The Two Days of Easter

Yesterday some parts of the Church celebrated Easter, it was Orthodox Easter Sunday, but other parts of the Church celebrated over a week ago. Each country has a different day that they celebrate their beginning, and each country has other different days that they celebrate other special events, but when it comes to things like Christmas, other religious holidays, and the calendar year, everyone really agrees on the dates. I’ve always been one to enjoy celebrating Christmas and Easter, and find value in remembering the teachings and feelings of the holidays all year long, so I don’t mind that we’ve got two different dates for people to celebrate what is one of the most important days of the religious calendar year.

There are so many things that we can disagree over each day, from the very simple to the very complicated. Sometimes we disagree because of feelings and sometimes because we’ve got different facts. Sometimes we disagree because of our backgrounds or experiences. Sometimes we disagree because we have different sets of beliefs and faiths. And sometimes those disagreements can place you on very different sides of the table, say Muslims and Christians or Republicans and Democrats or vegetarians and meat lovers. But I don’t think the disagreement of a date should in any way diminish the importance or value of the celebration of Easter.

Ultimately the two dates of Easter come down to a difference of opinion on which calendar to use, and given the number of questions that people have around the exact dates of Jesus’ life, it’s not overly surprising. Of course I would rather have people pick one of two dates than not celebrate Easter at all. And if we choose to celebrate Easter both Sundays, well, there’s nothing wrong with that because every day is a great day to remember that Jesus rose again from the grave and gave us the opportunity to have eternal life with Him. Every day we need that reminder that we’re forgiven and free. Every day we need the reminder that we’re loved. Every day we need to be reminded to care for the other people we share this planet with, and care for this planet as well. Every day we need a reminder that God goes with us through it all, from the beginning to the end and through every challenge and celebration in between.

Hopefully you haven’t forgotten about Easter even though we celebrated it over a week ago. Hopefully you’re still seeing some reminders around your home, whether candy, plastic eggs or flowers like lilies. Maybe you’re just finishing up some Easter devotionals, or maybe you’ve still got some Easter decorations up. But as you know Easter is more than just these words or symbols, it’s hope, it’s salvation, it’s a relationship with Jesus who was both human and divine. Easter isn’t one day, it’s our whole lives.

Easter is About Conquering the Grave

“Very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes. The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”” Luke 24:1-7

Yes, Easter has arrived and with it comes the yearly celebration of the sacrifice and victory Jesus experienced for all who believe. Throughout our daily reflections last week we took a look at some of the last events in the regular life of Jesus, starting with the celebration everyone thought He should have always had on Palm Sunday and leading up to His rather unexpected death on Good Friday. On Easter we did something unusual and gathered in our homes to watch the spiritual leaders around the world give virtual messages from empty churches or at kitchen tables. It’s an Easter I don’t think anyone will ever forget. I’m thankful that technology has evolved that we’re still able to celebrate Easter as a community, even if it’s a virtual one and not the physical one that we’re used to.

While different books of the Gospel share the Easter story with different details they all start with one fact: the tomb is empty and Jesus is no longer there. Of course He can’t be there if He’s risen and truly the Son of God sent to save the world from their sins, but it’s a great surprise to everyone of that time. The book of Luke shares that there were more than three women gathered that morning at the tomb to pay their respects to Jesus, wanting do so out of love for Him despite their likely disappointment that Jesus wasn’t who He said He was (because if He was who He said He was, how could He be dead?). But as often happens with God, there’s an unexpected development and Jesus isn’t there and they’re instead greeted by angels who once again share good news with the world, this time that Jesus is alive.

As I was reading this passage over the past few days, what stood out to me was a question the angels asked: “why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive?” Sometimes I think we look to what/where/who we think is the answer because it often is where we found the answer, and even if we’re not sure that’s going to be the place to find it, maybe we’ll get lucky and it will be there or close anyway. The angel’s message almost makes you wonder why we go to graveyards and cemeteries to honor the dead after the initial burial, because while their bodies may be there, their souls aren’t, and the things we loved about that person are much greater than anything to do with their physical bodies.

It’s also a message about how to live our lives. Yes, we should remember the past, but not to the extent that it stops us from living in, innovating for, or moving to the future. We can learn tons from the past, but unless we want to recreate the past, we have to put those lessons into practice with an eye for the future. If there was ever an important time to hear the Easter message of life and hope, it’s now as we work to conquer this virus. Our world will be forever changed by this virus, but we can’t let the virus control us to the point that we have no future. Instead, we can choose to build a world that’s stronger because we fought and won against this virus together, honoring those who died during the fight of course, or we can let it keep us in a proverbial graveyard of fear and loss of life and livelihood. How will you let the message of Easter guide you into our new future?

