On Easter morning, March 31, 2013, I woke up early before my alarm. This was unusual for me. At the time, I had two three-year-olds and a five-year-old, so sleep was hard to come by! I got up feeling excited and joyous that it was Easter. By the gathering light, I could see the preparations I had made the night before - the signs everywhere in the house that it was a special day. The pretty pastel tablecloth with breakfast dishes set, ironed Easter clothes laid out, hot cross buns ready for the oven, Easter baskets filled and ready. I was excited. Easter is like a Christian’s super bowl! I love everything about it, but at the top of the list are 1.) worshiping the resurrected Lord and 2.) chocolate. (At least I have my priorities straight, right?)
And it occurred to me that the joyous anticipation “It’s Easter!” that I was feeling…it wasn’t there on the very first Easter morning. I’m pretty sure Jesus’ words about rebuilding the temple in three days went undeciphered by His hearers. For the people who knew and loved Jesus, that dawn signified nothing but another day of mourning. The disciples, the women who followed Jesus, His mother, other family members, and everyone in a crowd that He’d ever healed all woke up on that first Easter to still more tears (if they slept the night before at all). No pretty pastel Easter dresses, just sackcloth and ashes.
We all know the sting of grief when a friend dies. It hurts to our core. But for these people, it was more than just the grief of losing a close friend. To be in the presence of the Son of GOD all those years, then to have that presence removed, to wonder if He was even God at all … what a unique sorrow and loneliness and despair that must have been.
On that Easter morning about a decade ago, I sat in my dark, still house and meditated on that. Tears filled my eyes as I let the grief linger, feeling connected to those women who went before me and what they felt on that dark day. In the stillness, before my fun, busy day began, I thought about the empty tomb. What must it have been like for the women who found it?
In my mind’s eye, we’re walking together, barely able to put one foot in front of the other from exhaustion. We've been sobbing for days, bodies and hearts wracked with grief. We not only lost a friend and miss His presence, but we feel swindled. Ours is a new level of grief, never experienced before. It came with not only feelings of loss but betrayal. And hopelessness. And there’s nothing, NOTHING, more soul-crushing than the death of hope.
The morning is dark, cold, and numb. Our hearts feel the same. Our thoughts tumble as we walk. So there isn't going to be a new king after all. What trusted “Savior” promises deliverance, then just dies? The status quo will continue unchanged. Every brilliant, life-changing thing this man said was just the ramblings of a wise mind. Every miracle I witnessed, was it just slight-of-hand? And the feeling I had when I was around Him, that I was in the presence of something truly awe-inspiring, truly magnificent, I must have imagined it. I believed He was the Messiah – I thought He would usher in some sort of paradigm shift for my people. One that our hearts have longed for over centuries. I was wrong. How could I allow myself to get my hopes up like that? But what about the prophecies? He claimed He was the fulfillment of Isaiah 61 – I heard Him say that out loud. Was He lying?
Among all these thoughts, I continue to feel the weight of my own sin getting heavier with every step. I carry spices and perfumes for His limp body, but I wonder if I can even gather the strength to look at Him, let alone use them to offer my final gift of devotion. My heart cries, “God give me strength.”
But wait. The stone … it’s not in its place?
Jesus … He's not here?
Maybe my delirious mind is playing tricks on me because I’m so tired, so worn out from grieving.
Where is His body?
This tomb … is it really empty?! What is this man in white saying?
“‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you’” (Mark 16:6,7 NIV).
At first, I can’t move or speak. Like a door opening between a dark room and a brightly lit room, the truth floods my heart … HE IS WHO HE SAID HE WAS.
It feels like waking up from a nightmare. My brain starts making connections, reaching back into my memories, and calling forth all the things He said He was when He was with us.
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NIV).
“I am the good shepherd.