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Posts Tagged ‘Easter’

As an eighteen-year-old in my first year at university, I remember studying a play called Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett for our English course. I can still recall where I was sitting in the sloping lecture theatre, the day we all watched a live performance of this play. And I can well remember how confused and ignorant I felt. What was I missing? Did everyone else understand what was happening—or not happening?

I looked around and, to my relief, many others seemed bemused too. We were all wriggling in our seats. And we were bored, oh so bored, as we waited and waited for the person who seemed to be expected to turn up in the play. But even more, we were waiting for that performance to end! If nothing else, Samuel Beckett clearly conveyed to us the hopeless feeling we can get when we have to wait forever for something.

There are different sorts of waiting, it seems to me. I remember what it was like to wait for exam results at school and university. I would be filled with excitement as I anticipated those good marks for the subjects I loved. Yet I felt distinctly nervous at the prospect of seeing a big ‘F’ for ‘Fail’ beside those subjects I did not care for.

And I well remember waiting for our three children to be born, each one of them overdue by around a week. We were so excited to welcome them into the world. Would we have a boy or a girl? Who would they look like? Yet I dreaded the thought of those hours of labour that I knew awaited me. I was not looking forward to that, yet it was part of what needed to happen for the baby to arrive.

These various waiting experiences came to mind this past Easter as I read again what happened after Jesus was crucified.

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. Luke 23:50-51

The phrase ‘waiting for the kingdom of God’ caught my attention. Joseph, it seems, was a just and godly man—but he was more than that too. John’s Gospel tells us he was actually ‘a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.’ (John 19:38) Yet at this point, he found the courage to go to Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body, along with Nicodemus, the Pharisee who had earlier visited Jesus at night. Joseph was looking for the coming Messiah. He was expectant. He was ready and waiting to believe and follow him. And, despite his fear and the danger he and Nicodemus might face from their fellow Jews, he acted, treating Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, with true dignity and reverence (19:39-42).

I wonder if that is how I am treating Jesus right now. Am I focussed on living for the Messiah who died for me? Am I filled with hope and expectancy, as I wait for that day when I will see him face to face?

I hope I, like Joseph of Arimathea, am waiting well for Jesus in a way that honours him.

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These days leading up to Easter are always filled with mixed emotions for me. I feel so joyful and relieved when I think about Easter Sunday, when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Yet I always feel a sense of dread too, as Good Friday approaches, because those last days of Jesus’ earthly life held such pain for him on many different levels.

This year in preparation for Easter, I decided to read the last few chapters of Luke’s Gospel again slowly, wanting—yet not wanting—to follow Jesus’ journey to the cross. And, as always, I found new challenges awaiting me and a whole new appreciation for the huge sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf.

Central to this was the way Jesus remained in control of all that took place. For our sake, he allowed those terrible events to happen to him. For us, he deliberately remained at the mercy of Pilate, Herod, the soldiers, the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard and the crowd who shouted, ‘Crucify him!’ The physical pain he endured through it all, even before his crucifixion, must have been absolutely excruciating. But what challenged me most this time as I read was the deep mental, emotional and spiritual anguish he must have suffered, as he was mocked and ridiculed. Yet he took it all—for you and for me—and I still find that hard to fathom.

When Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, he forbids his followers to defend him in any physical way. When one of them strikes the high priest’s servant and cuts off his ear, Jesus even goes to the extent of healing the wounded man (Luke 22:51). Yet further on in that same chapter, we read how Jesus himself is not only beaten, but cruelly mocked and made fun of too.

The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” And they said many other insulting things to him. Luke 22:63-64

How did Jesus, the Saviour of the world, put up with such taunts? How shameful that the Son of God, who knows all things, was blindfolded as if a child taking part in some party game and challenged to guess who hit him! It makes my blood boil just to read it. I myself am often too proud to accept any sort of rebuke or hint of insult or blame. Yet Jesus, who had done nothing wrong and instead healed and restored so many, took this shameful rubbish and cruel play-acting on our behalf.

I read on then, as Jesus quietly answers the chief priests and teachers of the law the next morning and is taken before Pilate, then passed over to Herod. And here the scoffing and taunting continues.

Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate.  Luke 23:11

Yet Jesus does not retaliate or even speak out to defend himself. Instead, when he is eventually led away and hangs on that cross, he prays:

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

What amazing love Jesus showed for us—what a beautiful Saviour we have! This Easter, let’s truly remember this and worship Jesus with all our heart.

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There we were, our granddaughter and I, chatting away as she bounced on the trampoline. Maxine had turned seven that day, so was particularly excited. We talked about all sorts of things, but at one stage, when she was trying to tell me something I didn’t understand, she looked at me with pity in her big, brown eyes and proceeded to climb off the trampoline.

‘Nanna, let me explain!’ she told me. ‘Now … this is what I mean.’

What followed was a detailed description of a certain game, complete with an energetic re-enactment for my benefit. With great enthusiasm, Maxine swooped back and forth, outlining the parameters of where everyone could run, with such patience and gusto that I did not have the heart to tell her I had no idea what she talking about. Instead, I nodded enthusiastically and said ‘Wow!’—and she seemed satisfied.

Yes, at the ripe old age of seven, Maxine is definitely good at is picturing whole scenes in her mind, then describing them vividly, complete with blow-by-blow actions. Sometimes I find it hard not to smile as I watch her in action with such an earnest expression on her face, while she enters fully into making me understand.

Now that might seem a far cry from anything to do with Lent and the weeks leading up to Easter. Yet later, as I thought about how intent Maxine was on helping me enter into this whole experience, my mind went to God’s ultimate action in reaching out to us through Jesus Christ. For so many centuries, God’s nature and ways had been made clear to the Israelites. Yet eventually, by sending Jesus, God showed them—and us—beyond the shadow of a doubt how deeply we are loved.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Yet as the first disciples began following Jesus, they were still puzzled about who he was. And they were often slow to understand, despite listening to him and seeing him perform many miracles. Once, after Jesus rescues them by rebuking the wind and waves, they cry out:

What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” Matthew 8:27

A few chapters later, we read how Simon Peter at least has realised who Jesus actually is:

But what about you?” he {Jesus) asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’

Simon Peter answered. “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”  Matthew 16:15-16

And this is the question we all are called to answer, isn’t it? In our heart of hearts, who do we truly say Jesus is?

God’s amazing love for us could not have been made any clearer. In Jesus, we see it played out in how he lived and died—for us. Jesus not only talked about God’s love, but also acted it out to the bitter end, despite the cost and the agony involved.

Let’s not take Jesus’ words or actions lightly. As Easter approaches, let’s look at that love of God, played out on the cross for us. Let’s not just smile or pretend to understand, as I did with Maxine. Instead, let’s allow that amazing love to change us—forever.

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Jo 17Recently, my brother-in-law turned seventy-five—and in that same week, retired from an active ministry role in his denomination. For his last sermon, he was delighted to be given the story of the prodigal son on which to base his message, along with 2 Corinthians 5, which focusses on ‘the ministry of reconciliation’ and includes the following:

We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. (20)

What a good way to sum up a life of ministry! This surely needs to be the central focus, not only of those in such roles but of anyone who, as a ‘new creation’ in Christ (17), seeks to live a life that honours God. How it plays out in our lives will be different for each of us, but what a wonderful ‘message of reconciliation’ (19) we all have to share with others!

We need reconciliation on so many levels in our world, don’t we—between nations, political factions, neighbourhoods, families, individuals—and even within ourselves. Perhaps it is on this latter level that we need it most because, when we are at peace in our own hearts, our whole perspective changes. We no longer need to defend ourselves so strongly and win against others at all costs. We no longer need to destroy others or grasp what others have to feel better about ourselves. Rather than striving within ourselves, we are at rest—and the best way I know to experience this is to receive the amazing love of God and to allow that love to change us deep down. In short, the best way to be reconciled within ourselves is to be reconciled with God.

