Is it unpardonable for a pastor
to confess that Easter was never his favorite
Maybe I can blame it on my childhood,
when Easter was about smelly dyes for hard-boiled
eggs, hollow milk chocolate rabbits, and shreds of
plastic pink and green grass in a flimsy basket.
Jesus didn't even really enter into the picture back
then, except when His name was attached to a variety
of four-letter words. And on those rare occasions,
like Easter, when the reality of Jesus came up in
conversation, it kind of felt like He was only there
to suck the joy out of the egg hunt or the sweetness
from the bunny ears with all that talk about
crosses, nails, spears, blood, torture, sadness and
death. I never said it aloud, but I remember
thinking, "No Jesus for me. Too dark. Too
depressing. Too bitter."
If that leaves you wondering what changed, I
suppose I can only chalk it up to unexpected and
undeserved kindness of God. In my early teenage
years, just when I was starting to do things that
could have killed me or landed me in prison for a
long, long time, some family friends invited me back
to a church where I had attended a couple of summer
VBS programs years before. Never being one to hurt
anyone's feelings, I accepted the invitation,
thinking that I'd politely fade out of sight after a
Almost 33 years later, I can hardly fathom what I
owe those folks. A simple invitation set my life on
a completely different course.
But even after I chose to trust Jesus -- even
after I accepted the Son of God, even having
experienced His amazing grace, the forgiveness of my
evil thoughts and deeds, and the sweet wonder and
mystery of His constant presence in me and with me
-- even after all this, Easter tasted bittersweet,
with heavy emphasis on the bitter.
Celebrating comes naturally on other holidays.
Who doesn't drink in the sweet of the midsummer sun,
burgers on the
grill and the snapping of Old Glory in
the breeze on Independence Day? Who doesn't savor
the sweet of the frost on the jack-o'-lanterns when
leaves are crunchy and candy falls into plastic
buckets like rain? Who doesn't long for the
sweetness of a table full of succulent fare with
hearts equally full of gratitude to "God, our Maker"
who provides for "all our wants to be supplied"? Who
doesn't love the sweet feeling of celebrating our
King's birth with the giving and receiving of gifts?
Who doesn't relish the sweet peace of seeing a new
year begin like a slate wiped clean and made ready
for us to write a new chapter in the
story of our life?
special days bring us joy because they call us to remember something
joyful. The Fourth of July reminds me that I am a citizen of a free
nation. Thanksgiving makes me aware that I am the recipient of God's
bounty. New Year's Day makes me think about new opportunities.
Easter? Well, Easter reminds me that I am a sinner.
Not the most pleasant thought, is it? Easter reminds
me that Someone paid a terrible price for loving me.
Easter reminds me I'm unworthy of the kind of love
that would carry the cross and surrender to the
You're thinking, "Greg, is your cup ever
half-full? See the bright side! Christ is risen!"
Indeed He is! I believe this with all my heart. But knowing He had
to die has always cast a bitter shadow over Easter for me.
I'm growing up, though. I'm learning to embrace the fact that
life isn't always sweet. (Just call me a slow learner.) Some days
are milk chocolate sweetness. Others are 100 percent cacao bitter.
And no one craves that unsavory flavor. Sometimes it even makes us
question the Confectioner -- "God, if you want us to have life, and
life more abundantly (the sweet life), why do you add so much bitter
flavoring?" And that's where I've noticed my taste buds changing of
Sitting in a hospital room with my brother a few years ago
brought about an epiphany. He was dying, though that was still
several agonizing months away. As we talked and laughed and wept and
prayed, we explored this very issue -- why our good God permits
things that cause us pain and sorrow.
Sure, theological training is good, but it can only take you so
far when you are sitting face to face with someone you deeply love
whose body is wracked with excruciating pain.
Running out of words, the Lord seemed to draw my attention to the
crucifix on the wall (standard issue in a Catholic hospital room).
While I ultimately could not produce a satisfying reason for my
brother's affliction, that hideously beautiful ornament reminded us
that God knows what suffering is. He has experienced it up close and
personal and from both sides -- as the Son nailed to the wood and as
the Father who watched His precious One suffer the accusations, the
betrayals, the crack of the whip and the driving of the nails that
affixed Him to the tree.
We may ask why and never get an answer. But we have this
assurance: God knows what it feels like to be the one in the bed of
suffering and the one sitting helplessly alongside the beloved. That
thought brought us both some relief. We decided to put our trust in
Someone who has been there
And that brings us back to Easter. True, the event that brought
about Easter is bitter. But knowing He has tasted that bitterness
Himself inspires hope. In fact, Jesus didn't just sample the
bitterness of suffering and death, He devoured it. So Easter -- His
victory over the grave that assures us that because Jesus lives, we
will too, and never taste the bitterness of sickness or death ever
again -- Easter has become the sweet icing on the cake.
[By GREG WOOTEN, pastor of Lincoln
Church of the Nazarene]