Time for Healing

Today is Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter. For those present on the first Good Friday who loved Jesus, today was the second most horrible day of their lives. Yesterday was horrible because Jesus died, and today they had to try to come to an understanding of that very clear death. There was no one around to raise Jesus like He had raised Lazarus, and for just about everyone death is very permanent. So despite all of the prophesies both from Jesus and throughout Biblical history the understanding and belief of the apostles and Jesus’ other closest friends and family is that He’s very dead and all of the hope that He raised in them is worthless. Of course, we know that tomorrow is Easter and Jesus did rise again and all our hopes are fulfilled, but Jesus’ resurrection brought a whole new set of things to wrap their heads around.

I think the closest we can come to this experience is when a loved one is in the hospital and not expected to live or crashes several times but are able to pull through for many years to come, or when a loved one is under deep cover or presumed dead from military or other types of action and it turns out they are alive. Yes, we’re excited and thankful, but we still have to reconcile the grief that we worked through when we thought they were dead. Most of us need time to mentally reconcile big changes like death and life, including when it doesn’t end when or how we think it will.

What I’m really talking about is the topic of healing. As I shared the other week something exciting is happening with my partner and while I didn’t want it to take this long, it made me really think about and realize that everyone heals differently. Just like there’s no set timeline on deciding you’re in love or when grief should end, there’s no set timeline on how long it will take someone to heal. It’s an important reminder for the situation that we find ourselves in with this virus: that everyone will deal with the situation differently, grieve about the losses differently and heal differently. As good as we’ve gotten at deciding how long it should take a phone call to connect or letter to reach someone or food to get to the table, there are plenty of other aspects of time that we can’t pin down easily or at all.

I’m sure to some extent the apostles were scarred for their whole lives over Good Friday and the loss of Jesus, just like I’m sure that we’ll never forget this virus. But I do believe we can heal from much of the damage the experience has caused. As much as we can heal as a community, we also have to heal individually, both of which will likely happen on different timelines. Thanks to Easter though we can be assured that there is hope and that if we stay positive and work together we will one day be able to say we’re healed.

The Darkness of Good Friday

“At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”…Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit.” Matthew 27:45-46, 50

This is the end of the story that we’ve been working up to this week, and at the same time the beginning of a whole new story. As I was pondering what to write about today and reflecting on the Good Friday story, I was brought again to the topic of darkness. The past couple of months have been very challenging for people around the world, some stuck indoors with poor/cloudy weather and unable to get out at all even for short times on top of the virus that has restricted our lives. It doesn’t help being stuck indoors to not even have sun to look at. I couldn’t live in a place that had very little sun as I definitely need the ability to at least see it to stay positive. But the way things work for the large portion of the globe is that we’ve got hours of light and hours of darkness each day, also known as ‘day’ and ‘night’, something that God established back when He created the universe and our world.

In what were to be the darkest hours of Jesus life, physical darkness surrounded Him and those who were present to witness His death. This event was noteworthy enough that it was written about in three of the four the books of the Bible that told Jesus’ story, and was clearly intimidating or concerning to those who were gathered and told about the event. It’s interesting that the stories indicate that Jesus was born at night some 30 years earlier, and now darkness manifested to be present when He died.

But of course it doesn’t have to be dark to have something bad happen. Yes, just about any police officer will tell you that many of the people who are out to do bad things are more active at night because the darkness covers their activities. But it can be a bright sunny day on the Friday that Good Friday is remembered each year, it can be a bright sunny day when you lose your job or lose a loved one to an illness.

Likewise, it can be in darkness that good things, even miracles, happen. You may get the mental breakthrough you’ve been needing for your next book, or the illness may finally break and head in a positive direction, or you could have a renewal of your relationship with your significant other, or you could get back in touch with God and begin the journey to a right relationship with Him. Even in the darkness good things happened on Good Friday: Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus, a criminal being crucified with Jesus found salvation, a Roman officer and other soldiers who witnessed the crucifixion were convinced of Jesus claim to be the Son of God and of His innocence from all that happened that day, and Joseph of Arimathea stepped up to give Jesus his tomb.

And of course the most important thing happened that Good Friday many years ago in the darkness: this is the event through which Jesus became king. And when He rose again three days later, He was not just king, He had saved us all from our sins and given us the ability to be saved through faith. It’s terrible that someone had to die for us to be free and saved, but sometimes its these dark nights and days that can lead to the biggest breakthroughs and stronger futures.

If you’re in a dark place in your life right now, don’t let that be your focus and don’t let it be your last moment. Stay focused on the prize, on the future that God has planned for you, and on the strength that He will give you to get from where you are now to where you will be.

