Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-21
While I don’t comprehend fully why some things happen, and some don’t, I do believe God is always with me, even in those moments when the grey claims the day, and the bleak overwhelms the week, just as much as on the days where all is good and calm and promising. I do have to be reminded sometimes by the passing of history – looking back at things that seemed impossible or formidable or regrettable that became understandable and shaping – but, those reminders work. The past makes more clear the present and more appealing the future. It’s an “always” thing.
Easter, because it encompasses both Christ’s death and His resurrection, is the reminder of all reminders. Reality, not words. Done, not promised. Accomplished once and for all, not projected.
The actual celebration of Easter, on the other hand, was an odd holiday to me as a child. Dress up and be uncomfortable and a bit bored for a bit . . . and you would get to hunt for candy eggs as a reward. Spit, polish and Peeps.
The passage of time, the living of the life Christ gave Himself up to give me, has made Easter more personal now than ever . . . as if it is directed directly at me.
I like it not for the candy or the pastel decorations or the ham, sweet potatoes and lemon meringue pie. Not even for the memories of little ones dashing across the yard, zeroing in on an egg behind a daffodil. Not for a basket at the foot of the bed.
I like Easter because – despite all the silliness of the bunnies and boiled eggs – it is to me the most real of all the holidays we celebrate. It is the line between almost and always. Of any moment in history, it is the one that matters most. I don’t quarrel with the Word of God; I believe it’s true. No matter my doubts about the things of this world, I know that Easter – Jesus Christ’s victory over death – transcends those shadows with the light of truth.
I know what it feels like to be unforgiven. I know what it feels like to be sort-of forgiven, like grace with small print. But because of Easter, I know what it feels like to be wholly forgiven forever. Not . . . almost . . . but always.
Born a couple of thousand years distant from the actual event, I can’t evoke the full impact of the emotions that had to have completely drained those involved, from the owner of the donkey to the owner of the tomb, from the Garden of Gethsemane to the pensive upper room. I get the heart-saving benefits of their experience without the heart-stopping moments.
Of course, we have the Word. We can read of the painful and horrifying crucifixion, Peter’s woeful sobbing through denials while a cock crows in acknowledgement of how far he has fallen, of those who fled into hiding, lost in confusion while the seemingly-defeated Messiah begins to decay in a dark and guarded tomb. We can read also of the brilliant sunrise reflecting on a rolled-away stone and an empty grave and imagine the shouts of glory from those who were first to know with absolute certainty that Jesus was and is and always will be.
I didn’t get to be among the first to run screaming “He’s Alive!” Emerging from the darkness of mourners’ distress into the light of the reality of holiness, those who knew Him first could contain their joy no more than the grave could contain the Lord. In my imagination I can put myself in their places and imagine the wash of relief and the dispensation of doubt forever. “Look . . . it is Him.”
If I imagine myself among the mob . . .
I can almost count the strikes of the whip.
I can almost see the spit flying.
I can almost share the hidden fear and pain of those who watched their hopes and dreams stumble in the dust beneath the weight.
I can almost see Christ’s eyes fill with salty sweat I could not wipe away for Him.
I can almost see him look at me through waves of pain, gazing down in mercy.
I can almost imagine the labored breathing.
I can almost shed the tears as I stood in the shadows beyond the spears.
I can almost hear Him cry out, reflecting His sorrow at the silence of God who had to turn away from his cry for His will to be done.
I can almost grasp the heavy finality of the massive stone inflicting blackness on the darkened tomb holding a withered man and all the weary misery of the world.
I can almost feel the evil as it pushes against the stone to hold Him in, minions prepped for a victory pose, ready to move out and lay waste to the misguided mourners and reinforce the spoils of death.
I can almost hear the force of a new round of nails now posting for all to see the inevitable death sentence for evil.
He is not here; He has risen! Remember how He told you, while He was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” – Luke 24:6-7
Truth is beyond imagination. Almost becomes always. Because He did not, can not and will not make empty promises, I will always know that I am worth everything He went through. I will always know that He is with me. He made it clear that even death cannot separate us.
I can always live knowing He loves me and He gave Himself for me. And when I fail to love others as He did and does, I can always depend on His forgiveness and His help to forgive others as He did and does. To encourage others as He did and does.
And in times of trouble, which He knows will always be with me; I will always know He is as well.
Jesus never almost did anything.
It’s an ever thing for everyone. The love that led Him through the streets; sustained Him in the beatings; filled his lungs with labored breath; rode the waves of wracking pain; drowned out the sound of the hammer; bore up beneath the searing sun; defied the evil victory chants of Satan; burst forth in direct proclamation . . . was for you and me.
When it seems I can only almost” do those things he always does – show mercy, extend grace, seek righteousness, forgive again, sin no more – he is always there to wipe the tears, carry the burden, open the door, mend the relationship, dispel the fear, denounce the doubt, heal and restore the hope. More strength, more guidance; more clarity; always His supply is endless. His truth always enduring.
To those who drift in the almost of Easter, it is a dreamy celebration of floppy ears and colored eggs, chocolate candy and perfect pictures posed in Sunday best. An imagining of how life should be, all sugar-coated smiles and starched clean dreams. It may work for the day, but it is a broken token in comparison to the eternity of always.
Truth trumps all imaginings.
I do not imagine God left His throne for me; I know He did.
I do not imagine Christ looks at me with the same mercy as He did the one who pierced His side; I know He does.
I do not imagine Christ forgives me as clearly and completely as He did the repentant man on the cross at his side; I know He does.
I do not imagine the very aim of His death was my salvation; I know it was.
I do not imagine I will one day stand before Him to praise in person my gratefulness for His stepping free of His tomb. I know I will.
We cannot imagine Christ died, defeated death and rose. And we cannot imagine why. It was because He loves us and only He could save us. We can’t save ourselves. He knew that; He did that.
Jesus knew that every step he took and every word He spoke would eventually take Him to the cross, to the tomb, through death and back to the throne. As He walked the route, He knew me at every stop along the way, just as He knows me at every stumble, victory, climb, and tumble along my own circuitous route to meet Him at His throne. He knows me now. He loved me always; He always will.
Jesus never almost did anything.