When we think of Easter, what comes to mind?
Hunting for Easter eggs
The idea of Easter conjures up a variety of themes as well as ways to celebrate it.
Growing up in the Methodist Church, we began observing the Easter season on Thursday before Easter. It was called Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” being a shortened form of mandatum (Latin), which means “command.”[i]
In that service, we would take communion as we recognized The Last Supper Jesus had with His apostles. You may recall that it was after this meal that Jesus washed their feet and gave them a new command. John 13:34 NIV “34A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
I’ve often wondered about the mood in the room that night. After all, Jesus had predicted that Judas would betray Him and Peter would deny Him not once, not twice, but three days before the rooster crowed the very next day. And, of course, the foot washing would have been uncomfortable. There must have been a sense of foreboding in the air. Did any of them understand what was happening? Were they aware of what the next 24 hours would hold?
The next day, of course, is Good Friday. The day that Jesus was beaten, tortured, mocked, and crucified to the point of death. His mother, Mary, along with His dear friends, John and Mary Magdelene witnessed it all. How gruesome and gut-wrenching that would have been for them. His other friends, however, were nowhere to be found. The others in the crowd had most likely seen flogging and a crucifixion before. After all, Jesus wasn’t the only one hanging on a cross that day.
It may have seemed like just an average crucifixion, as harsh as that may sound. But it wasn’t.
Matthew 27:45 NLT “45 At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 46 At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
47 Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. 48 One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. 49 But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.”
50 Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, 52 and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. 53 They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.
54 The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!”
For the soldiers and for some of the witnesses, this may have started off as an unremarkable crucifixion; however, this was anything but. In the heat of the day, sun shining bright overhead, there would have been no mistaken identity of Who was nailed to that cross. Jesus of Nazareth. The radiant light would have left no room to question the extent of His injuries. There would have been no confusion as to Who said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” There would have been no doubt that Jesus was going to die. Anyone witnessing this event would have had the benefit of the sunlight to confirm what was taking place. And then, at noon, suddenly everything goes dark. Three hours of blackness occur in the middle of the day.
“Skeptics have presumed it was merely an eclipse that just happened to have taken place. It would be easy to assume that, but it’s not possible. “The Jewish Passover always occurs with a full moon (Lev. 23:5), and it is astronomically impossible to have a solar eclipse at such a time. Even if it were a solar eclipse, solar eclipses don’t last for more than half an hour, and the crucifixion darkness lasted for three hours. Consequently, the three hours of darkness must have been something other than a natural solar eclipse.
The full moon associated with the Passover is ideal for a lunar eclipse, but this would not have blocked out the sun or brought about complete darkness.”
God gave Amos a description that could very well describe what occurred on Good Friday. Amos 8:7 NIV ““I will never forget anything they have done.
8 “Will not the land tremble for this, (earthquake)
and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile;
it will be stirred up and then sink
like the river of Egypt.
9 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your religious festivals into mourning (Passover)
and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son (Only Son)
and the end of it like a bitter day.”
Jesus, the Light of the World, was dying. It seemed only fitting that darkness will fill the void that the Light of the World created with His death It also seems appropriate that the darkness was three hours. The number three is quite significant in the Bible. To really appreciate the meaning, look at the Hebrew word for the number three. Three, shelosh[f.], sheloshah [m.] means harmony, new life, and completeness.[ii] Some of the Biblical instances of three are:
The Holy Trinity – God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Jesus asks Peter to feed His sheep three times.
Three gifts were brought to Jesus by the Magi shortly after His birth.
Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of a great fish.
And then, in this one instance, there were three crosses with three crucifixions.
Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.
Judas received 30 pieces of silver. (This, of course, equals 3 times 10. The Biblical meaning for 10 is “earthly government”[iii] so it could be considered that what Judas received for betraying Jesus was symbolic of “completed earthly government.”
There were three hours of darkness.
And of course, it was on the third day that Jesus was resurrected.
The noteworthiness of the number three would have most likely not registered with anyone at the time. But the other events of the day would have seemed significant. Besides the unexplained three hours of darkness, there was an earthquake, and the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple was split from top to bottom. Tombs were torn wide open. What was thought to be a sporting event for the Roman soldiers that day ended in them being terrified and proclaiming that Jesus was, indeed, the Son of God!
The rest of the witnesses’ earlier cries to crucify Jesus were reduced to cries of sorrow.
Luke 23:48 AMP “All the crowds who had gathered for this spectacle, when they saw what had happened, began to return [to their homes], beating their breasts [as a sign of mourning or repentance].”
The day and all that occurred had been traumatic. But then came Sunday.
Scripture would tell us that Mary Magdalene along with at least one other woman (depending on the gospel) went to the tomb in order to anoint the body of Jesus with spices. It was just after sunrise when they arrived and noticed that the stone that had sealed the entrance to the tomb had actually been rolled away.
Mark 16:5 NIV “5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.
