Just as the women returned to the garden on the first day of the week, we gathered in the darkness. The women discovered the stone had been rolled way from the sepulcher; we gathered in celebration of our risen Lord.
Christ the Lord is risen to day, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!
With hymns and Bible readings, the sunrise service focused our minds on the resurrection of Jesus. An angel had rolled the stone away. Jesus had been called forth from the grave, the napkin that had been around his head in one place and the linen clothes in another. Mary Magdalene stood at the mouth of the sepulcher weeping, assuming someone had removed the body. Jesus appeared and spoke to her, asking why she was crying. At first she answers Him as she would a gardener, but when Jesus called her name, she recognized His voice. She wanted to embrace Him, but he prevented her.
Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God (John 20:17).
Mary experienced two blessings that morning. She had the privilege of being the first person to see Jesus before He ascended to heaven to present Himself to His Father. She had the privilege of bringing the message of Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples.
Yet the resurrection story is a blessing to all who believe and confess the name of Jesus.
In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also (John 14:2-3).
We watched the brilliance of the sunrise in the distance and after the closing prayer, we filtered away from the park where we had enjoyed the sweet spirit of the Easter service. Let’s not forget the sacrifice that was made for our salvation or the promise of eternal life that Jesus offers.
Why is there a break in the crucifixion story? We observe Good Friday and celebrate the triumph over the grave on Easter Sunday. What happened in the middle?
The fierce drama of the religious leaders’ pursuit of Jesus and their desire to silence Him moves at a steady tempo. Arrested at Gethsemane, accused before Pilate, questioned by Herod before being sent back to Pilate. When Pilate announced to the crowd that he had found no fault in him and gave them the choice between Jesus and the criminal Barabbas, they chose to free Barabbas over Jesus. They led Him to Calvary and there, between two thieves, nailed Him to the cross for Him to die.
Dying by crucifixion was a slow, agonizing death, taking hours or possibly days for the person to succumb to asphyxia, cardiac rupture, or other factors. But as the start of the Sabbath was drawing near, the priests were anxious to finish the crucifixion. One way to hasten the death of the victims was to break their legs.
The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day, (for that Sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and they might be taken away.
Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and to the other which was crucified with him.
But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs. (John 19:31-33)
The Matthew account records that Joseph of Arimathaea was given permission to take the body of Jesus which he moved to a new tomb in a garden, wrapped it in a linen cloth, rolled a stone across the sepulcher (tomb), and departed. Outside the tomb a guard was set at the entrance to ensure the disciples did not sneak back to the tomb and remove the body of Jesus and claim He is risen from the dead, as the chief priests feared.
Luke provided other details. In the midst of their grief, the women came also to see where Jesus would be laid. They prepared spices and ointments for the immediate care of the body of their Lord. They would return, after the Sabbath, to finish the burial ritual of the body. The women rested on the Sabbath day according to the commandment. Jesus “rested” in the tomb over the Sabbath. The break in the Easter story is not so much of a break as it is a holy Sabbath rest.
In countless locations around the world, reenactments of the last hours of Christ’s life will be performed today. Mock trials, journeys by actors carrying prop crosses and then a crucifixion scene. Viewing such reenactments—seeing a depiction of the suffering and sacrifice that Jesus endured—draws crowds, each observer’s faith being challenged or strengthened. Good Friday services are common in churches where believers gather to read the account of the crucifixion in the Bible or to listen to readings of the last sayings of Christ:
1. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34) – Even on the cross, Jesus acted as mediator between creation and the Creator.
2. I tell you the truth today, you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43) – When the thief on the cross confessed his sin to Jesus, the loving Savior assured him that salvation was available, even as he repented in his last hour.
3. Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother. (John 19:26-27) – Jesus cares for his mother’s earthly needs.
4. Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? (Matthew 27:46) – Jesus cries out to his Father, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” It is believed this is the point when Jesus felt the separation from His Father as he bore the full weight of our sins upon Him.
5. I thirst. (John 19:28) – They offered him vinegar, gall and myrrh which Jesus refused.
7. Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit. (Luke 23:46). Jesus gave up His life. The veil in the temple was split from top to the bottom marking the end of the need to sacrifice lambs for the remission of sins. Jesus was the Lamb, the perfect, spotless Lamb of God.