Moments of Maundy Thursday

Today in the church we celebrated Maundy Thursday. It’s the day where Jesus and His apostles gathered in the Upper Room of a house to honor the Passover, which is something that people did for several thousand years before Jesus was born, and is something that people of the Jewish faith still participate in. Something that has always fascinated me about Jesus and His life is how much of a mix of old and new it was, how in many cases He was respectful of the past and how He took things to a new level as well.

I’m someone who has always appreciated having some traditions in my life. I don’t think we should live as though it is 20 or 100 years ago, but I think we should know who our ancestors were, celebrate at least some of the special cultural events that are part of our history, and enjoy the dishes and recipes that have been passed down through generations. There’s a reason that they were started, many of them can add a richness to our lives that wouldn’t be there otherwise, and it’s important to honor and remember those who came before.

Jesus also made a point in His last days to have a sit-down meat with some of the people who mattered most to Him. In so many cases we’re not able to gather with all or most of those we love because we’re separated to help fight the virus, but for most Easters/Passovers and most holidays we make a point to spend it with others. Whether we gather with biological family, spend time with people we call family, or just get a group of good friends and/or coworkers together, there’s something important and affirming about spending time around the table with people who are important to us. If Jesus made it a point to stop and gather with His apostles rather than being out teaching or going to church (temple) or doing anything else, it should be an indication to us how important it is for us to do as well.

Finally, Jesus put His own spin on traditions. Part of the reason for the changes had to do with who Jesus is and what He was there to do, but it also speaks to our individuality and ability to make our own traditions, and to the fact that the world changes all the time. There’s value in sending a letter through the post office, but if you need an answer on something you’re not going to send a letter though the mail, you’re going to send a text or make a call or send an email or send a social post. If you and those you’re connected with have a passion for or interest in something, add it to your traditions.

We don’t know how many days we have to live, only God knows that. It’s important to live each day with that in the back of your mind. No, you don’t have to maximize each and every moment of your life, but you should be proud of or satisfied by most of your life. If you were in the Upper Room with Jesus on that Maundy Thursday, what do you think you would remember about that night?

A Discussion on Betrayal

One of the things that we don’t really like to talk about but is central to the Good Friday/Easter story is that of the life and choices of Judas. Yesterday in one of my devotionals I was reading the different passages on Judas’ conversation with the leaders who wanted Jesus dead or out of the picture and it got me thinking about how things got to that point. Luke 22 points out that Satan entered Judas and after that Judas expressed interested in helping the leaders betray Jesus, but I have a hard time believing that Satan randomly picked one of Jesus’ 12.

Interestingly enough, Judas’ name is very widely known along with his actions that set in motion Jesus’ death, but very little is know about him (even among the scholarly communities that do lots of research and know lots of stuff), compared to some of the other apostles whose stories we do know. We don’t know about his family or hear of him going places with Jesus, other than knowing that he was sent out with the other apostles to minister in Jesus’ name and was cherry picked by Jesus to be one of His core 12. We also know that Judas was riddled with guilt after Jesus was killed, whether that lines up with a possible possession by Satan (meaning there was no real reason to pick Judas other than he was available), or simply that he didn’t think the goal was to kill Jesus or that He would actually be killed and felt deep guilt over the lies that were told to him about what would happen as a result of his betrayal.

All of this brings me to a couple of points. First, that it’s rare to know everything about everyone and that you can’t find it all out by digging. Some times you will just never really know a person, no matter how hard you try. It means they could hide symptoms or issues for their whole life and no one would know. It also means that it’s unwise to judge people based on one moment of their life or one experience with them and believe that they’re beyond redemption. Second, anyone can make a mistake in their life. Hopefully you won’t make a mistake or betrayal on the level that Judas did, but even if you did there’s no rule that says you can’t redeem yourself afterwards. Finally, no one wants to be betrayed by one of their closest friends, but sometimes people make bad decisions (especially if they don’t have all the information when they make that decision). Jesus knew He would end up at the cross, it’s the big reason why He came to Earth, and I think He would have been a lot more forgiving of Judas than Judas was of himself. It hurts to know that I am one of the reasons why Jesus had to die, that He died for my sins (and yours), and at the same time it makes me appreciate and treasure the events of these next few days all the more.

