ORIGINALLY WRITTEN PAUL PENNER
The Easter story was always fascinating for me as a young child. The approach of spring and Passion Week were an integral part of the other.
With the advent of spring, fresh fragrances of the soil and new flowers were an intoxicating mix. It heralded the promise of new life, of many adventures to come after school no longer held her children captive.
The approaching Easter holidays likewise held out the promise of new life. Palm Sunday was a time to celebrate the arrival of the Lamb of God in Jerusalem. The excitement of the Passion story, from a child’s eyes, captured my desire to understand this man called Jesus Christ.
Though the story of the cross is also a story about pain, torture, humiliation and an excruciatingly slow death, it is a story of release from the prison of sin, from the sentence of death in hell.
Thankfully, Easter is also a story of God’s boundless mercy and grace. In that context, it is all about spring and the promise of new life in heaven that will never end. Winter’s death grip will never hold us captive ever again.
My childhood fascination with the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection has never left. Each year brings new things to mind that make me pause as I gaze in awe on the one who chose to forgive my own sin.
My childlike perspective was limited to seeing God as the father figure, always loving but somewhat distant. I never had a reason to doubt his sincerity. I grew up hearing the Psalms read by my own father during our daily devotions.
I viewed God’s intervention in my life as a disciplinary figure: You sin, you pay big time. Other than that, God is quiet-in a loving way, if you will-yet, uninvolved.
Like all children, we grow up and our perceptions of God change. We move through other stages, first as adolescents and later as uncertain but rebellious teens. Adulthood arrives in bits and pieces. We may have looked like young adults, but lacked the mental acuity and maturity of older people.
In all stages, God was with me. He was there when Deborah and I exchanged our wedding vows. He was there when our first child was born. During a life-threatening medical emergency, I sensed his presence in the hospital while waiting for good news about Deborah. As our family grew by two more children, God blessed our home with incredible joy.
Through the ag crisis of the ’80s, God was present as well. Though it seemed I was alone, I could not ignore the evidence of God’s involvement in my life. In one instance, divine intervention literally saved the lives of our family as we traveled to yet another round of medical appointments.
It is said that we learn to depend on God when we are the least able to take care of ourselves. We have no other choice in the matter -that is, unless we become so embittered and angry with God that we refuse to let him deliver us from the drowning sea of tragedy.
God often touches us with the loving presence of dear friends. His face is evident in their non-judgmental behavior as they care for our needs when we are exhausted. His hands work through the hands of real flesh-and-blood companions. His words of encouragement come alive as friends speak, if only for a brief moment.
When words are inadequate, his silent, yet abiding presence is revealed as friends share the burden that is too difficult for one person to carry.
Far from it, I am still learning how to depend on God. Today, the story of the cross and Jesus’ resurrection points to my need of redemption from sin. Though I claim to follow Jesus, I am imperfect, still.
I am more mature and responsible, I suppose. Yet, in the words of Apostle Paul, a war wages in my innermost being between what I know I should do and what I want to do. The good news is I would not have this battle of wills if I chose to reject God’s gift of eternal life.
In that context, the battle of wills is worth the effort.
Sin is an equal-opportunity taskmaster. All of humanity shares the burden of sin. We are subject to the same fate whether we are rich or poor, whether we have great social pedigrees or not.
Though it is little consolation, our shared condemnation does give us pause before we rush to judgment of someone else’s behavior.
I am not alone in my admission of imperfection. Regardless of which denomination-or flavor of theology, if you will-imperfect people fill the pews of every church. Simply recognizing one’s need for redemption does not make perfect Christians.
However, as we own up to our imperfection and recognize Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, we receive the gift of eternal life.
As recipients of this gift, the Holy Spirit encourages us to submit to the only one who has the power to change and cleanse our hearts. He then gives us the energy to overcome our own destructive behavior.
That, in all its glory, is the continuing story of Easter.