Over the past two days we have been on a long and gruelling journey with Jesus. We have been with Him in the Upper Room pondering on the mystery of His body and His blood poured out for us. We have followed Him to Gethsemane and witnessed His agonising prayer to His Heavenly Father. We have felt the betrayal of Judas and identified with Peter’s denial. We have sensed the injustice of Jesus being condemned to death. We have covered the agonising, painful journey to the cross, and pondered why Jesus should endure so much for us. We have passed through the darkness of the crucifixion and stood with women watching Him die. And finally we have watched as His body has been committed to a dark, cold tomb.
Rightly today we pause and rest, and we reflect on just how much Jesus plumbed the depths of our human experience. But as believers we do so at least with the awareness that Sunday is coming. We know that the sealing of the tomb is not the end of the story, and we wait and pray for the time when we hear the words “He is not here. He has risen!” However so many people who have been betrayed, abused, tortured and falsely imprisoned have no assurance of a better future. They are living in a perpetual Easter Eve where their story has been put on hold by suffering and injustice, and they have no prospect of a better day.
This is why today is also an occasion to reflect once again on our mission as a church. Sometimes when we celebrate Jesus’ rising from the dead we overlook or ignore the brokenness of the suffering of the world as an inconvenient truth that intrudes upon our festivities. But we need to make connections between what we know is true of Jesus and the reality that those without Jesus face.
In short, we need to learn to be a community of joy. Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, but it is one that is so often misunderstood. Let’s be clear – joy is not a superficial happiness that ignores the pain and suffering all around us. Joy is the fruit of the Spirit that is produced by facing up to the reality of Good Friday, of being able to face all that is wrong in the world, and yet being able to say, like Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” (Job 19:25). It stems from the understanding that nothing is able to separate us from the love of God. And for that reason it is less of an emotion, than an attitude that perseveres in faith and trust in hope even when there seems so little grounds for hope.
Many years ago when I lived in Austria, I would often pass wayside shrines of Jesus still on the cross. I could at least understand these as reminders of all that Jesus went through on our behalf. What I found less easy to understand were the shrines that depicted Jesus still in the tomb. A joyless Christianity really has little to offer our world. A Christian who clings onto every tragedy and knows little of the transforming power of Jesus is not a good advertisement for our faith.
So today as we prepare for Easter Sunday, one very practical way to do this is to reflect on those extraordinary words of Paul in Philippians 1:21, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.” As believers we should not be defined by our successes or our sorrows; our achievements or our failures. We should be defined by our relationship with Jesus and we should live in the knowledge that Sunday is coming. So how far is my identity defined by the one who gave up everything for us on the cross? And how far is my life, day by day, shaped by the prospect of a better future when He returns in all His glory?