I love Easter! It’s my favorite holiday because it shines a bright light on our human response to adversity, the transforming ability of deep faith, and it is a beacon of the power of the Divine.
Before we dive in, a quick back story…When I started studying the Bible, I felt like I was Charlie Brown listening to the teacher drone on unintelligibly. My eyes glazed over and I couldn’t find a way to connect to the scriptures.
It helped a lot when I started viewing the Bible stories as though they were ancient texts loaded with messages meant for me, in my life, in a modern world. I had to take a leap of faith and trust that, somehow, the content of Bible was relevant to me today.
Someone suggested looking at the characters in Bible stories to see which one you identify with most. This was, and is, quite an adventure, particularly if I’m being brutally honest. For me, it helped to make the stories come alive.
So it is through these lenses that I look at the Bible stories around Easter.
The Thursday before Easter (sometimes called Maundy Thursday), is when Jesus had his last supper with his disciples. They all knew the end was near. Christ’s adversaries were closing in and they wanted him gone. He had become far too powerful as he preached a gospel of love, inclusion, community, and direct access to God. People couldn’t get enough of his message and his popularity made him a political and secular threat to the existing power structures (Jewish and Roman leaders respectively).
It was the first day of Passover and Jesus and his disciples gathered together for the Seder dinner. They spoke candidly about Jesus’ impending death. It was not only foretold in the Old Testament, but it was clear that the political and secular leadership were getting close to capturing Jesus.
Jesus said to his disciples, “One of you will betray me.”
There was a chorus of denials, but Jesus knew it would happen, and he knew who his betrayer was.
Jesus also predicted that his disciple, Peter, would deny knowing Jesus not once, not twice, but three times before the sun came up. Of course Peter swore up and down that he would NEVER deny Jesus.
Despite all this, Jesus established the covenant IN Christ during that Seder dinner. This covenant made all other covenants null and void. Through this, ALL of God’s people are forgiven of all their sins. Prior to this covenant, the need for absolution had to come only through a priest or a rabbi. Not anymore. That night marked, among other things, the democratization of salvation…it was available for FREE to EVERYONE!
When they broke bread together, Jesus said, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup, which is poured out for you, is the new covenant [ratified] in My blood.” That covenant ensured the forgiveness of sins for those who followed Jesus.
After dinner, Jesus and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethesemene. Jesus was completely distraught. He knew he was living the final hours of his life,and that agonizing reality was shaking Him down, all the way to the core. Jesus needed some prayer time so he asked his disciples to keep watch while he went to pray.
Jesus prayed that God would somehow let him live, and also he prayed that not his own will, but God’s will be done. When he went back to his disciples, they had fallen asleep. This happened two more times. In Christ’s darkest hour, they couldn’t even manage to stay awake!
After the third time, Jesus said, “It’s Go Time. My betrayer is here.”
Judas had come to where Jesus and the rest of the disciples were, accompanied by a big, angry, well-armed crowd sent from the chief priests. Judas told them to arrest the man he kissed.
Sure enough, Judas went right up to Jesus and kissed him and Jesus was arrested.
The disciples panicked and scattered like shrapnel. They were scared that they, too, would be arrested and possibly killed. While trying to evade capture, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. The prophecy came true.
But here’s why this story really resonates with me…I see bits of myself in the highly flawed characters in this story.
While I have never betrayed anyone like Judas did, I have let pride, ambition, and a healthy sense of self-preservation come between me and making a good decision.
Like Peter, I have done really stupid, hurtful things to the people I love when I’m stressed out and scared.
Everything these disciples (and all of Christ’s followers) had hoped for was blowing up.
They wanted the ‘king of kings,’ their Messiah, to come and save them from their misery. They expected a proper king to lead them out of their bondage…a king in a crown of gold with a revered and exalted existence.
Instead, what they got was a nice Jewish kid with a hammer.
They expected their king to liberate them from oppression, but their number one draft pick for Savior was arrested and about to killed.
To them, in those desperate moments, all was lost.
And they weren’t just worried about Jesus’ impending, unjust, torturous execution…they were worried about saving themselves.
Like me, the characters in this seminal story are highly flawed.
Ironically, I identify with their oafish missteps, their misguided response to extraordinary stress, their unspeakable grief to be on the brink of losing their Savior, their teacher, their friend. It’s raw. It’s real and it’s part of our very messy history.
More on how the story unfolds tomorrow.
*Scripture references taken from Luke 22, Mathew 26 and Mark 14.