through God’s love for us, and Jesus dying on a cross, but rising to life again we have hope and eternal life; and then let’s show that amazing love to others whatever our circumstances.