Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Thoughts
I spent Maundy Thursday reading Exodus 11 & 12 plus the final chapters of the four Gospels, beginning with the Passover meal in Jerusalem celebrated by Jesus with his disciples that was his Last Supper, continuing on to his crucifixion and then concluding with his resurrection and ascension. In conjunction with the readings, I prayed for all of us and for our families and loved ones, that all may be protected during this time of disease, that the blood of the lamb shall “be on the houses where you are…and no plague will befall you to destroy you.” (Exodus 12:13).
John’s gospel provides the detail that after Jesus’ arrest, flogging, and crucifixion, the disciples were hidden inside behind locked doors, fearing persecution, pain, and death. It was in that setting, while they were anxiously hidden away from the world, that the risen Lord appeared to them. “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:19).
As we are all hunkered in our homes, anxious about venturing out, fearful of disease and dying, it is striking to note how like the disciples we are. Our modern world, that seemed so orderly just weeks ago, is spinning topsy-turvy, our lives are not in our control. And yet, this time of uncertainty is also a time of opportunity.
We have the opportunity to reflect on the very real fact that we have never been in control of our lives or our world. The order and routine we impose day to day, our sense of security and control is only a manufactured illusion. This present pestilence has swept aside that illusory veil and highlighted that only God is in control. These days have given us an opportunity to open our blinded eyes to him, to see clearly that without him, we are utterly defenseless against the enemy who seeks to control and then destroy us when we try to stand in our strength alone.
Our present circumstances shine perhaps the brightest light yet of the modern age on our desperate need for a Savior. How amazingly providential that this worldwide pandemic is occurring during Passover and Easter. God was not surprised by COVID-19. We might even consider how he has been preparing us and our families for this storm.
While the daily news shouts alarmingly that science and government have not saved us, over these next few days, different voices will rise creating a magnificent chorus as all of Christendom proclaims the glory of the true salvation found in a relationship with the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
People are searching for connections and answers during this time, for hope and encouragement. What an opportunity to share the good news that Jesus Christ rose from the dead––the tomb is empty!
While reading the scriptures, I mentally travelled again to the Garden of Gethsemane, where there are still olive trees alive that watched over Jesus as he prayed after the Passover dinner that night two thousand years ago. I walked the marble steps leading out of the garden and up from the Kidron Valley where he was led, under arrest, into the courtyard of the palace of the high priest, where Peter denied knowing him three times, and into the chambers of the palace. In my mind, I stood again where Caiaphas and other religious leaders interrogated Jesus, asking if he was the Christ. Jesus responded, quoting Daniel 7, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt. 26:64). I see again the dank, dungeon pit in which Jesus spent his last night on earth, then Pilate’s residence where he was taken in the morning, questioned and flogged, then down in the streets where Roman soldiers jammed a crown of thorns on his head and spat in his face, finally along the lanes of Jerusalem to the hill of Golgotha. Remembering, my hand sinks again into the dark hardness of the hole in rock where the cross stood. Descending the hill, in my mind, I crawled again into the tomb.
Some of you have also made the physical journey to the Holy Land, others have walked it in your imagination. All of these places are there. They are all still there, quite real, historically documented for almost 2,000 years. The tomb is empty. Jesus rose on the third day. He defeated death!
As the Gospels make clear over and over again, we are so like the disciples, not only now when we are as fearful as they were during the days of Jesus’ arrest, persecution, and death, but throughout their years and all their interactions with Jesus. Studying the missteps of the disciples highlights for us our own human frailties. Like they were, we are so often blind, failing to see God at work in our lives and in the world with us.
Yet, if we are so like they were, then Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday were meant to dramatically transform our lives as well. After his resurrection, Jesus tasked the disciples to go out into the world and share the Good News. Like those ordinary men, if we believe that Jesus rose from the dead, we bear the responsibility of sharing Christ’s victory over death with the world around us, a world that so desperately needs to hear some good news.
Jesus said to his disciples on his last night on earth, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35).
If we love Jesus, we will want to do all he asks, and if we truly love our neighbors as ourselves, we will want to share with them The Way to eternal salvation through a relationship with the living God, Jesus Christ.
This year, may Easter morning burst upon each of us with more joy than we ever remember.
Hallelujah! He is risen––the Lord is risen indeed!