At church on Palm Sunday, I suddenly realized that Easter was only one week away.
I felt unprepared.
Not that I didn’t know it was Easter. I had made plans to visit family for that weekend. Flight reservations, hotels, rental cars. I had booked an early morning flight to be back for church. I had even made reservations for Easter brunch.
But in all of my planning I didn’t even think about Jesus.
Easter was about vacation, and family, and food. Just like other holidays.
But Easter isn’t like other holidays. Everything I believe rests on the existence of Easter. Within Easter lies the crux of the Christian faith.
Often I start meditating on Easter long before it arrives. I reflect on my failings and my weaknesses. I give them to God and ask Him what He wants me to do.
Not this year. So as I tried to to listen to the sermon about Palm Sunday, all I could think about was what I hadn’t done. I hadn’t fasted on Ash Wednesday. I hadn’t done the 40 day devotional for Lent. I hadn’t even thought about the resurrection.
I had been so busy with our wedding, my new life, adjusting to it all, that I had focused on little else.
I vowed to do better next year.
I’d star the calendar a week before Ash Wednesday so I could start planning early. That way I could do something really meaningful next season. Maybe our whole family could volunteer somewhere. And I could take more time for prayer and fasting. And we would have deep intentional discussions about serving God and dying to self.
There was no way to salvage this year now. This Lenten season was almost over. There was no point in worrying about it.
I sat in the pew, mentally berating myself for what I hadn’t done, barely listening to the sermon. I felt defeated.
But as the sermon washed over me, I realized I was believing a lie.
Of course, it’s not too late.
Jesus is issuing me an invitation right now. Today I can spend time with Him. Today I can reflect on the cross. Today I can draw near to Him.
Satan tells me that if I don’t do it perfectly, I shouldn’t bother at all. Satan tells me that God is only pleased with me when I do the right thing. Satan tells me I’ve missed my only opportunity.
Too many times I believe those lies, and I give up. I condemn myself for my failings, feel guilty for missed opportunities, and commit to do better the next time.
All too often, my Christian walk is based on doing things for God in my own strength.
Yet Easter is a blazing reminder that I cannot do anything for God; I do not bring any righteousness of my own. I am sinful failure.
But I’m not alone in that. Everyone failed Jesus in His final hours. The disciples ran away, couldn’t pray, denied Him. And those were the people who loved Him.
Easter is about the absolute failure of man and the unequivocal triumph of God.
He did it all.
I am humbled and amazed once again as I realize I bring nothing. I am merely a receiver of the grace that is poured out on me.
My doing the right thing means nothing to God. He is not disappointed in me, wondering how I could have wasted the last five weeks. He is simply issuing the invitation to spend time with Him. Not because He’ll be more pleased with me, but because I have the opportunity to know Him better. And that is the core of Lenten reflection.
And as long as I have breath, it’s never too late to draw closer to Him.
So after the sermon, confident that not all is lost, I grab my Bible to spend time with the Lord. I wonder what questions Jesus might be asking of me.
I start reading the Gospel of Matthew, and notice the questions that Jesus Himself asked, like: Why do you doubt me? Why do you worry about your clothing? Why do you worry about the speck in your brother’s eye when you have a log in your own? I finally settle on:
Why are you afraid? (Matt 8:26)
As I consider the question, there seem to be many answers. But on further reflection, I realize that behind most of them is my fear of pain and my fear of regret. For myself and for those I love. All types of pain, all kinds of regret.
As I bring those fears to God, I see that pain in the hands of a surgeon can bring great good. God uses pain and regret to shape us.
So my real fear is – will God come through? Will everything ultimately be used for good?
I know there is nothing to fear if God is truly good and truly sovereign. On my best days I believe both wholeheartedly. On the worst days I wonder what is true. I know Satan is a real enemy of God, and when I give in to fear, I assume Satan has unlimited power.
But Satan doesn’t have unlimited power. Ultimately he too is an unwitting servant of God.
Satan thought that killing Jesus would put an end to God’s plan. So he put it into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus. And at the foot of the cross, it may have looked like Satan was right, evil had triumphed, all hope lost.
But Easter reminds me that God’s plans can never be thwarted by Satan.
What Satan means for evil, God means for good. When things look the blackest, perhaps they are nearer than ever to redemption.
I hadn’t been looking for an insight into holy week. I just wanted to spend time with Jesus.
But once again I find myself at the foot of the cross, weeping before my Savior. Knowing how much I am loved. Grateful beyond measure that Easter is coming.
photo courtesy of Jonathan Davidar