Easter as a Controversy
Easter is a ritual that plays itself out in hearts and homes, churches and shopping centres of nations around the world. As a commemoration, it kicked off really quite early in the piece. There was quite some controversy in the second century over the celebration of the Pascha, but fairly soon thereafter it became something of a tradition.
Of course then – in the third and fourth centuries – we needed to have some serious arguments about when it should be celebrated, how it should be celebrated and what it should be called. Seriously!
Seems that church controversies and stupidities aren’t a recent phenomenon. We can even manage to argue about the most important, the singularly most central element of our faith. The death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the very Son of the Living God.
Easter as a Ritual
But things settled down eventually. People started calling it “Easter”. We all started celebrating it at the same time … and pretty soon, it became a ritual.
I mean, for me – Easter is incredibly special. And yet still, there are aspects of how we celebrate it that can leave you feeling … like … here we go again. I guess it’s the same with anything we do over and over again. But I’ve been to Easter celebrations in churches that seem devoid of emotion and passion. They seem devoid of the gut wrenching, heart aching reality of Easter.
And to top it all off, we seem to have put our Easter into the blender with some pagan fertility festivals and produced … wait for it … a rabbit that delivers chocolate eggs.
Well, that makes a lot of sense then! For some reason Easter is now an excuse for men, women and children to gorge on enough chocolate to send any self–respecting blood sugar meter into a spin.
Easter as a Loss
But of all the aspects, of all the different perspectives and angles from which we can experience Easter, there is one that has always touched me more deeply than all the others.
And it’s not the perspective of Jesus – it’s not what Jesus saw and felt looking down from that brutal cross. That’s gut wrenching enough!
It’s not what was going on in the mighty Father Heart of God, as He saw His Son despised, beaten and brutally nailed to that cross. That’s a perspective that I struggle even to contemplate.
It’s not the perspective of the Disciples who were, quite frankly, in desperate fear of their own lives. They could very easily have been tried and convicted as accessories to Jesus’ subversions and found themselves hanging on a cross the next day or the day after.
The one perspective that touches me most deeply, is the perspective of the mother of the Son of God. Mary. When, as a teenager, she had given birth to Jesus in that smelly, drafty old stable in Bethlehem, when she had heard him cry his first cry and held him to her breast – could she ever, ever have contemplated the horror that would befall Him just a few short decades later?
Mary was a mother with a dream in her heart. A huge dream for her Son. After all, from the very outset, God had promised great things for Him, through the angel Gabriel:
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:32,33)
She sang a song of praise, which flowed out of the joy and delight in her heart at what was happening to her:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1:46–49)
And when the shepherds came to worship Jesus in that stable in Bethlehem and they told Mary all that they had seen and what the angels had said, we’re told that:
Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)
She watched her son grow and develop into a young man who stood head and shoulders above his peers. He even confounded the rabbis in the temple when he was just twelve years old. There he was sitting amongst the teachers and all who heard him were amazed at His understanding and answers. (Luke 2:46,47)
What was Mary’s response to all this?
His mother treasured all these things in her heart (Luke 2:51)
As any mother would. She had a lot to treasure, a lot to admire, a lot to be thankful for.
From when He headed out of the little carpenter’s shop in Nazareth and turned that water into wine, healed the blind, lame and leprous, preached amazing sermons to huge crowds, raised the dead, walked on water, stilled storms and tempests … oh yes behind the scenes, Mary treasured all these things in her heart.
So imagine how she felt as she stood, all those years on, at the foot of the Cross.
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mothers sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), I am thirsty. A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, It is finished. Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:25–30)
Only a woman who has stared into the grave of one of her children can perhaps begin to comprehend the overwhelming anguish that mother Mary felt in her heart on that day.
She was so proud of her Son. She had seen all the good that He had done. She believed in Him. She knew it was all true … and now … it ended like this? It can’t be happening. It hadn’t all been a dream. It was real!
The pain of this mother is enough to break anyone’s heart.
An Easter Insight
So what are we to draw from all this, as we walk a mile or two in Mary’s shoes? What lesson, what insight? What is God saying to you and to me through Mary?
It seems to me that all too often when we are called into God’s service, the joy of that calling, the anticipation of what may be … can lead us to an expectation of success that God never intended.
Come on – at face value, had Gabrielle said to you what he said to Mary, what would you have expected for your Son? A kingdom without end surely comes with a five star castle and all the trimmings right?
And yet God never promised us “success” – at least not the sort of success that the world would tell us we should have. In fact, quite to the contrary, He promises us much tribulation (John 16:33) as we follow Him. He calls us to take up our cross daily to follow Him (Luke 9:23). He tells us that in order to find our lives, we need to lose them for His sake (Luke 9:24).
Worldly success is never what He promised us as we serve Him.
But well may we say of Mary that she was blessed. For she was called to serve the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords in such a special way.
And as you and I suffer along that narrow path, carrying our cross on that lonely road, may the Spirit of God whisper these words into our hearts.
You are truly blessed.