At Easter, we have the perfect opportunity to reflect once again on the the depth of God’s love for us in sending Jesus to die in our place. I love it when I can have a very quiet Easter, with plenty of time to remember Jesus’ death on my behalf and then to truly be able to rejoice that this was not the end—that Jesus rose again and is now at God’s right hand, ready to welcome us to be with him forever. How privileged we are to know this amazing love of God! We did not deserve it or earn it in any way. We are no better than anyone else—Jesus’ death was for all. So how can it be okay to keep this amazing love to ourselves alone?

This Easter, let’s take time as best we can to reflect on Jesus’ love for us all over again. Then let’s allow it to impact how we live our lives each day, as believers reconciled with God, with others and within ourselves. Let’s allow it to inspire us to remember others in prayer and in practical ways. In fact, like the Apostle Paul and his co-worker Timothy, let’s allow it to compel us to live for God in any and every way we can.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

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Jo 17

I always look forward to Easter, not because of all those chocolate eggs and bunnies I don’t eat but enjoy giving our grand-kids—and not even because of those hot cross buns I do eat but shouldn’t! Instead, I look forward to Easter because I know it will bring me face to face again with the absolute beauty of Jesus and his love for us in a way I can’t ignore. I know his amazing sacrifice will shake me to the core again—just as I need to be shaken. And each Easter, I try to stop and reflect on what for me is the bottom line in my life, which is this: Jesus loved you and me enough to give his life for us, in order to save us and bring us back into close relationship with our Father God—forever.

I cannot get my mind around that—but I know it’s true.

I cannot get my mind around so much about Jesus. But I know he rose from the dead and is alive today—and that he knows me and loves me.

I am so moved as I read again the account in Matthew’s Gospel of the events leading up Jesus’ crucifixion. As Jesus celebrates the Passover meal with his disciples, he says, with a voice that must have been filled with pain:

I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.”(21)

One by one, they ask him: “Surely not I?”—even Judas. But Judas doesn’t fool Jesus—and Jesus makes it clear to him that he knows. (22-25)

Jesus knows his disciples so well, yet goes on loving them, pouring out his very life for them—and for us.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (26-28)

He then predicts how they will all fall away and describes in chilling detail how even Peter will disown him three times before the rooster crows. (31-34)

I read on, wondering how Jesus feels as he hears each one passionately refute this:

Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same. (35)

I sense Jesus’ utter desolation and loneliness at Gethsemane, when he finds Peter and James and John asleep and asks them the simple, poignant question:

Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” (40)

The soldiers arrive and Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. But then comes what I find the saddest little sentence ever:

Then all the disciples deserted him and fled. (56)

All these words cut me to the heart. Would I too have disowned Jesus? Would I have fallen asleep? Would I have fled? Where am I right now in following him? Is that bottom line in my life still firm and strong?

This Easter, may you too find time to stop and reflect on that bottom line in your life and reconnect in a fresh way with our wonderful Saviour and Lord.

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I love Easter and the lead-up to it. It’s a fun time of the year, with Easter eggs and family celebrations and extra days to relax. But it’s much more than that. For me, this is where the rubber meets the road—where we get to the kernel of what it’s all about to be a Christian.

I remember attending a special three hour long service at our local church one Good Friday when I was about twelve. The service was built around the ‘stations of the cross’, which were depicted in various paintings on the walls of that old stone church. Every so often, we would be invited to gather around the next ‘station’ and listen to special readings and prayers. Somehow, even though I was so young, the awesome events we were remembering touched my heart. While I did not fully comprehend it all at that stage, I knew something earth-shattering had happened when Jesus was crucified.

Since then, in the days leading up to Easter, I have always liked to follow Jesus’ journey to the cross by reading one of the Gospel accounts of the events involved, stopping often to reflect. Time and time again, I have been deeply moved by what I have found there—and inevitably, something in particular challenges me, demanding a response. This year, it was the conversation Jesus has his disciples just prior to the Lord’s Supper. In Matthew 26:20-22 we read:

When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?”

Eventually it comes to Judas’s turn. As I read his own “Surely not I, Rabbi?’ (25), I began to wonder what was in his heart as he said those words. Was he aghast at himself at what he knew he was about to do? He had already been paid thirty silver coins to hand Jesus over to the authorities (15). Was he feeling ambivalent about the whole deal by this point? Or was he just plain pretending?

