I have always loved Easter. The small rituals, the great celebrations – even the heavy scent of Easter lilies in the church floral arrangements – all these things were part of my childhood. But the most special memory of all is of a little 7-year-old kneeling at the altar in a sun-baked tent pitched next to the murmuring Atlantic Ocean in Sea Point, Cape Town, a little girl weeping at her first real glimpse into the meaning of Calvary.
It was customary in those far-off days to have special children’s meetings and Auntie Babette, as the evangelist was called, had a real gift for sharing the old, old story with little children. With every means at her disposal, she tenderly pointed us to the Saviour, and since she never saw us as too young to make a decision, she always made room for an altar call, a place to invite Jesus into our hearts – terminology that seems somewhat old-fashioned to many these days. But it is a decision I have re-visited time and again over the years, sometimes to remind myself of just how simple the Gospel actually is, sometimes to weep for my own hardness of heart as an adult.
With increased age has come increased understanding – most of the time. The mystery of what Jesus did on the cross is a theme that has been explored by greater minds than mine for centuries. Sometimes I catch a fleeting glimpse of the greatness of the Sacrifice and the awfulness of the Suffering, and then once again, I weep as a little child at the sheer joy of knowing that because He died for me, I can live for Him. That my sin has been taken and thrown into the ‘sea of forgetfulness’. That the burden of separation from God has been replaced by the dance of the forgiven. That death is no longer to be feared, because it has forever been swallowed up by His victory over the grave!
The Easter story is woven together of those things that are so much part and parcel of the hardest parts of our human experience. From being praised to being betrayed, from the sweetness of human companionship to the terrible pain of betrayal, from fullness of joy to emptiness of loss, Jesus experienced it all. And why? So that we can never say “God, you don’t know what it’s like.”
He not only knows but when we find ourselves at our most vulnerable, when the burden seems too heavy or the pain too great, we can, as it were, look sideways, like the thief on the cross, and see Him hanging there too, offering us hope in the midst of apparent death. And He says: “Because I suffered and endured every test and temptation you can think of, I can help you every time you pass through the ordeals of life.”
I once heard Reinhard Bonnke say that we can never love people like Jesus does until we see them through His eyes as He hung on the cross. In the cut and thrust of life lived with fallible human beings, I have often had reason to be reminded of this. I am moved by the thought of those agonised eyes looking through the blood-caked evidence of His terrible mocking crown to see the heartbreak of His mother and offer her the protection of a surrogate son, His beloved friend, John. They were marked for the rest of their lives by His loving act of comfort. And I am challenged by those same eyes looking down on the greedy gamblers rolling dice for His clothes and the hate-filled faces of His accusers, only to say the words of forgiveness so many have flung out since then in their own agony of martyrdom – “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
However, the reason I am a Christian is not because of the pathos of the crucifixion, moving as it is. I am a Christian because that awful death was followed by an amazing, glorious resurrection that defies all human logic and is even beyond imagination. I know He is alive. How? Because I can talk to Him and I know He hears me – His answer always adjusts my thinking and enlightens my own spirit. Because accepting Him into my life has proved to be an ongoing life-choice that keeps changing me into more I ever thought I could be. Because when I am weakest, He makes me strong and takes me through. As I said earlier – He knows all about being human!
Resurrection joy is the foundation of my life. It lights the path to eternity with more than wistful hope. It is the sure knowledge that because He lives, I shall live also – eternally! Jesus said and I believe it.