Jesus paid the penalty of sin, so that we, through Him, might be saved.
Many men have died, so what was so different about Jesus’ crucifixion from the others that the Roman conducted so many times before and since? How can we be saved through His death? Hold on—the resurrection on the first day of the week is coming.
But first, we rest for the Sabbath, just as Jesus did as He lay in the grave.
This year, the Passover and Easter coincide. In Matthew chapter 26, Jesus and his disciples prepare for the Passover (Matthew 26: 17-19). Christians refer to this meal as the Last Supper. During this meal, Jesus tells the disciples that one of them will betray him (Matthew 26:21). This declaration stirs an uproar of questions among the disciples, “Is it I, Lord? Is it I?” Even Judas asks the question.
During this meal, Jesus lays the foundation for the communion service, a time when Christians participate in they symbolic representation of what happened on that night. Jesus took the bread, broke it and distributed it among the disciples. The bread represents His body. Jesus took the cup, gave thanks and gave it to them, representing His own blood which was shed for the remission of sins. They ate and sang before going to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed.
In the Garden
Alone in the garden, except for the slumbering disciples, and away from the crowd, Jesus prayed.
“If it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39)
In Jesus’ darkest hour, the disciples slept.
It had been foretold that the Savior would be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.
“For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).
After willingly surrendering his will to the Father and knowing that he had been “betrayed into the hands of sinners”, the heart of the earth—His suffering for our redemption—opened up and Jesus was cast into the grip of the Enemy, an enemy of death He would defeat three days later.
The prayerful stillness and agony of the garden transformed into the scene of Jesus’ arrest when Judas arrived with the crowd—a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people. This time, the crowd is not shouting “Hosanna!” They are not worshipping Jesus. They are not laying palm leaves before him. This is the scene of betrayal, of scripture being fulfilled, and of desertion as the disciples fled. This is also a scene of authority. Only Jesus, Son of God, has the power to save us from our sins.
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12)
Our salvation, indeed, came at a great price.
Tell me the story of Jesus. Write on my heart every word. So begins the familiar hymn, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus”. Easter is a wonderful time to read and share the story of Jesus’ love and sacrifice. Palm Sunday falls on March 29 this year. It serves as the first part of the Easter story. It’s important to start there, one week before Easter, because of the incredulous turn of the crowd of the day.
A Praising Crowd
In Matthew 21, Jesus and his disciples are about to enter Jerusalem. Jesus instructs two disciples to go into a village and fetch a donkey and her colt that they will find tied. If they are asked what they are doing, the disciples are told to answer, “The Lord hath need of them,” and they would be free to remove the animals. All of this was done as Jesus instructed. The donkey was prepared and Jesus, sitting on it, was led into the city of Jerusalem as a king entering the city. After over three years of ministry, Jesus was well known among the people. He had healed the sick, raised the dead, touched the untouchable, and preached with power in the synagogue. He had followers and he also had enemies. I imagine both follower and enemy were present at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem that day. The followers, those who loved him and cheered his entrance, spread their garments and branches from the trees before him as he made his way through the crowd on the donkey. It’s a noisy, frenetic scene of people lining the streets of Jerusalem. People—multitudes—went before him and followed after Jesus crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”
“Who is this?” some asked.
“Jesus, of Nazareth of Galilee,” came the answer.
The account in Matthew 21 gives us a picture of Jesus as temple cleanser and compassionate healer. After Jesus entered Jerusalem he went into the temple and cast out the moneychangers and merchants who were doing business in the house of God. Remember, this was occurring in the temple. But Jesus also healed the blind and the lame who came to him for help and restoration. All of this Jesus had the perfect right to do, but when the chief priest heard about the wonderful things Jesus was doing, they became angry. Were they angered by the praises of the people? About his healing the sick? Or were they angered by Jesus’ stopping business from taking place in God’s house? Jesus had long been pursued and criticized by the chief priests and Pharisees.