Then comes Jesus’ simple but confronting ‘Yes, it is you.” Or, as some translations put it, “You yourself have said it. From such a brief response, it is hard to tell what he must have been feeling. No doubt there was love as well as deep grief in his eyes as he looked at Judas and uttered those words. But could there also have been deep disappointment and even anger in his words? Was he trying to challenge Judas to the very end?

In ‘The Message’ version of the Bible, Eugene Peterson expresses Jesus’ response this way: “Don’t play games with me, Judas!” Whoa!! Now that certainly caused me to stop and think. Do I ever try to fool myself when God’s Spirit convicts me of something and come back with the same smart rejoinder, ‘Surely not I?’ Does Jesus have cause to say to me at times ‘Don’t play games with me, Jo-Anne’? What an affront to my Saviour, who loves me and gave his life for me!

This Easter, may you and I find time to stop, reflect and be real with God. May we put aside our little games and our ‘Surely not I?’s once and for all and kneel with contrite hearts before Jesus, the Son of God, King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

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Most of us have experienced those moments in our lives when, for one reason or another, something wonderful we have looked forward to so much doesn’t eventuate. Perhaps we had false expectations all along and it was only a pipedream. Perhaps it was something we had worked hard for, but in the end it turned out to be beyond our reach. Or perhaps someone else let us down badly. Whatever the situation, the disappointment cuts deep, doesn’t it? And sometimes it takes a long time to recover. God is still there, we know. And we also know these things happen—that this is part of life and of our messed up world. But it can certainly knock the stuffing out of us.

I have seen such events occur in the lives of friends and family. I remember a wedding that was called off at the last moment. I remember a job loss that had been a large part of someone’s reason for being. I remember miscarriages and a longed for but stillborn baby. And even now in my writing world, I see authors’ hopes dashed as manuscripts they were sure would be accepted for publication are not—sometimes after several similar rejections. Yet I wonder if, despite their devastating nature, any of these rates one little bit beside the huge disappointment Jesus’ followers experienced at his death.

This Easter, I have been reading the last few chapters of John’s Gospel and trying to put myself in the very shoes of Mary Magdalene, one of the women who came to Jesus’ burial place early on the morning of that first day of the week (John 20). In this particular account, Mary finds the stone removed from the entrance of the tomb and Jesus’ body gone, then runs and gets Peter and ‘the other disciple’. These two return home, we are told, but Mary stays there, weeping.

As I try to relate to her, it’s no surprise to me she responds that way. After all, the man she believed was the Messiah, the Son of God—moreover, the one who had delivered her from demons and accepted and believed in her—had not only died a horrible death but was now even to be denied the decent burial he had been given.

And then she has a conversation with two angels in the tomb and with someone she believes to be the gardener. This man gently speaks her name—and everything changes.

Can you imagine the utter joy you might feel if that hardest moment in your life were to be reversed—if when you felt the light had gone out of your world, the very thing you had longed and worked hard for happened or the very thing you dreaded the most did not? What an amazing, amazing experience! Right now I am imagining that myself—and trying to allow that to give me insight into Mary’s deep, overwhelming joy as she races to tell the disciples she has seen the risen Lord.

It’s like in an instant, the world is put right again for her and for us. Yet not as it was—even better. In fact, everything is put right. Forever. At that moment when Mary hears her name, a hope and a future open up for her that are beyond compare and beyond anyone’s imagination.

This Easter, Jesus has spoken my name again. He has spoken yours too. Did you hear him?

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Now how could I as an author ever agree with that? Words are so important and …well, so necessary. Besides, a thousand words aren’t very many when all is said and done. Even ten thousand, which I’ve also heard used in this saying, would be only around a tenth of the number in one of my novels. No big deal.

Yet even I can’t deny a picture has the power to hold one spellbound in a moment. In fact, I experienced it myself only this past Sunday at our church. As I went to sit down and turn my mind to the service about to begin, I noticed a beautiful scene at the front of the chapel. It was very simple—but oh so powerful.