Waiting with Jesus

In the past few weeks something has been changing in my partner’s life (and my life), something that I’ve been hoping would happen for a few years now. It’s a good thing and I’m on some pins and needles waiting to see if it’s really going to stick around or if I’m going to have to be a little more patient for a little longer. The funny thing is I wasn’t really aware that I was waiting for it, until things began to change a few weeks back. It got me thinking about Jesus this week and how challenging this week must have been for Him after the big celebration of Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday is in some ways like a big countdown, the beginning of the end for Jesus: the road to the cross and the grave and the resurrection. Since He knew from the very beginning that He would be born on Earth to save us (and agreed to come for exactly that purpose), and He was fully divine while here on Earth, He knew this would be coming at some point in time, and now that we’ve reached and passed Palm Sunday, the wait is almost over.

But how challenging was this week for Jesus, waiting for Thursday and then Friday to arrive, and knowing the challenges that those days would hold? There’s nothing like it that we can really relate to, because as much as we might understand the anticipation of waiting for Christmas or our birthdays or the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny, there’s not a huge challenge to face before we get there. Jesus had to wait through the week knowing that coming up would be the toughest days of His time on Earth, and also tough for those who loved Him. He couldn’t rush through the week or His life to get through Good Friday to get to Easter, He had to live it one day at a time.

In this virus situation that we’re facing as a world we’re all waiting too. We may be hopeful for an Easter Miracle, but whether that shows up or not, we’re all hoping that we can return to some semblance of normal before too long. But unlike Jesus, we don’t know how it will all end or exactly what we’ll face to get to that point. In some ways I think that if Jesus waited some 30 years to get through this week, the rest of us can get through these few weeks and months of the virus. But on the other hand I think it was easier for Jesus because He knew exactly what was ahead of Him and exactly what would be required of Him, and exactly what victory would be achieved on the other end, He just had to wait for it all to happen.

Whatever you’re waiting for today, know that Jesus can identify with what you’re facing. He will wait with you and encourage you each step of the way if you let Him. Jesus had to go through what He did this week very much alone, but we don’t have to, and for that I’m very thankful.

Remembering Jesus

I know as people of faith we’re supposed to think about faith topics more than other people, and hopefully we do. Hopefully you do make time for devotions and prayers each day and think about how God would want you to act or respond in different situations. I wish that more churches really invested in Lent like some churches do. Or maybe I should say that I wish more people took their faith a little more seriously and invested a little more in it, just like we may take our health or relationships or work seriously and invest in it on a daily basis. Just like we can’t avoid Christmas and Easter, maybe the secret to spending more time with Jesus is to make it more rememberable. It sounds a little silly, but maybe scheduling in time with Jesus is exactly what we should be doing. After all, Jesus made time on a regular basis during His most active years in ministry to spend time with God. So if Jesus, who was highly in demand, could make time for God, can’t we?

Yesterday in one of the faith-based emails I got, was a reminder that Holy Week is about remembering Jesus. It may sound a little strange, after all, isn’t He the central figure of all the action this week? Don’t we follow His life journey in the first books of the New Testament? Isn’t He the one we’re talking about on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday? Yes, but Jesus was and is a whole lot more than just what we talk about happening in 8 days’ time.

Jesus spent some 30 years on Earth with people just like you and me. He had a mother and father and brothers and sisters. He went to weddings and church and learned things like carpentry. I’m not up on the dating practices of His time, but it’s possible He went on some dates, and it’s very likely He thought about girls (fully human, remember?). We know so very little about the majority of His life on Earth, and maybe that’s because those years were so very ordinary and didn’t seem worth reporting by the men who wrote about His life and work.

But what we do know about Jesus is that He was extraordinary in many ways. He was born and had angels cheering and wise men bringing Him gifts. He turned water into wine. He fed thousands of people with next to nothing. He raised people from the dead and healed many from diseases and sicknesses that doctors of the day couldn’t do anything about. He calmed seas and cursed plants. He gave people hope and encouraged them to see their worth by letting them know that He saw them and believed in them. He championed for the downtrodden and always led with a wise thought and caring heart.

Yes, Jesus did do everything that we will talk about during Holy Week, but He was so much more than just born on Christmas, dead on Good Friday and risen again on Easter. Jesus did all those extraordinary things, including Holy Week, because He cares about you and I. He wants us to remember Him when we’re having good days and when we’re feeling challenged. He wants us to remember Him as someone who could hang out with friends and lead a nation. He wants us to remember Him as fully human and fully divine. He wants us to remember Him as someone who was both confident and loving. And ultimately, He wants us to remember Him. What are you remembering about Jesus this week?

