Something in me quakes in the face of sacrificial love. Whether it’s Anna and Elsa in Frozen, Ralph in Wreck-It Ralph, WALL-E in WALL-E, Harry Potter in Harry Potter, or Bing Bong in Inside Out (we watch a lot of Disney flicks in this house), it is true: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NIV). Love is written into our DNA. The truest and best story is the one redeemed by love.
The Days Leading Up to Good Friday
The story of Jesus during Holy Week is one such story. After months of intellectual clashes with Jewish leaders, tensions were at a breaking point. Jesus challenged the status quo and pushed against the margins of who was able to access God’s Love, and that just was not acceptable to those in charge.
But love just wouldn’t stop loving. The Thursday night before Jesus was arrested, he had dinner with his friends. They celebrated Passover together, and like a servant, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. He taught them his final message and encouraged them. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble,” he said. “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).
Judas turned Jesus over to the chief priests and Pharisees. In their midst, when they said they were looking for Jesus, he boldly declared, “I AM he.” This was the name by which God told Moses to call him when he spoke to the Israelites in Egypt, “I AM who I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14 NIV). All of them fell to the ground, astounded that Jesus would align himself with God.
This was the blasphemy that sent Jesus to his death, the atrocious claim that he was the Son of God, the One the people should listen to, not the chief priests and religious leaders. This One so believed the message and power of love that he would not back down.
All of his disciples abandoned him. Soldiers mocked and tortured him. People gawked at him. No one did anything to save him. Still Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV). Jesus was so certain of the power of Love as the Way that he did not fight back for his life. He did not cave to the pressures of priests and rulers to confess a different narrative. He did not condemn the people who tortured and abandoned him.
And then he died.
Between Good Friday and Easter Sunday
There’s this window of time between Jesus’ death and resurrection that always gives me pause. Holy Saturday is the gap between certain despair, and hope realized. Many of us feel stuck in Holy Saturday right now. As we begin to unpack the traumas of this past year—the death, the loss, the pain, the suffering, and the disappointments of Good Friday—we have to ask, what will come of all this suffering?
The men on the road to Emmaus report on what happened to Jesus: “The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place” (Luke 24:20-21 NIV). We had hoped. We had hoped, but those hopes are gone. What is there for us to do now but to go on?
This is where the story turns.
The Promise of Easter Sunday
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’” (John 20:1-2 NIV)
It’s unbelievable, isn’t it, when the one that was thought to be gone is brought back to life. Anna does not remain frozen Ralph survives the volcano, WALL-E is restored. Love inspired their act of ultimate sacrifice, and love restores them Elsa brings Anna back to life. Vanellope von Schweetz (or “The Glitch”) races to Ralph’s rescue. EVE rebuilds WALL-E. God the Father resurrects Jesus the Son.
God’s act of love in the person of Jesus has inspired Christians to sacrificial acts of love ever since. It’s the promise of resurrection, that no matter how dark it gets, love has the power to light the night. Love has the power to save the lost. Love has the power to redeem us.
We have been stuck in one long, dark Holy Saturday this past year. But resurrection is coming. The hope of Christ promises it.
(Re)Turn to Faith
Before wanderings and doubts of adulthood settled in, I stood in line to receive communion with my mom on Easter. The woman guitarist at the country church we attended sang, “Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bid’st me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
It seemed we sang those verses 100 times over as I waited for the spongy, dry wafer and the thimbleful of grape juice. I have felt the pull now of that strange mystery who called himself I AM, Love, bidding me come for decades.
From out of our darkness and suffering this spring, Love calls us to expect and look for the wondrous. Love calls us to bear witness against the powers and principalities of darkness. Love calls us to believe we are worthy of love because of the simple fact that we exist and are called God’s children. Love calls us to an active faith, one that goes to the garden alone, one that seeks Jesus even when we thought God was dead in the tomb. Love calls us out of darkness to be makers of peace, lovers of mercy, doers of justice, pursuers of righteousness.
Love calls us to the foot of the cross on Good Friday, to remember all the ways we have betrayed love, broken love, buried love, and burned love. And then love calls us to the empty tomb of Easter Sunday, to rejoice over what love wooed back, healed, resurrected, and caused to rise from the ashes.
No matter where you are on your faith journey, you can clear a path forward to the hope of resurrection this Easter. Make space to hear what the Holy Spirit has for you. Take a walk, sit outside, light a candle, plant some seeds. Simple, quiet moments invite the Spirit in. All you have to do, then, is answer the call, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.