The Easter Bunny had the habit of leaving me a trail of jellybeans to my basket every year, so as soon as my eyes opened, I'd see that colorful candy trail leading tantalizingly out of my bedroom. I remember the great anticipation of that day because as soon as I awoke, there would be evidence of my path to treasure, to reward.
But as life has progressed, I have grown needy of a greater treasure than just some candy leading to other candy. I need hope that has substance and doesn't dead-end in the bathroom cabinet with fake plastic grass. When I awake on Easter morning as a grown-up, what do I have to hope for? What trail do I follow now? Where is my direction, my purpose, my help when the world grows very dark, when evil steps in and has me pinned down, helpless, out of control?
That's why I have grown to anticipate Good Friday. It's a very dark holiday, but one that I love because it is the only holiday that doesn't attempt to cover over pain. There is no smile you have to put on to please your relatives, no gifts to buy that you can't afford, no traveling, no meal you are too tired to make much less eat, no cards to exchange or greetings of "Happy Good Friday!" required. No decorations. No expectations. It is a quiet holiday that passes by most people as just a fleeting thought in their busy days before Easter. Ah, my calendar says its Good Friday! Better pick up the ham at the grocery store tomorrow!
This holiday is not for false merriment or cheer. But it is the acknowledgement of true suffering, true despair, the darkest of the dark hours in all of history. It was when God himself, the Creator, was murdered by his own creation. We humans, woven together by God's hand in the womb, shouted, "Crucify!" When the guards struck Jesus, shouting "Prophecy! Who hit you?" Jesus knew not only the man who hit him but had counted every hair on his head, knew his mind, knew his family, knew his heart.
As he hung there on the cross in between two common criminals, Jesus prayed to the Father to forgive us, for we did not know what we were doing. He cried out. And with full power and authority over all that was going on, he voluntarily relinquished his blameless life as payment for a debt we, as sinners, could not pay, saying, "It is finished."
When I heard this story in past years, I took for granted that this was the Easter story. I knew the ending, and that allowed me to unemotionally gloss over the great drama preceding the final victory. I'd never thought about how I would feel as a woman bystander on that Friday, with no knowledge of what was soon to come-- as a woman who had loved Jesus, walked with him and trusted him. How did Mary Magdalene feel? Without knowing what will happen next, the crucifixion of Christ is hopeless. Death is the final word. There is nothing left. This man I had put my hope in as God and Savior, as my Messiah, has turned out to be taken captive, beaten, mocked, murdered. Where is the power he promised? Where is his kingom? Where is HE when I NEED Him most!? In her utter grief, how confused and lonely she must have felt-- abandoned...by this man, this God she so dearly loved.
How I empathize with those feelings. There are times in life when such terrible suffering takes place, when such profoundly evil circumstances flash across the evening news that we go numb watching and can't understand. "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." Rom. 8:22 If we are in the agonizingly painful situation or touched by it, it can appear to us as if God is dead. Where is he when we need Him most?! Good Friday shows us where he is. He is suffering with us. He is voluntarily taking part in our worst pain.
But Good Friday points to something even better. Though he is in that darkness with us, he is also planning the greatest and most unexpected triumph of all time. We cannot perceive it when we are living through each painful moment of Friday, but the redemptive plan is fully in motion.
As Mary approached that grave Easter morning, she still thought he was dead. She was preparing to have to work with many women to try to roll away the heavy stone in order to anoint his body with spices. She was as tired and lonely as ever with days to have mulled over the horror, the abandonment, and the disappointment of that Black Friday. But when she neared the tomb, in one instant her whole world changed, and so did ours. The tomb was empty! Angels declared what her heart wanted to believe but her mind could not comprehend: He has risen! Jesus is no longer dead. He is alive!
Later that morning, she became the first person ever (a young woman!) to see and speak with the resurrected Christ. As he tenderly spoke her name, what must she have felt? This sudden rush of adrenaline? The quickening of her heart? What an electric current must have run through her veins when she forgot her agonizing days of despair in that one moment. Death had been conquered. Her Savior was standing before her, and OH how he LOVED her. To come to her personally and to ask her to be the first to run and tell the news! To come to her before he had returned to heaven to be with the Father! How he loved her to speak her name so tenderly. It was the end of mourning and crying. It was Easter morning. Joy was here. There wasn't just a trail to follow. There was a divine man who loved her personally and could not be destroyed, even by the worst evil.
I love Mary's testimony-- I envy her sometimes-- how she saw his face, heard his voice, spent time in his physical presence. But when he died, she also must have been so tempted to feel abandoned...to doubt...to think that God's work was over that day. Like Mary, we don't understand sometimes when all we see is the cross part of our lives. We carry it, and we get so tired. The burdens are so great. The despair and the agony are overwhelming. We have been abandoned, evil is winning, and we are broken. That is Good Friday. But after we have waited and grieved and mourned, there is the promise of Sunday. And we will see Him face to face if we don't turn away-- if we continue to walk (sometimes crawl) in our grief, trusting him, having faith that he has triumphed over Death, over Sin, and will come back for us-- he will come to you if you repent and believe in Him-- personally, softly speaking your name as you turn and see your Easter morning hope brighter than it's ever been before.
...weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.