Tuesday, April 2, 2013

He is Risen: Why Easter is Important to Me.

 Fifteen minutes later, Ross and Honey packed the kids into the car and headed off to Newport Beach for the church services. All four children walked demurely near their parents as they entered the church, which was beautifully decorated with pots of snow-white Easter lilies and bright yellow daffodils, just like the ones growing beside the McDonald’s driveway. After the Sunday School lessons, Honey accompanied Melody to the choir room, and then joined the others in the front row of the chapel. Groups of people, in brightly colored clothing that vied with the beautiful sun-brightened stained glass windows illuminating the chapel walls, streamed through the doors toward the welcoming pews. Waves of joyous organ music accompanied the festive throngs. Feelings of hope and thanksgiving hung on the air with comforting warmth. It was a day for celebrating the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The adult choir stood, divided, in the external aisles of the chapel, and began to sing the triumphal Easter hymn:

Christ the Lord is ris’n today


Sons of men and angels say


Raise your joys and triumphs high


Sing, ye heav’ns and earth reply,


It was so beautiful sitting between the two choirs as the voices echoed back and forth, and the triumph of the Lord rang in the congregation’s hearts. After the Pastor’s sermon, the children’s choir, seated behind the pastor, rose to sing, clutching battery lit candles in their hands. Melody was both excited and nervous at the same time and she fought to stand up straight as her knees wobbled and threatened to collapse from the emotion. She was singing in the choir for the first time, and it was wonderful, but what if she sang a wrong note there in front of everyone: she would die. But no, there was her family sitting there in the front row and she knew that everything would be alright. Mrs. Jarvis lifted her arms and began to lead the very young singers:

When Israel was in Egypt’s land,

Let my people go.

Oppressed so bad they could not stand

Let my people go.

Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land

Tell old Pharaoh, Let my people go.”

Melody’s heart began to slow down. She had done it; she had sung the right words in the right rhythm on the right notes. It was wonderful singing in a choir and the congregation’s reaction made her feel like she could fly like an angel. At the end of the last service, as she and the other fifteen boys and girls of the junior choir walked in double file down the center aisle of the chapel with their candles shining brightly, the pastor loosed a cloud of snow-white doves. Just as the young choir members were leaving the chapel to take off their choir robes, one of the doves left its circling companions and settled on Melody’s shoulder. She wasn’t surprised—lots of birds landed on Melody’s shoulder (though not those pesky mocking-birds)—but this bird just heightened her feeling of peace and joy. Wanting to share this feeling, she turned around to search for her family in the midst of the festive crowd. Suddenly, she felt a hand clasp her other shoulder. Turning around, she came face to face with Grammy Jenkins. “I see you’ve found a new friend, Mickey.”

The dove flew off to join his fellows as Melody and her grandmother hugged each other.

“Grammy, you came to hear me sing. What a neat song, huh? Where’s Grampa? Is he here? Are you coming to our house for lunch?”

“Oh, slow down; one question at a time. Yes, dear, the song was wonderful. Grampa is at work. You know the police have to work sometimes on holidays, unfortunately even on Easter. There are many more people here at Easter-time, you know. He’ll try to come later on, when he finishes his shift. Yes, I am coming to lunch and also to the Easter egg hunt. Then, if Grampa doesn’t make it in time, your Grandmother Mary will take me home.”

“Are you coming home with us in our car? Oh, please, Grammy. You can sit in back with me.”

“Yes, sweetheart, I’m coming in the car with you, but I think I’ll sit in the front seat next to your mommy and daddy. Shall we go find the others, now? I’ll bet that your Grandmother Mary is already waiting for us at the house. Take my hand and come along now, there’s a good girl.” (Old McDonald Had a Funny Farm, chap.1; copyright by Mary Purpari, 2009).

Most of the Christian world considers Christmas to be the most important holiday, but I place it in a very close second. Don’t get me wrong, here: I love Christmas, and if it were for me, Christmas – and especially the spirit it brings – could go on for 360 days a year. But, everyone has a birthday; only ONE PERSON was able to do what Jesus did for us. We couldn’t have done it for ourselves, let alone for the rest of humanity. John 3:16 says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25 KJV).

Good Friday is the day in which the Savior fulfilled the scriptures and paid the price (atoned) for our sins. It started even before the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew that the time was drawing near—he had told his disciples, and especially his Apostles, on many occasions, but they didn’t really understand the importance of what was about to happen. They went to the Garden, and he asked them to watch and pray.

And when he went further into the Garden to pray for the strength to fulfill his calling (what he was about to undergo was not an easy task), his apostles fell asleep while waiting for him. He awakened them, and returned to his prayers. The agony he felt as he took upon himself the sins of EVERY person that has ever lived and will live in the future was so great that he sweated blood from every pore (Luke 22:24).

Can you imagine how great that pain must have been? And, it wasn’t a physical pain, but a spiritual pain; it was the pain of being dragged away from his Father by the weight of our sins. Of being so burdened by our sins that his Father left him. “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani… My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me?”(Mark 13:34). Shortly thereafter, he said, “It is finished: and he bowed his head and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30). This he did for those who believed in him and for those who would believe in the future.

His body was then laid in the tomb of a wealthy man, Joseph of Arimathea; guards were put by his grave to make sure that his disciples couldn’t come and take him away. We learn in 1 Peter 3:18-20 that while his body lay in the tomb, “he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” He did this for those who had come before so that they, too, might have the chance to hear his Gospel and accept or reject it.

And on the morning of the first day of the week, Jesus arose from the dead, his spirit reunited with his physical body. This was the gift to all mankind, that they, too, would be able to once again to have their physical body. Job said, several centuries earlier, “I know that my Redeemer liveth… and though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26). And Paul: “Oh Death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Corinthians 15:55-57)

These are the reasons that Easter is so important to me, and this is why I, with Job, can say, “I know that my Redeemer liveth!”