Saturday, March 26, 2016

This Easter: How Grief Connects Us to Christ's Sacrifice

My Parents in their Twilight Years -- Still Sharp and Beautiful
Last year Easter was very challenging for me. 

When Easter arrived last year, I was reeling from the loss of my parents just months before. I was deep in the "acute grief" that a counselor had taught me about, given me vocabulary for and helped to walk me through.

Honestly, I don't even remember anything that happened on Easter day last year. I think I was pretty numb to the celebration of Jesus' death and resurrection. In my head I knew that He'd given me - and the whole world - the most awesome gift ever when He died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead. 

But last year, I wasn't exactly feeling it.

This year has been different.

As I've approached Resurrection Sunday, I have been very contemplative. I've thought a lot about the depth of Jesus' sacrifice. I've been reading the Passion story -- the story of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection -- with my children every day. I watched Tyler Perry's Passion Play with my family, and cried on the finale - Unconditional. On yesterday, Good Friday, my children and I walked the "Resurrection Trail" at Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, where we now live.

This year I am absolutely feeling it.

Anyone who knows me knows that I ask a lot of questions. I've always been a curious person. I've always wondered why people act, think and feel the way they do. And often I turn that same introspection on myself. I'm always curious about why I act, think and feel the way I do.

So the obvious question for me was: Why do I feel differently this year? Why is the story of Easter moving me this year? Why am I feeling it so deeply?

The only answer that I've come up with is interesting to me. It's not the answer that I'd wanted. It's not what I'd hoped for.

I'd hoped that my deeper understanding of Jesus' sacrifice came from spiritual growth on my part. That I'd matured in my faith. That I was becoming more like Jesus, so I understood Him and His sacrifice on a deeper level.

But that wasn't it at all.

I've come to realize that my deeper understanding of the Passion of Christ has come from the very things in my life that I wish I could change. I get it this year because I have suffered.

And chances are, if you truly get it this year, you too have suffered during your lifetime.

Let me break this down as simply as I can...

If I -- a fallen, sinful, completely selfish human being -- have suffered great loss, disappointment and pain and known the depths of grief because of it, how much deeper must Jesus' grief have been when He who knew no sin experienced unimaginable loss, disappointment and pain? 

Even when I've been treated unjustly and unfairly, I have to admit that I have also treated others unjustly and unfairly at times. Even when I've been hurt, I have to admit that I too have hurt others. When someone sins against me, I have to admit that I have sinned against others as well.

But Jesus never once mistreated others. He never treated others unjustly. He never sinned against another person -- not ever.

How deep must His grief have been when He took on the sins of the world while on that cross on Golgotha?

My grief gives me a small taste of His grief. My pain gives me a small taste of His pain. My losses give me a small taste of His loss.

And all of this makes me get it.

None of us want to feel pain or grief or loss. None of us wakes up in the morning with the thought... What can I do today to achieve disappointment or pain or fear or loss?

And yet these are the very experiences that bring us a little closer to the Passion... These are the experiences that help us get it.

Think about it:

When we feel lonely... We better understand how Jesus felt when His disciples couldn't stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane to watch and pray with Him.

When we feel ignored or overlooked... We better understand how Jesus felt when Peter denied knowing Him -- not once, but three times.

When we lose a loved one... We better understand how devastating it must have been for Jesus to be separated from His Father while on the cross.

When we are betrayed by a friend or loved one... We better understand how the Savior must have felt when His friend and self-proclaimed follower Judas betrayed Him.

When we bear our own crosses in life, we better understand the cross that Jesus carried... The same cross on which He was crucified.

The end result? We come through our cross-bearing stronger, more compassionate for our fellow-cross bearers and much more grateful for our Lord and Savior's sacrifice for us.

And on Easter morning we can sing with assurance and hope and joy...

Because He lives I can face tomorrow

Because He lives all fear is gone.

Because I know He holds the future

And life is worth the living

Just because He lives!