My family and I attended our church’s Good Friday evening service. Though it is Easter, and Easter happens every year, the service is never the same. It’s one of the things I appreciate the most about our pastor. He strives diligently to make every year’s message powerful, to make it fresh and new. He didn’t disappoint this year, either.
Pastor Dave took us “From the Garden to the Tomb,” reading from the book of Luke. With passages on each page of the service booklet, we intentionally reflected on the last hours of Jesus’ life. Each scripture reading ended with the opportunity to reflect. These simple, but profound questions lent much to the service.
When have you fallen asleep on Jesus? (Luke 22:39-46
What fears cause you to distance yourself from Jesus? (Luke 22:47-54)
Under what circumstances are you tempted to deny Jesus? (Luke 22:54b-62)
Reflect upon Jesus’ courage and commitment. (Luke 22:63-23:25)
Reflect upon Jesus’ willingness to forgive. (Luke 23:26-38)
Reflect upon your response to Jesus. (Luke 23:39-45)
Luke 23:55 “The women…followed…and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it.” (Luke 23:47-55)
As I read along with the passage from Luke 22, a passage I’ve read many times before, verse 43 struck me. “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” Here is Jesus, praying, asking God to remove the difficult circumstances He was in. Here is Jesus, struggling with what God had asked Him to do. Here is Jesus, needing strength to face what’s ahead. And God provides. An angel appears to him and strengthens him.
My word, if Jesus himself needed “outside” strength, then why on earth do we try so often to go about dealing with the tough stuff of our lives in our own strength? Jesus, who is God, needed help. He was without strength for what He faced. Friends, there is absolutely nothing wrong, nothing shameful, about asking for help.
A few verses further, in verse 45, again, another verse I’ve read many times before, it says, “…he [Jesus] found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.” Exhausted from sorrow. Are you exhausted from sorrow, dear friend? I know I have been.
The disciples fell asleep because sorrow is exhausting.
Sorrow also opens the door to temptation, as seen at the end of verse 46. Sorrow can cause a person to fear, to become bitter, to be unforgiving. But it is also an opportunity to stay close to Jesus, to kneel beside Him in the garden of one’s own Gethsemane.
Gethsemane in Hebrew means an olive press or a “winepress of oils.” Jesus sweat drops of blood while at the Mount of Olives.
You and I, too, have had our share of pressing.
Sorrow can crush a person, but God doesn’t intend to crush us. He intends that in the pressing we would spill forth, not bitterness, but richness. A richness reflective of pure oil, of sweet wine.
A cross stood in the middle of our sanctuary as we read the verses from Luke, and I couldn’t help but stare at it. Death is horrific, and nothing speaks of hopelessness more than placing a body in a tomb. Or a casket.
“The women…followed…and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” (Luke 23:55-56)
And that’s how Luke chapter 23 ends. The women leave. The day of rest dawned, and they rested out of obedience. I keep re-reading these two chapters in Luke, just staying here because, sometimes, we need to just sit. Sit and reflect. Sit in the midst of our hopelessness and wait.
Wait for God to show up.
Wait because God isn’t done yet.
Tomorrow I will read Scripture again…with new wonder, deep gratitude, and overwhelming joy.
Easter Blessings, dear friends.