Every Easter, pots of sweet lilies crowd church altars, little girls are decked out in frothy dresses, boys in suits — and hallelujahs ring out for the first time since Lent began.
In churches worldwide, Christians will hear the story about the empty tomb and the meeting between Mary Magdalene and the Risen Lord in the garden.
We will marvel over her mistaking him for the gardener, which seems so appropriate given his parables about seeds, fig trees, grape vines and sparrows. We’ll imagine the thrilling moment when he speaks her name and she suddenly recognizes him.
The story, however, may strike us differently each year, depending on the circumstances of our lives.
Some people are traipsing along a relatively smooth, happy path and see suffering and death as distant events having little to do with them.
Others are stumbling down a rocky, tear-drenched road and will embrace the hopeful story like a starving person invited to a feast. The man whose sweetheart just left him, the young wife who had a miscarriage, the mother whose cancer is terminal, the couple who lost their son to suicide, the people crushed by the indignities of poverty and old age.
The slow, halting walk of Jesus toward Golgotha hits these heartbroken people personally, since they’re enduring their own version of the crucifixion.
Christians learn from a tender age that following Christ isn’t an easy, sunny path decked out with frilly flowers and melodious birds. Yes, there are moments of true joy that come from serving our neighbors and knowing the Lord’s tender presence in our lives — but the the way of Christ ultimately is through thorns and over rocky paths.
After all, he was indeed a man of sorrows, whose last moments on earth were nightmarish and whose message clashed with the world’s deeply ingrained beliefs. He said the meek, the mourners, the despised and the lowly would be blessed, while the rich and powerful would walk away empty-handed.
Someone unfamiliar with Christianity might wonder why we follow a man whose life apparently ended in failure and disgrace. A man who preached poverty, simplicity, purity and obedience, which are traits that society mocks.
Easter provides the answer to the puzzle because on this day, the tragedy of Christ’s death turns into the incredible joy of the Resurrection — and provides a preview of what awaits us when we die.
Our crosses may seem unbearable at times, but Christianity proclaims God’s love for us is so intense that he entered our world and gave hope to the heartbroken, rather than remaining distant and aloof.
On that day in the garden long ago, Christ asked Mary Magdalene, “Why are you weeping?” because he hated to see her suffering — and as we falter beneath the weight of our circumstances, he asks us the same question.
Are you crying because you feel abandoned, frightened and alone? So did he in the Garden of Gethsemane when his friends all fell asleep. Are you sad because you’ve been wounded by someone dear to you? So was he when one friend gave him a treacherous kiss and another denied ever knowing him.
Easter reminds us Christ’s story had another chapter beyond the crucifixion and beyond the grave — and so will ours.
Our story will continue in a kingdom without heartbreak, cancer, poverty and old age. There, every cross will turn into a crown, every rose will be thornless, every baby will live and every heart will be healed. There, the hallelujahs will ring out forever and we will know the joy of meeting God face-to-face in the garden.
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Lorraine has written eight books, available online. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org