The chapter ends by telling us that the chief priests and Pharisees wanted to ‘lay hands on him’ after hearing Jesus’ parables, but they hesitated because the multitude looked to Jesus as a prophet. The chief priests and Pharisees would have to wait until another time, a time when they could arrest him in private, away from the eyes of the people. A few days later, the church leaders take their chance and the people’s praises become chants of “Crucify him!”
A short story based in Bermuda.
I recognised her silhouette in the distance, down the narrow, tree-lined railway trail that I walked every morning before work. If I stick to my schedule and she to hers, our paths cross just after Cobbs Hill Road where overhanging branches form a leafy tunnel. There’s a wooden bench before the tracks open into the daylight again, and she often sits on it, resting. That Thursday, she held the back of the bench with one hand and her dog’s leash with the other. Corky pulled at his leash, eager to continue their walk, but his owner watched me as I approached.
“Hi, Mrs. Tucker,” I called out.
“Good morning, dear,” Mrs. Tucker said. “Another Bermudaful December day, isn’t it?”
I agreed. “I hope it will stay this way, so I can get in a swim or two at Elbow Beach over the holiday. Back home, I’d be building a snowman.”
“So far the forecast is clear and mild all the way to Boxing Day,” she reported.
I bent down to Corky, who wiggled and squirmed as I tickled his round belly. His excited doggie antics usually made me laugh.
“This will be my first Christmas away from my family,” I told her. “I just started my job, so I can’t get any time off.”
A white object caught my eye. When I stood up, Mrs. Tucker held it out to me.
“I thought so,” she said. “I wonder if you would humour an old lady and come for Christmas dinner. My daughter, Crystal, will be there with a couple of her friends and some others.”
She extended an envelope to me and I accepted it.
“Nobody should be alone for Christmas,” she said with a smile. Then she allowed Corky to pull her forward to continue their slow walk.
A few days later, I stood on the doorstep of Mrs. Tucker’s Warwick cottage, mentally debating over the simple action of lifting the knocker to announce my arrival. I was still unsure about spending the evening with strangers, and I had backed away from the door just as it swung open.
“How long were you going to stand there? The door was open,” said a woman wearing an apron with a red-nosed reindeer on the bib.
“Merry Christmas! I’m Crystal,” she said.
She linked her arm into mine and escorted me to the dining room where the other guests were already seated at the long table. Mrs. Tucker had collected a hodgepodge of acquaintances and friends. When she made the introductions, she included the stipulation that we must call her Opal from then on. We shared the common element that we would have spent Christmas alone if not for Opal’s gentle persuasion. Among the group was a widower from her church’s choir, a newlywed whose husband worked in a hotel restaurant, a nurse, and Evan, a quiet man of no fixed abode.
After Crystal brought the last dish out from the kitchen, Opal stood to say the blessing. Without prompting, we each sought out the hands of our table neighbours to form an unbroken chain. Afterward, conversations resumed as we passed each dish family style until we had loaded our plates with selections from Opal’s extensive menu.
Leaning toward Opal, I asked, “Haven’t you ever wanted a white Christmas?”
“I’ve spent every Christmas of my life in Bermuda,” she answered, “except for one when I thought I should go somewhere else for a change. Somewhere with snow or neon lights or crowds.” She shook her head. “Not for me. I missed playing for the church cantata and carolling door to door. I love helping with the Christmas hampers and teaching my grandchildren to make cassava pie and sugar cookies. I used to love the smell of cedar trees but I’m used to these imported ones now. Besides, gombeys don’t dance in snow. Whenever I heard those drums in the neighbourhood on Boxing Day, I would follow them all over the place.”
One story led to another throughout the meal until Crystal shooed us from the dinner table.
“Follow me, everyone,” she said, leading us to the tree. As animated chatter swirled around the cosy living room, Opal cast a wistful eye toward her beloved instrument. A beautiful baby grand piano dominated the far corner of the room, its ebony lid supported a deep red poinsettia. Corky’s little, plaid dog bed was nestled under the piano, but he had abandoned it for parts unknown at the noise of our entrance. I wondered if what Opal most missed about Christmas was playing carols on her piano. She had dedicated her life to the performance, and then teaching, of music until her arthritic fingers restricted her ability.
Opal distributed the gifts, a small memento of our Christmas together. I unwrapped a CD by Bermudian musicians, a fitting gift from the former piano teacher.
