“On Easter morning we can still feel the pains of the world, the pains of our family and friends, the pains of our hearts. Still, all is different because we have met Jesus and He has spoken to us. There is a simple, quiet joy among us and a deep sense of being loved by a love that is stronger, much stronger, than death…”
Henri J. M. Nouwen, in Embraced by God’s Love*
I savor Henri Nouwen’s words regarding Easter because they speak to the essence of my Easter experience. Like Nouwen, I understand that life in this world will never be perfect. In spite of more than two thousand years of faith in Jesus, we find ourselves in the disciples’ mindset. Like the disciples, our futures remain uncertain. Though we believe that Jesus is risen from the dead, we join the disciples in wondering what impact this event will have upon us. Though we share the disciples’ relief that Jesus is among us once again, we wonder with Peter and the rest what we will do when Jesus is not in the room with us. The scriptures tell us that in spite of Jesus’ appearances, the disciples kept themselves locked up, fearing that they might be the next to hang on a cross. Like the disciples, we do what we must to keep ourselves safe as well. We continue to concern ourselves with the things of this world. What is worse is that we keep our concerns to ourselves rather than sharing them with the One who truly understands.
The good news on this Easter Sunday is that Jesus appreciated what the disciples had been through just as he understands our troubles today. Jesus knows our fear. Do you remember the beads of blood that dripped from his forehead as he prayed in the garden after his last supper? Jesus knew that the disciples longed for forgiveness, and he recognizes our need to make things right. Remember the father of the prodigal son? Jesus assured the people that this father forgave everything, a perfect example of God’s forgiveness. Jesus knew that when he lost his life his friends lost their hope. Jesus also knows that when life devastates us, it is difficult for us to hold on. So it was that Jesus arrived that first Easter with the words his friends needed to hear most, “Peace be with you!” So it is that Jesus repeats this greeting in the alleluias that greet us today.
If we could see into the hearts of those gathered in our beautifully decorated churches this Easter Sunday, we would find unimaginable joy and unimaginable suffering. While joy is tangible in smiles and dancing eyes, suffering hides in quiet comings and goings. Some have joined us today without a wife or a husband, a mother or a father, a son or a daughter or a dear friend who left this world too soon. Some have joined us this Easter Sunday in the face of a failing marriage or without a paycheck. Some are so lonely that they will try to ignore Easter after they leave church today in order to avoid the pain. Some will listen to the alleluias ring out. Some will sing “alleluia” again and again for you and me in spite of their conviction that God cannot possibly intend Easter Joy to be theirs. Some struggle with worry over their children. Some battle illnesses that seem to be winning the war. Some sit among us in sadness, unable to explain even to themselves why they feel the way they do. Jesus, who refuses to leave us alone in good times and in bad, repeats once again the words we most need to hear. “Peace be with you!” Jesus tells us as he nestles beside us in whatever our circumstances happen to be at the moment.
Henri Nouwen spent a lifetime in search of the quiet joy and the love of which he often wrote. You and I are here today because we seek the same. We have come because Jesus offers us hope greater than those who came before him could ever have imagined. When Jesus rose from the dead, everything changed. Jesus transformed our hope in the things to come into the knowledge that eternal happiness awaits us all.
When we leave church this Easter Sunday, our circumstances will remain the same. What changes is the manner in which we deal with the realities of life; we have been reminded that we no longer face these things alone. When we leave church this Easter Sunday, we are encouraged and strengthened by the peace that comes in the loving and compassionate presence of Jesus. Yes, in spite of the fact that everything is not perfect today, I am joyful and loved by God. May God bless you abundantly with the same!
©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved
*Nouwen, Henri J.M., Embraced by God’s Love (Calendar), Garborg’s, Bloomington, MN, 1998, p. 97