The story of Easter is complicated and weird. Just try explaining it to someone who knows nothing about Jesus or God. Your story might sound something like this:
Well, Jesus, who was God made flesh, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, all humble, while people sang hosannas and waved palm branches because they thought he had come to over-throw their Roman oppressors, and then a few days later, he ticked off the Jewish leaders, so they had him arrested and tried by the Roman leader Pontius Pilate. The same crowd that had welcomed Jesus with hosannas a few days earlier now shouted to Pilate to crucify him. Crowds are fickle things, aren't they? Then, Jesus died in the most humiliating way the Romans had devised to save us all from our sins, and after he was buried in a borrowed tomb, he was resurrected and visited his followers a number of times before finally going back to heaven, until he comes again in the final days.
Yeah, that makes perfect sense.
Even people raised in the faith who celebrated Easter every year with rousing choruses of "Up From the Grave He Arose," struggle to make sense of this reckless, boundless act of love. The idea that God died for us, to cleanse us of our sins, makes sense when put into the context of the whole of the Bible, but how many Christians spend the time studying the full story to see the full scope of God's work that culminates in Jesus? That's a lifetime study, and no blog post can explain all that. I'm not even going to try.
What I do know, in the depths of my heart, is that Jesus was born for every one of us. He died for every one of us. And he had a message for us that gets repeated through John's gospel account of the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and its aftermath.
1. At the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus said: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:34-35
2. While hanging from the cross, "[W]hen Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, 'Woman, here is your son.' Then he said to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home." John 19:26-27
3. After his death, when he meets his disciples on a beach, he tells Peter three times: "Feed my lambs."
Love each other. Take care of each other. Sacrifice for each other as he sacrificed for all of us. That's the message Jesus wanted to make sure his disciples heard. God so loved the world that he poured love out onto the cross for us. When we accept that unimaginable, complete, and total love, we must pass it on. We can't dam up that kind of love in our hearts...it overflows abundantly.
I wish this were the message of Lent.
Too often, Lent is about giving up chocolate or coffee or Facebook, as if something we can do will save us. Until recently in history, Lent coincided with a time of shortage and conservation of food, a time of hunkering down, doling out wrinkled apples from the cellar, an annual and necessary reduction of consumption while people awaited the early crops. It wasn't so much of a choice back in the day as it is now.
If you find those sorts of sacrifices helpful to prepare you for Easter, certainly don't let me deter you. We all get to the cross differently. But please don't stop with giving some luxury up.
To prepare us to celebrate that free and unearned gift at Easter, we should add something to the world that's starved for salvation. Let's feed the lambs, help our neighbors, love one another in ways that shout to the world that we follow The Lamb of God. During Lent, Jesus' example and words invite us to engage more deeply with his new commandment, to add to the love in the world, to move the world one step closer to kingdom life.
Is there a better season to recommit to sacrificial love all the days of our lives than Lent?
How are you feeding his lambs? Do you need to be more intentional in seeking out and caring for the hungry and those in need of love? Are you listening to the needs of others and responding in love? Pray during this season particularly for a heart like Jesus' heart, one that acts in love and shares the joy of salvation.