Easter time: As a teacher, the Easter holidays are for me a much needed, well placed fortnight away from the classroom. Unfortunately, this tends to mean cramming in a lot of activity: household chores, catching up with friends and family, getting some sleep and exercise and healthy food – and so on. My creative brain suddenly wakes up again in the holidays with having a little more space and freedom, and it whirs with projects I want to complete, books I want to read and articles I want to write.
Yesterday it struck me that I have been so busy pinning ideas on Pinterest (decluttering, garden and home projects, art journals, day trips, hairstyles, nail art…) that I have barely spent a thought on what Easter means to me as a Christian. Easter is, arguably, the essence of Christianity in its message, in the events we remember and in its symbolism, but it is so easy to forget how precious it is.
Yet it is incredibly precious. I became a Christian when I was a child. Unrestricted by the inhibitions and cynicism of adulthood, I was captivated by the stories of Jesus and his disciples and by the idea – so simple in my child’s eyes – that He wanted to be my friend too. I was deeply moved by the account of his death and resurrection, that this innocent man would pay my debt, give me a clean slate so that I, at no more than 8 or 9, could step confidently into a future of hope and promise, with his Spirit always there to guide me. I felt I’d been given a gift and I received it with childish gratitude and a deep, swelling joy. The gift? That I would never be alone in this journey of life, whatever storms I was to face. The gift of friendship: with a big, trustworthy, loving and inspiring God.
And yes, the Easter story is all about friendship, isn’t it? Jesus goes to his friends Martha and Mary at the death of their brother, Lazarus, also his close friend. He cries with them in their loss, shares in their sorrow – and then He goes right on over and calls Lazarus out of his tomb. Jesus, travelling side-by-side with his friends comes into Jerusalem, bringing a wave of joy, palm leaves in the air, coats on the floor, shouts of praise. He eats with his friends. Around the table, they remember the stories of their shared heritage when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, guiding them through a parted sea. As Jesus holds up bread to share, He asks these men He’s grown so close to to remember him, remember his gift. As He pours wine, He points them to his life and love poured out for his friends.
The greatest love a man can have for his friends? To lay down his life for them.
In the garden, his friends sleep through Jesus’ anguish. They don’t understand. When soldiers come to march him away, they flee in fear, abandoning the One friend who is giving his life for their own. They don’t yet see this. They watch from a distance as he is questioned, beaten, dragged up a hill with the weight of the world on his back and sharp, scornful thorns scraping at his head.
The sky goes dark as he dies, and how black must his friends’ hearts feel? How wrenchingly terrible to see a Friend so pure hanging so bloody and lifeless. They carry his broken body tenderly to a tomb, leave it there alone in the dark. As they carry that scarred, spent body, do they remember the bread and wine, broken and poured out for them? Do they see what He has done – for them?
In those days that follow, how do they live with hearts black with grief, guilt and fear? Has He left them alone, God-forsaken?
And then, the miracle: He comes back. He stands there in a garden alive with olives and figs and flowers, and he holds out his hands to his Friend. He walks right on in to the midst of them all in their darkened room, shows them his scars. He sits on the beach by a fire, feeds them bread and fish, offers forgiveness and friendship all over again.
Christians believe that Jesus offers us that same friendship. We believe that we are never alone because His Spirit lives in our hearts. When we share bread and wine, we’re remembering that life poured out and we’re thanking him for this gift: that we no longer have to walk alone. We are reassured that although we are as feeble in our friendship as the disciples – sleeping through things that matter, hiding in the shadows when things get tough – He remains unwavering in his friendship. Giving his life for the likes of us was not a mistake. It remains his gift to each of us.
In Him, we can be brave about this life and eternal life.
Because of what Jesus did, I can live my life fearless, free and hopeful. As an adult, I know just how much we all need him on this journey. Who doesn’t want a navigator, a listener, an anchor? I know, too, just how much we need the hope of heaven – that this is not it, that there is a place of perfection which we are winging our way to, not because we are perfect, but because we are covered with his perfection. When we turn up at those beautiful gates, sure, we’ll look like ragamuffins, stained and poor, but He’ll be there beside us with a hand on our shoulder saying ‘she’s with me’ and we’ll be made radiant with his grace.
Of course, I remember all this as I sit at my laptop in the quiet of my room, with the To Do list and all the other distractions set aside for an hour. It’s harder when we’re in the thick of it, rushing from one place to the next.
How can I really identify with Easter, as I’m swept through my modern, perhaps all-consuming week? I wrote a list of ideas for myself, and thought it was worth sharing:
The sign of the cross. Surround yourself with it, notice it, be thankful for it.
Make Easter cakes or buns or biscuits with it on and give them out with the gladness of someone who has been given something priceless and wants to share it around. Wear it on a necklace or paint it on your nails. Visit a place with a cross, like a church or a hillside.
The symbolism of Spring.
Everywhere around us is new life: flowers springing up where before there were just bulbs hidden unseen in the ground, buds and leaves on trees where before branches were bare. Each time you see these things, be thankful that through Jesus, God gives us new life and growth. Pray for newness in all that you do: your relationships, your work, your chores. If there is ever a time for rejuvenation, Easter is it.
Read a verse a day, perhaps from this list, and meditate on it throughout the day, letting yourself question it and receive it.
Look at or make some Easter art to help you reflect on the story.
Read Forgetful Heart by Lucy Mills.
I am just about to re-read this, as it is a great reminder to train our fickle hearts not to forget what God has done for us.
Identify with the sacrifice Jesus made by fasting from food or something else you spend a lot of time on, like Facebook or TV.
Celebrate Easter with symbolic food, gatherings of all your favourite people and music.