That’s the question our small group leader started with last night. “As you look ahead to this Easter weekend,” he asked, “what are you most looking forward to?”
There was a brief silence as we all thought about the question. And I admit it: My very first thought was: ”Well, I’m not sure. This is the first weekend in maybe four years when we won’t be with any of our kids.” My mind raced back over last Easter with our kids in New Hampshire, two or three Easters before that with our family in North Carolina — even an Easter six years ago visiting Erika in Ireland, where she was then doing a missions apprenticeship. This Easter we are blessed to be celebrating with extended family, but we won’t be with any of our children or grandchildren.
After this brief reflection on Easters past and present, I suddenly realized what I really am most looking forward to this Easter. And I also realized that it’s what I most look forward to every Easter, whether in the midst of family or not. I’m looking forward to finishing the last few chapters of the book I read every year at Lent and finish every Easter weekend, the book that — next to the Scriptures — most takes me back into the First Easter and thus into the Easter I am now celebrating.
The book is Reliving the Passion, by Walter Wangerin, and I truly wish I could give a copy to everyone I know. Walter Wangerin is a powerful writer, and in this book he is at his very best. In forty “Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark” (as the subtitle reads), he takes us back into The Story in a way no other author has ever done for me.
The introduction is worth the price of the book. Wangerin recreates for us his perspective as a young boy in his church in North Dakota, where his pastor father preached through the passion of Jesus for the six Wednesdays of Lent. As his father preached, Wangerin found himself in the story. He was there, at the arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. In a way almost reminiscent of the little boy in the movie “The Never-Ending Story” (Any of you remember that? Great story!), Wangerin climbed into the story.
And that’s just what he invites each of us to do in Reliving the Passion. We see the passion of Jesus from the perspective of Peter, of the Pharisees, of Pilate, of the centurion, of various women who interacted with Jesus—and especially of Mary. Some of the readings (there are forty of them to match the days of Lent) are more theological/philosophical and lift us even above the earthly story to the amazing redemption plan being orchestrated from heaven.
His words are powerful. Words are powerful. I’m reminded of something Frederick Buechner (another writer of powerful words) says somewhere in commenting on the power of words: “The magic of words is that they have power to do more than convey meaning; not only do they have the power to make things clear, they make things happen.”
Words definitely “make things happen” for me. They always have—since I was a small child. I remember a period in first grade when I was sick for a long time and out of school a lot. I spent hours reading through a giant Bible Story book, transported into the stories as I read. I especially remember reading of the Passion of Jesus and sobbing my way through the pictures and words. I was horrified and deeply moved at the same time. “If this is really what happened to Jesus,” I thought, “how can people speak of it so complacently, how can it almost sound ho-hum in some retellings?” I remember pouring out my love for Jesus amidst many tears.
I guess that’s why I’m looking forward to finishing, even as I also re-read the Gospel accounts yet again this year. I’m looking forward to celebrating His resurrection with the “whooping joy” Wangerin describes. Having entered into the total blackness of Good Friday and the quiet despair of those first disciples on Saturday, I will be ready to celebrate Easter morning with Mary, shaking with excitement as she shares with Peter what she has just seen—and heard.
Last night we concluded our time in our small group by reading powerful passages from Scripture which not only took us back into The Story but also gave us, through Colossians 1 and Revelation 19 and 21, a stunning glimpse into God’s great redemption plan, including a look into the future (what I’m most looking forward to, really — when “He will wipe every tear from our eyes.” ) Talk about powerful! Is there anything more powerful than God’s Word read aloud?
So, this Easter, wherever you find yourself — with family or not — I hope you will let words transport you into THE STORY. Read the Gospel accounts aloud, read the Wangerin book if you have it. Listen to Fernando Ortega’s “Sing To Jesus” and let music magnify the words. If your children are young, read the Easter story aloud to them from an age-appropriate book. Last year, when our grandson Soren was just 2 ½, it was summed up in a single sentence: “Jesus is alive — YAY!” Powerful words, even at two.