7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
Luke, in his gospel, will tell us that Mary and the other women sought out the eleven disciples and repeated what had been told to them. There was disbelief. It didn’t make any sense. Peter, did take off for the tomb to see for himself and found the linen strips in which Jesus had been wrapped.
Jesus, as we know, later appears to His disciples.
Luke 24:36 NIV “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”
From the tense unease in the Upper Room on Thursday to the horrific events on Good Friday, the disciples would have experienced so many emotions. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Disappointment. Sorrow. Despair. Grief. Jesus had been brutalized and now Jesus was dead.
Then fast-forward to Sunday when they are astonished to see the unexpected from Jesus. Jesus had risen from the dead!
I’ve often wondered about that Saturday. “The day between Christ’s crucifixion and His resurrection would have been a moment of despair and confusion as the disciples sought to understand the murder of Jesus and the treachery of Judas.
The only scripture mention of what occurred on Holy Saturday is found in Matthew 27:62-66. After sundown on Friday, the chief priests and Pharisees visited Pontius Pilate. They asked Pilate for a guard for Jesus’ tomb. They recalled Jesus stating that He would rise again in three days (John 2:19-21) and wanted to prevent Christ from rising from the grave.”[iv]
There was something about Jesus that caused some of them to think that His rising from the dead was possible. So they tried to be proactive to prevent that from happening. But what about the followers of Jesus? What was their Saturday like?
The day after Jesus had died and had been placed in the tomb. When the time of death had been declared and hope no longer existed. When the disciples and the other followers realized that although Jesus had raised others from the dead, it would be impossible for Him to raise Himself from the dead, wouldn’t it?
Did the disciples frantically gather together in secret to determine what was next? Would they have assumed that their part in His ministry died along with Him? Were they troubled because they had no clue what would happen next? Did they find themselves drowning in grief because this wasn’t supposed to happen? This shouldn’t have happened. It made no sense, right?
But for more than one reason, it did have to happen. It did make sense.
Our individual lives are a lot like those few days.
Maundy Thursday: There are times when we just feel uneasy about the way things are going. There’s a black cloud hanging over our heads and we just can’t shake the heaviness of it. We may not be able to put a finger on it, but we just feel troubled. Psalm 46:1 GNT “God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” Troubles come. There is no doubt. When those days or even weeks occur, God is ready to help us.
Good Friday: These are the moments in our lives in which we suffer greatly. Things happen that we don’t understand. Trials and crises come and beat us and torture us. We suffer far beyond what we ever imagined we could survive. We may even look to God and wonder why He has forsaken us. Why isn’t He answering our prayers? We find ourselves surrounded by a crowd yet feeling all alone. The ones that we thought would be there to support us are nowhere to be found.
Or consider it from the POV of the witnesses. Their loss of hope and grief is not foreign to us. We understand it. What or who we depended on is dying right in front of us. Our health, marriage, or family is on its last breath. Our job, a dream we’ve always held onto, a lifelong friendship has met a sudden end. We experience deaths and losses of all kinds throughout our lives. Some are expected, but those unexpected losses can be earth-shattering. John C. Maxwell once said, “Disappointment is the gap that exists between expectation and reality.” And, oh my goodness, can life disappoint us greatly at times!?
And that brings us to Saturday. That time after a tragedy or disaster, or even a simple setback has occurred. The shock and the disappointment may still be there. The grief over the loss of what was expected or hoped for is very real. The thoughts of “If only” run through your mind on a regular basis. What we hoped for has been declared dead and is now enclosed in a tomb and we are not okay with that. We don’t know what to do with ourselves. We may be feeling anger, fearfulness, and depression because we can only see what has happened in the past and what is occurring right now.
But Sunday is coming. We don’t know what Jesus has in store for us. But we do know it’s going to be more than okay. Sometimes we have to go through the unease of Thursday, the painfulness of Friday, and the heartbreak of Saturday to get to the surprise of Sunday.
Here’s the thing, though. Too often, we tend to stay in that Saturday mode. We feel sorry for ourselves. We allow depression and sadness to overshadow any glimpses of goodness. We don’t just allow ourselves to grieve, we allow grief to overtake us. We feed the monsters of hurtfulness, jealousy, unforgiveness, anxiousness, insecurity, and doubtfulness so much that they choke out the life of our faith. But that’s not how Christians are supposed to live. Jesus tells us in John 10:10b CEV “I came so everyone would have life, and have it fully.”
Not just life but a new life! A resurrection. A new hope that we didn’t even know was possible. Wherever you find your life right now – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or the uneventful Saturday, rest assured – Sunday’s next!!
“In the middle of pain, disappointment, and suffering it is faith that whispers: This isn’t permanent.” Unknown
[ii] The Number 3 in the Bible – It’s Meaning & Significance (crosswalk.com)
[iii] Biblical Numerology – Guide to Meaning and Significance (christianity.com)
[iv] What is Holy Saturday? 2023 Date, Traditions, and Meaning (christianity.com)