“But we didn’t get anything for you,” Nina protested. The petite nurse seemed distraught that Opal gave so graciously but had not received.
“Your company is enough,” she answered with a gentle smile. The discreet action of rubbing her hands in her lap did not escape me, and I wondered if the rigors of preparing for her guests had pushed her joints beyond comfort.
For a few strained moments, we sat in motionless contemplation. As a recipient of the woman’s hospitality, I felt humbled and warmed. Crystal looked around at the sombre group, crossed the room, and sat on the piano bench.
“Remember my favourite song, Mom?” Crystal called out, glancing at her mother before turning her attention back to the sheet music. She gathered a willing quartet of guests around the piano and led them in a medley of carols. The group sang heartily while the rest of us joined in from our seats.
“The first Noël the angels did say,
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay . . .”
From a floral wing-backed chair, Opal nodded to the music, her foot tapped as if pumping the pedal feet of the piano. Away in a Manger followed It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, and then we giggled our way through an improvised Bermudian version of The Twelve Days of Christmas which changed the mood from meditative to boisterous. What would we have been doing if not for Opal’s invitation and open doors? A group of homesick strangers now well fed, joyous, and familial, surrounded by flickering candles and blinking tree lights.
“What’s your favourite song?” Nina asked Opal.
“There’s a Song in the Air,” she replied without hesitation.
“There certainly is!” Nina answered. She turned back to Crystal, expecting her to play a prelude.
“I never played it as well as my mother,” Crystal confessed, flipping through a book to find another song.
“And I’m, well, a little out of practice,” Opal said with a stilted laugh. She lifted her fingers to show her knotted joints. She shrugged in resignation. “Old Arthur’s got me.”
Evan leaned over and covered the woman’s hands with his and studied her disheartened expression.
“Give it a try,” he coaxed. “I know you can play it this once. Have faith,”
Except for the appropriately placed ‘thank you’ and ‘please’, it was the most Evan had spoken all evening. Opal did not protest but pushed herself from the chair and walked to the bench. Her daughter stood and the two women changed places. Opal closed the song book and neatly stacked the music in a small pile on the edge of the bench. She paused for a moment, spreading her fingers over the keys, and the room filled with our anticipation. She played the first three notes gingerly as if reuniting with a friend after a long estrangement. No one sang. We waited.
The retired piano teacher—the virtuosa—delved into the song, forgetting her fingers’ stiffness, her apprehension and even her audience. I listened, hoping that, in this moment, with her fingers moving expertly across the keys with miraculous dexterity, she felt as happy as she had made me feel all evening.
And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing
For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!
When she touched the final key, we stood and applauded loudly, pleading for her to play another song. All of us except Evan, who had slipped away unnoticed. As I pondered over Evan’s sudden disappearance, I remembered my mother’s admonishment when I was a child. Always show kindness to strangers; by doing so, some have entertained angels unawares. Opal opened her heart to strangers and received an unexpected blessing. She was unaware that Evan had been a special guest. Not that she would have done anything differently.
It’s that feeling when, after finishing a very good book, I can’t find another book that interests me as much as the one I just finished. I wander through the shelves of the library searching for a title or book cover to jump out at me. Or maybe I search online for an ebook. Often, however, and disappointingly so, nothing compares to the previous book. In this case, the culprit was Stefan Zweig’s “The Post Office Girl.” Although a bit slow at the beginning, the story of the unfortunate Christine drew me in expertly, literature in beautiful form.
So now what?
That’s where the lemon sorbet comes in. I’m not eating it; I’m reading it. The next book acts as sorbet in a multi-course meal–the palate cleanser. The palate cleanser removes lingering flavors from previous courses so that the following courses can be enjoyed without compromise. After I finish the palate cleanser, I will be in the frame of mind to surrender to a new story. I will have a fresh perspective.
The palate cleanser is a light story that’s as different from The Post Office Girl as possible. No graceful literary language. No deftly complex themes or characters. It does have a few funny lines and because I am getting to know and like the characters, it has been keeping me awake late at night–oh, the hours I spend reading. Well, no one said the palate cleanser has to be unpleasant. Lemon sorbet, anyone?