Passion Week 4: Relating to Jesus’ resurrection

Jesus is risen!

Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday of Passion Week changed everything!  Out of all the followers of Jesus, only a few of the women were able to keep their wits enough to focus on practical things. Several of the women got up very early on Sunday morning, met at an agreed location, and set out together for the tomb to finish embalming Jesus’ body . As the walked through the darkness, the women must have quietly discussed both the heartache they still felt, and the task ahead. Specifically they wondered how they were going to roll aside the great stone that sealed the entrance.

Upon arrival, the women were stunned to find a scene of confusion. The stone weighing several tons, was not only rolled aside, but seemingly tossed aside some distance away. The Roman guard was dispersed and the tomb was empty.  Not knowing what else to do, they began the return journey to inform their friends. Mary Magdalene lingered behind because she wanted to ask what had happened of a man she presumed to be the gardener.  It was only when the man spoke her name that she realized he was actually Jesus, fully alive.

There were other experiences that day. After being urged by the women to see for themselves, Peter and John ran to the tomb and confirmed that it was empty.   Other followers of Jesus had been on their way home to figure out how to restart their lives– only to meet a fellow traveller, who they suddenly recognized to be Jesus at the end of the day’s journey.  Later Jesus appeared to his disciples when they were together in the upper room.  On still another occasion, Jesus appeared among the disciples when Thomas, who had been absent before, was present.

After his resurrection, Jesus seems to have been physically with his disciples a number of times during a period of several weeks, both in Jerusalem and in Galilee. Imagine the emotional swings they must have experienced during those days.  In all of their discussions with Jesus, one thing was certain to these men and women: Jesus had come to life again after dying. His death was no tragic accident, but a supreme payment of human transgression. Most importantly, Jesus had shown himself to be the Son of God by taking on a new kind of life: a life he was offering to share with them.

There are many truths to be gained from the resurrection of Jesus.  One that should always be emphasized is the almost unbelievable fact that you now have hope.  The gracious God, who loved and pursued us through history, has never given up on your reconciliation. For reasons of his own, God wants you back and has done all that is needed to forgive you, cleanse you, and make you his own. The resurrection proves this almost unbelievable fact.  So, next time life seems hopeless– next time your heart is broken, or weighed down with worry, remember that there is hope in Jesus’ resurrection. Put your full trust in him. Hold onto the gift of life he offers you.  It will guide you through all that life brings your way, and will bring you eternal life with him!

Passion Week 3: Relating to Jesus’ suffering

Jesus’ death and burial

It is on Saturday of Passion Week that fear really took hold.  Jesus’ followers– scattered the day before– have gone into hiding. They were terrified of betrayal by their neighbors or other who might recognize their connection with Jesus.  That Saturday of Passion Week, every footstep in the street, every knock at the house next door, every raised voice, caused the terror to rise to the surface again. The extreme disillusionment and sorrow of Friday is taking its toll on Saturday. Life is not simply flat and gloomy: now it is horrifying.

Had God abandoned them?  Were they heretics as their enemies claimed? Was Jesus a liar or a misguided fool? In their minds, the fishing, or the collecting of taxes, the farming and small businesses of their former lives now appeared to be a respectable alternative to all the talk about the coming Kingdom of God.  What about the miracles, the crowds and the new hope inspired by Jesus’ teaching over the past several years?  These now appeared foolish and even dangerous.  So the followers of Jesus quietly made their plans to slip back north up to Galilee and just disappear.  Fear had caused a sudden abandonment of everything these men and women had so optimistically believed as recently as one week before.

Many of us have experienced (or are experiencing) this kind of fear.  That deep kind of fear is dark and overpowering.  It makes us desperate and irrational.  It can cause us to be suspicious of those around us.  We feel like cornered animals with no way of escape.  So we crouch, ready to fight and flee, abandoning all we once held dear. Threatened layoffs at work, accusations by associates, a medical diagnosis or some huge disillusionment can have this effect on us.  Are you in the grip of fear? Are you considering throwing away some of your dearest commitments?  Do you feel abandoned by God?  Hold on: God isn’t finished.  Hope is just around the corner!

Passion Week 1: Relating to Jesus’ suffering

Calvary

Think back to the busiest week of your life.  Maybe there were many places to go or you had to fulfill a crushing list of responsibilities.  Perhaps you hosted a constant stream of visitors, or received phone calls from people wanting favors small and large.  At the end of the week you were physically and mentally exhausted.  This is what that final week was like for Jesus.   We now refer to that week in Jesus’ life as Passion Week.

Jesus began Passion Week by riding into Jerusalem to the enthusiastic cheers of the crowds who hailed him as their Messiah-King.  From Sunday onward, Jesus had taught in the Temple every day.  He had tried to listen to the requests and meet the needs of dozens, maybe hundreds of people.  Passion Week saw Jesus awash in a sea of humanity.   Now it is Thursday—the day of Passover: time to spend time with family and friends; time to focus on Israel’s great story of deliverance from slavery and their becoming a covenant nation.

But even on this day of celebration and reflection, Jesus must teach his followers some final lessons. So taking a towel, he washed their feet as a metaphor of servant-leadership. He spoke at great length in the upper room where he and his followers were meeting, reminding them of how much they are loved by the Father, and how inseparable they are from himself.  He told them that they would soon be empowered by God’s Spirit living inside them and commanded them to cling desperately to each other.  On the night of Passover, Jesus broke the unleavened bread and poured the cups of wine, filling these elements with special meaning his followers would not grasp until many weeks into the future.

Then came  the desperate, desolate hours of prayer in Gethsemane.  In that grove of olive trees, Jesus sweat blood and cried out in agony at what he knew awaited him the next day.  His suffering was enhanced by his followers’ drowsy lack of concern, and by the ultimate betrayal of a close friend.   At his arrest, the very disciples who seemed so confident and fearless only hours ago promptly scattered, leaving Jesus utterly alone.

Jesus will face trial before a hostile council on this last Thursday of his earthly life. Humanly speaking, everything seemed to have gone wrong.  There is no hope.   Without the rest of the story, Thursday night seems to be all gloom and sorrow, much like some days we have experienced ourselves in a more limited way.  But hold on: God isn’t finished. Hope is just around the corner!