What I saw was a large, wooden cross, with one end of some heavy, deep red material draped around it and the rest left to flow down from the arms of the cross towards a wooden bench below. On the bench was a large, earthenware pot, glowing warmly in the sunlight that filtered down from a skylight above. But this pot was broken, with only half of it remaining upright on its base. The shattered pieces were still there, some half in place, others lying at crazy angles nearby. And behind one of these pieces, at the centre of that broken pot, I could see a lighted candle.

My gaze travelled down from the broken piece of pottery then to the communion table below. In the centre of the table was a shiny, silver goblet filled with red juice and beside it, a round loaf of bread.

No words were needed. Already, with Easter approaching, I had been feeling that familiar, gentle melancholy that seems to creep over me each time Good Friday approaches. Yes, the celebration of the resurrection would come, I knew—but until then, I wanted to remain in that place of remembering Jesus, the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

So I sat and reflected and became aware of great thankfulness rising up in me. Humbly, I identified with that broken pot at the base of the cross. Painfully, I remembered how Jesus’ blood flowed down from that cross straight into my heart, cleansing me and setting me free. And I rejoiced too that, like the candle flame flickering behind that shard of pottery, God’s Spirit is now alive in me, comforting, encouraging, illuminating my way.

We were invited to celebrate communion—to walk up to that table, tear off a piece of that perfect loaf and dip it in the goblet. I watched as, one by one, people came forward reverently, reached out and remembered yet again with gratitude that most amazing sacrifice of all. I soon joined them, Jesus’ own words ringing in my ears:

This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me. …

This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:19–20)

This Easter, may you too see the cross with fresh eyes and be amazed, humbled and renewed all over again. Yes, the picture I saw was worth a thousand words–more than a thousand words.

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Two weeks ago I found myself in a unique situation.  A friend, Kerry Osborne, was recently awarded ‘Highly Commended’ in a competition run by the Black Dog Institute for an essay she wrote about helping the elderly cope with depression.  When the time came for the awards ceremony, however, she discovered it fell slap bang in the middle of a family holiday, so she was unable to attend.  Instead, she asked me to go and accept the award on her behalf.

Now I did see Kerry’s essay before she entered it in the competition.  She sent it to me for my comments, since I am a writer and also worked in editing many years ago.  I loved what she had written – it was a moving and heartfelt story of how she learnt to relate to her own parents in their respective illnesses, which were accompanied in both cases by depression.  I suggested only minor changes – Kerry has a lovely way of expressing herself and her writing is quite able to stand on its own merits. [To read Kerry’s essay ‘Bringing in the Light’, please click here and scroll down the page.]

When I arrived at the awards ceremony and explained I was representing my friend, I was promptly directed to one of the seats marked ‘reserved’ at the front of the room.  So there I sat among the other winners, waiting for the moment when Kerry’s name would be called out.  I expected they would just hand her award to me where I was seated – but no, I had to make my way out into the aisle and step forward just like the other winners to receive my friend’s framed certificate and shake the hand of the Member of Parliament who was so graciously presenting the awards!

Can you imagine how I felt at that point?  I was happy to be there, representing my friend.  I was pleased and proud for her – but I most certainly felt unworthy to be shaking that MP’s hand and marching off with my framed certificate!  I had not earned it.  It did not belong to me.  I had no claim to it at all – except that Kerry had written an email to the organisers to say that I had the right to collect that award on her behalf.

This experience gave me lots of food for thought over Easter, particularly as I reflected on the significance of Good Friday for me personally and for us all.  On the day Jesus died, he gave me the amazing gift of being able to stand before God and know I am totally loved and forgiven.  Jesus paid for this gift with his life – and even though I did not earn it at all, I have received the reward of his loving sacrifice.  One day I will be with him in heaven forever – but that’s precisely where the analogy with my friend’s award falls down.  Eventually I will hand that over to her when she returns from holidays – it’s not mine to keep.  Yet my acceptance as a child of God is something I will never have to give up, as Jesus himself says:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand (John 10:27-28).

And that has to be the best ‘award’ ever – don’t you agree?

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