At Easter we remember and celebrate that moment in history when Jesus, the Son of God, died and was powerfully and gloriously brought back to life. We recognise that he died to restore creation, to deal with the problem of sin, to make it possible for us to have a renewed relationship with God. But what does it really mean to us?
This is what it might have meant to one of the early followers of Jesus as he experienced those hours of deep darkness and despair and then as he came to recognise that, despite appearances, it was over after all.
It all started when we were sharing a Passover meal together – as Jesus began to speak about going away, as he talked about someone betraying him (which sounded awful) and as he talked about the bread we were eating and the wine we were drinking as being – in some way – his body and blood. It was all very disturbing and suggested that something big and terrifying was just around the corner. I wanted to stay close to see what was going to happen next.
And then, as we had often done before, we went down to a garden on the other side of the valley. Jesus took three of us away from the others and wanted us to watch over him as he prayed. He was deeply troubled and sad and it was so hard to see him like that. He was the one we relied on and, suddenly, he didn’t seem in control anymore. And then Judas, one of our friends, came along with a large crowd to arrest Jesus and take him away. I felt betrayed, I can only imagine what Jesus felt like.
They took Jesus to the home of the high priest. I knew him so was able to slip in to see what was happening. I was horrified to see Jesus tied up and being accused about what he had been saying and doing. I didn’t really understand what was happening as we hadn’t been doing anything in secret, it had been open for everyone to see.
A little later, Jesus was dragged away to the governor’s palace – this was getting really serious. And suddenly the crowd, encouraged by our leaders, were calling for Jesus to be crucified and he was being led away carrying a cross. How had it all gone so wrong so quickly? A few hours earlier we were enjoying a meal together and resting after a long day – and now this!
There was nothing I could do but to follow at a distance – and even that was dangerous if they recognised that I was one of his followers. Soon Jesus reached the place of crucifixion and we soon saw the terrible sight of him hanging on a cross – just as though he were a condemned criminal. I found myself standing with a group of women including the mother of Jesus. What must it have been like for her to see her firstborn son treated in such a terrible way. And then suddenly Jesus was speaking to us, asking me to take care of his mother for him. What love as he demonstrated his care for her even when in such pain and suffering.
And then it was all over.
Jesus died and our hopes for life and a purposeful future died with him. We went away leaving a couple of people to care for him and to bury him. We were alone with our thoughts, our grief and our memories.
The next day was awful. It was a Sabbath day so we couldn’t really do anything so we sat and thought. Sometimes we spoke about what had happened, sometimes we cried, sometimes we just had to get up and walk around for a bit. But there was no hope anymore and we felt there never would be again.
The following morning, very early, I was woken by Mary who said she had been to the tomb and that it was empty and someone must have taken the body of Jesus away. This made me angry – couldn’t they leave him alone even when he was dead? I ran to the tomb along with one of my friends and found it was empty. But as I went inside and looked more closely I saw that the cloths they had wrapped Jesus in were still there and suddenly it struck me. Hope wasn’t over, the story wasn’t finished and – in some way I didn’t understand – Jesus had defeated death and was alive again.
And later that day he appeared to us and tried to explain something of what had happened and what it all meant. My sorrow had disappeared and been replaced with a deep sense of joy and peace and confidence that I knew would always stay with me. Jesus spent a few weeks with us: teaching us, encouraging us, preparing us and then went back to heaven to be with his father leaving us to carry on the job he had started.
For John, the Easter story was full of many emotions and feelings but it ended with knowing that Jesus was alive and that changed everything.
What does the Easter story mean to you?
Please feel free to add a comment as you think about, as you answer, that question.