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Posts Tagged ‘Good Friday’

Jo 17I have always loved Easter. As a child, of course it meant Easter eggs, which, for some reason in our household, were brought by the ‘Easter bird’ and put in our upturned hats on our beds on Easter Sunday morning! But in our family, Good Friday was always a very quiet, solemn day. Occasionally, we would attend the three-hour service at our local Anglican church where we would sing and pray and listen to Scripture readings, as we stood in front of various pictures on the walls depicting Jesus’ journey to the cross.

And that Good Friday solemnity stays with me to this day. Each Easter, I like to make my own solemn journey through one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ last days. I like to read these chapters slowly and carefully, identifying with Jesus as best I can and trying to comprehend the enormity of his sacrifice for us all. But this Easter, I also decided to read 1 John again and was soon pulled up short by the following words:

Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. 1 John 2:6

Whoa! Walk as Jesus did? What a challenge! And what should that look like for me right now, in the midst of our coronavirus measures? Immediately, my thoughts went to some of the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion that I had been reading about in Luke’s Gospel. How did Jesus walk through each day then, in the light of his impending death?

I remembered how Jesus told his disciples he had ‘eagerly desired’ to eat the Passover meal with them (Luke 22:15) and how he gave them such a powerful way of remembering him that still ministers to us today, as he shared the bread and wine with them. I remembered too how Jesus reached out and healed the high priest’s servant whose ear was cut off in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:51). And I also recalled how, even as the soldiers put Jesus on that cross, he asked his Father to forgive them because they were acting in ignorance (Luke 23:34). Then, out of perfect love for us and perfect obedience, he gave his life for us all.

What sobering reminders of how selflessly Jesus lived! But how should it all play out in my life now in this time of semi-isolation at home?

  • I can pray for God to intervene and have mercy on our desperate world. And I can pray especially for those who do not know God’s love and have no firm foundation in life.
  • I can contact family and friends in various ways to encourage them.
  • I can give financially to those in need and also support our church as our pastors continue to serve us.
  • I can watch my attitude at the shops, choosing to be generous rather than selfish. And I can live considerately at home too out of a place of peace rather than fear and turmoil.
  • As a writer, I can ask for God’s guidance and work hard at wording things well so that my readers will be blessed and encouraged.

May we all allow Jesus’ selflessness to impact us this Easter. And may we all learn to walk a little more as he would in this challenging time in our world.

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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. To me, it’s as if God is extra close all around. It’s as if Jesus is reaching down through the centuries since he hung on that cross, looking straight at me, willing me to see the love and forgiveness in his own soul as he looks deep into mine. And it’s also as if God is crying out to a world that is rushing on, heedless, ‘Listen—all of you! Remember what my Son did for you. And remember and celebrate that death could not hold him down. Remember the price that bought your freedom!

On Easter Sunday, I received an email from a friend who lives in a country where most of the population do not celebrate Easter. She shared with me how, when life is continuing as usual around her, it feels a little surreal to be celebrating events that others do not acknowledge. Yet, the true meaning of Easter is so much a part of her that she still goes ahead and celebrates it with great joy. Meanwhile, here in Australia, I was free to attend any number of church services, as well as see family members and delight in buying those Easter eggs for our grandchildren (with a few stray ones making their way into grown-up hands too!). But best of all for me are those moments of quiet reflection, alone in the presence of God.

This year, I decided to read the account of the crucifixion from John’s Gospel. I read how Judas betrayed his Lord in that olive grove, how Jesus was brought before Annas, how Peter denied him for the first time, how Jesus was bound and sent to appear before the high priest Caiaphas and how Peter then denied him twice more. I read with increasing horror how Pilate, despite believing Jesus to be innocent and wanting to set him free, had him flogged, then caved into pressure and handed him over to the people to be crucified. I read how Jesus was nailed to that cross, with a mocking sign above his head, and how he died—for you and me.

And on Good Friday night, as I went to bed, the result of all this struck me with almost overwhelming force and simplicity all over again. This means I’m saved—completely and forever! The realisation was so strong that I almost shouted the words out loud, until I realised my husband might not be impressed with this revelation as he lay there, trying to get to sleep! ‘I’m saved’ is such a hackneyed phrase—one that is even ridiculed at times. But this to me is the bottom line of our Easter celebrations—we are indeed saved from the consequences of our desire to go our own way by Jesus’ death on that cross. We have a whole new start in life and our relationship with God is restored. And one day, because Jesus conquered death and rose again, we too will rise and be with him in heaven forever.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Now that’s a bottom line I find absolutely mind-blowing and well worth celebrating—not only at Easter but all the time. How about you?

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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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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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