Palm Sunday Pride

Today we celebrate Palm Sunday. It’s never looked like this in my lifetime, and I hope that we don’t have to go through something similar in the future. As I’ve been contemplating our journey right now and thinking about Holy Week this week, it almost seems odd to have a big celebration like the one we usually have on Palm Sunday. No, it’s not as big as the one we have for Easter, but it was the big celebration for Jesus. Spoiler alert: He didn’t have trumpets sound and throngs of people celebrating on Easter like we do today. No, He appeared first to Mary and then to a few hundred people before He Ascended some 40 days later, not to thousands as we typically gather to celebrate on Easter.

I can’t begin to understand what Jesus went through when He came to Earth to live with us. To go from being a God with divine powers to now being totally human (and fully divine), it had to be frustrating to not get any of the recognition that you’re used to getting. Yes, it was essential that He did it this way so that He would truly understand us, and we could know that He does truly understand us, and to fulfill what the prophets had said practically since the beginning of time. And yes, He did show not only what it means to live having faith in God, and also shared glimpses of His divinity while He was with us. But it’s not the same. It’s like being told that you can only eat a portion of your dinner that’s in front of you or only live a portion of your passion and purpose or only connect with some people on some days or not fix an issue because it’s a certain day of the week.

So for Jesus Palm Sunday was a big deal. He finally got to be proud of and acknowledge and be acknowledged for who He really was in public to crowds of people, and He was celebrated for it. If you’ve ever been in a big church on Easter, you know there’s nothing like feeling the joy in the air and knowing that you’re all there to celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Palm Sunday was like that for Jesus. Maybe in some ways it was God sending Jesus a little ‘get you through this’ blessing, knowing what Jesus would face in the week that was/is ahead.

We can’t be together physically to celebrate like they did on the first Palm Sunday, but we can still be proud of Jesus for coming to Earth and dying on the cross for each of us. We can still be proud of our faith and the God we love. We can still celebrate all that God has done, and all that God will do in the days and weeks to come. We will likely face more challenges in the days and weeks to come than we ever have as a world, but I have faith that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that we will be able to celebrate together again. Maybe you’re not celebrating what you usually do in your life, but if we all look, we all have something we can be thankful for. What are you able to celebrate today?

Reality Reflection: Questions and Faith

One of the secrets of success is asking questions. It’s something I’ve learned the hard way, either in trying to work with clients or in having a healthy relationship with my significant other, but going the extra mile in some cases to ask a question (or three) is usually worth it because it means I’m not repeating anything or having to redo something. But lately we’ve been dealing with a question that doesn’t have an answer, or at least not a good one: this virus that’s sweeping the globe. It has given me a new appreciation for families who are dealing with cancer and other currently unfixable or not easily fixed disabilities or illnesses, including Alzheimers which we’ve dealt with in my family. It’s tough to face a question that you can’t answer or get answers to and there are so many unknowns at this point, and so many people affected or potentially going to be affected.

Everyone faces some challenges in their life, some of us seem to be gifted more challenges than others. We all have to decide how we’re going to face those challenges and how we’re going to deal with questions that we just can’t answer at this time. We shouldn’t handle each challenge with the same action steps or plan of attack, because each challenge is different. This virus has taught us though that it’s important to have some items in stock with at least a month’s supply and to have a bigger plan about work and school and other things that could be impacted by a challenge.

We have to decide if the questions that we raise are really that important to answer, and if so how can we individually and collectively make steps, baby or big, in the direction of finding out what is or isn’t true and what the answer is to the question. As part of that investigation, we have to consider whether we’re even asking the right question(s) or if there are other questions that better address what we’re dealing with or questions that have to be answered before we can get to the question that’s really on our minds.

Some questions we may struggle with for our entire lives and never really come up with any good answers, and I think that’s part of life. We’re not all knowing (that’s God’s job), and some things are beyond our ability to understand. One thing I’ve been blessed to not question seriously throughout my life is my faith. Sure, I have moments that I don’t know where things are going or I can’t see how they’re really going to resolve themselves or I’ve dealt with depression, but time and again God has sent me a little reminder, reassured me or been the one constant that’s been there through anything.

As we head into Holy Week on Sunday with Palm Sunday, all the questions and uncertainty we’re dealing with right now and how very different this Easter will be from past Easters, I’ve decided to share a post a day for the week, starting on Palm Sunday and ending on Saturday before Easter (with an Easter post on Monday since many churches and faith leaders will be sharing special messages around the internet on Sunday). We’ll take a look at some of Jesus’ story, the Holy Week events, and discuss some of the topics that we’re dealing with as a world right now in this unique situation.

It’s important right now to keep the faith and believe in our ability to get through this together, even as physically separated as we are.  With the free time and different situations we’re facing, it’s a good time to be asking questions and really working through the answers so that you’re prepared for what may happen in the future.  And if I’m asking one question right now more than any other, it would be for God to send an Easter miracle to our world.