Easter: joyful disbelief or cynical doubt?

As I read and reflected on the Easter story this morning as told by the four Gospels, what stands out is the response of those who heard the news of the empty tomb and the risen Jesus. Initially, there is fear. Yet the fear becomes “great joy” or it gives way to cynical doubt.

There is Mary Magdalene who is one of the first at the tomb on that first Easter morning. She hears the news and is filled with fear. But then she sees Jesus, and her fear turns to the disbelief of joy that he is alive and so she worships him and spreads the news to the rest of the disciples. Most of them do not immediately believe, but persist in cynical doubt. Luke actually says that the disciples regarded the women’s report as “an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” However, Peter went to see for himself. And then he went away marveling at the too-good-to-be-true truth of Jesus’ resurrection.

Thomas persists in his doubt because he missed the first resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples. He boldly claims that he will “never believe” unless “I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side.” I wonder why Jesus didn’t show up immediately to dispel his cynical doubt. But he doesn’t. He waits eight days, and then he appears and invites Thomas to, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Instantly, Thomas is transformed from a doubter to a worshiper.

Where are you this Easter morning? Be assured that Jesus can (and will) meet you wherever you are. Maybe he will call your name personally, as he did for Mary in the garden that first Easter morning, and you will be overcome with joyful disbelief. Or perhaps you, like Thomas, are more cynical and it will be a longer journey for you. Jesus can meet you here, too, transforming your doubt into the worship of faith.

He has risen. He has risen, indeed. And he is alive. Let us then worship with joy this Easter morning.

the irony of “Good Friday”

There is much we celebrate about today that is ironic. I remember as a child wondering why this Friday in which Jesus died is known as “Good Friday.” It certainly seemed like a very BAD Friday when he died. So bad that darkness covered the earth prematurely and Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” The Trinitarian Godhead is mysteriously wounded … so that we could be healed from our sins. And so it becomes our Good Friday.

There’s also the irony of the “righteous” religious leaders who crucified the only truly innocent man who ever lived. Pilate himself affirmed Jesus’ innocence, yet succumbed to the political pressure exerted by the “righteous” Pharisees who demanded that Jesus be killed. When Jesus is taken to Pilate’s house, John includes this ironic sentence about these leaders: “They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.” WHAT?!! They wanted to be “clean” and “pure” enough to eat the Passover, but in so doing they crucified the Passover Lamb of God himself.

And then there’s the way that Jesus is taunted while he is being crucified that he “save himself.”

So also the chief priests, with the scribes and the elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”

Yet if Jesus had saved himself the painful agony of the crucifixion, bearing the wrath of God on behalf of us sinners, none of us would be saved. Jesus would not truly be King if he had come down from the cross. We would have no one to believe in for true salvation.

Good Friday is a day of truly hidden glory. The glory of the King of Kings dying the death of a criminal so his subjects could be in relationship with him. Hidden behind the taunts of the “righteous leaders” who needed his salvation more than any others (and still do!). A bad, horrible day of mourning and weeping and darkness that will turn good for all who believe upon him.

“What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered/Was all for sinners’ gain;

Mine, mine was the transgression/But Thine the deadly pain.

Lo, here I fall, my Savior/’Tis I deserve thy place;

Look on me with Thy favor/Assist me with Thy grace.”

(from the hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”)

Lest we forget (do this in remembrance of me) …

I haven’t been tuned in to Passion Week this week. I confess. Although this is the highlight of the Christian calendar, I have been busy with life and work and future plans (more on that in another post). So tonight I finally took the time to be quiet, and to read and remember what this Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday) is about: blood and body. In reading Matthew’s account in chapter 26, I am struck by a few details that have escaped my notice before.

What a loaded question the disciples ask of Jesus initially: “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” For truly, Jesus would be preparing their Passover. And during the Passover meal, he would invite them to eat of HIM. He would call the bread his very body. And he himself would be the Lamb, giving his own blood to be “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sin.”

And they do not remember Jesus for long. Although in verse 35, Peter (as the spokesman for the disciples) cries out passionately, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And Matthew affirms that “all the disciples said the same.” Yet scarcely two paragraphs later, they have failed to stay awake to pray with Jesus when he needed them the most. And he is betrayed by one of them (Judas). And the action in the Garden of Gethsemane ends with the bleak commentary, “Then all the disciples left him and fled.”

I am not too different from these first disciples. I, too, claim allegiance to Jesus that is so often faltering. I forget that I need Jesus for forgiveness of sins, mine and others. I proudly proclaim things about myself that prove I am self-deceived.

Let us celebrate communion and remember this Maundy Thursday with gravity – drinking the wine and eating the bread lest we forget who we are and who Jesus came to be for us. We need the Passover lamb. And he has been given for us!

Let us remember … lest we forget.