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Holy Land Reflections #3 – Easter: The Aftermath

Retelling the Resurrection story on Easter Sunday.

We had a terrific family Easter celebration last weekend. After church, our kids and grandkids and several extra families gathered at our house for a delicious meal of ham and smoked brisket and all kinds of delectable goodies to go along with it. The sun came out to cheer us on in our all-ages Easter egg hunt. The grass was green, the sky was blue, and the flowers were blooming. We lazed around the rest of the day and played games and enjoyed each other’s company. It was idyllic.

Reflecting on it afterwards, it struck me, by contrast, that our Easter experience was the opposite of the first Easter, which was idyllic by no means. “Traumatic” would be a better description! Jesus’ followers had watched their Teacher and Friend be cruelly tortured and killed in one of the most horrific ways possible. Their hopes and dreams dashed. Their faith shaken. Their confidence demoralized. Now He had apparently risen from the dead … but what would be the implications of that?  I’m sure their imaginations and emotions were reeling.

Of Jesus’ disciples, I’d consider Simon Peter the poster child for Easter: The Aftermath. He had been the one so confident in Jesus’ identity and mission. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” he had once bravely (and astutely) announced (Matt. 16:16). In the Garden of Gethsemane, at Jesus’ arrest, he’d brashly lashed out and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant to try and protect His Lord (John 18:10). Yet, his boldness dissipated after he saw Jesus dead and buried, so much so that he denied Him three times when asked if he knew Him . . . though he swore he never would (Matt. 26:75).

We visited this cave near Galilee, at the mouth of Jordan River (in foreground) was known as the “Gates of Hell” in Jesus’ time. It was at this site that Peter made his proclamation that Jesus was the Christ … and that Jesus made His own proclamation that He would build His Church and “the gates of hell would not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16)

When Doug and I were in the Holy Land a few weeks ago, I thought about this scenario— though oddly not when we were in Jerusalem visiting the Easter-related sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. I thought about it most, rather, when we were in the idyllic setting of the Sea of Galilee, on a scenic beach with the waves lapping up on shore.

The beach on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus greeted Peter with breakfast and a full catch of fish.

It was here, on this beach, in the aftermath the first Easter, that Jesus met His friends. In this idyllic setting, He met Peter face to face, not with recrimination for his faithlessness, but with restoration and a reminder of his God-given identity and purpose.

I love this story. Admittedly, Peter had been through a lot. In the aftermath of the tragedy, horror, and then astonishment of the death and resurrection of Jesus, he’d probably reached his emotional limit. He announced, “I’m going fishing!” and headed back home to Galilee. Now that I’ve been there, I can see why. Jerusalem and Galilee are about as opposite as they could be.

Jerusalem is crowded and chaotic (and would have been especially so at that time, as it would swell to about three million when Passover pilgrims spilled into it each year for sacrifices and festivities). Galilee is green, lush, quiet, and pastoral. Even today, the contrast is striking.

Peter and his friends fished all night and didn’t catch anything. In the early morning hours of the dawn, a mysterious figure called out to them from shore, “Try casting your nets on the other side of the boat!” Huh? Kind of an odd suggestion; they’d likely tried back and forth all night long! But, oh well, it couldn’t hurt, right? Surprise! Their nets came up LOADED with fish!

Peter likely remembered immediately that Jesus had said He’d meet them back in Galilee in the aftermath of His death and resurrection (Matt. 26:32). It was the Lord! Always the impetuous one, Peter jumped overboard and waded to shore, where Jesus had breakfast and a heart-to-heart talk waiting for him (John 21).

“Church of the Primacy of Peter,” the church built over the rock where Jesus served up breakfast to Peter and some of the other disciples after His Resurrection.

I’m grateful for the “aftermath” of Easter, for all of us. Like this special reunion that Jesus planned for His friends, it’s rooted in the shock and awe of the crucifixion and resurrection, but celebrated in restoration and joy because of it. Like Peter, I’ve certainly had my seasons of over-confidence, disappointment, disillusionment, and failure. How grateful I am that Jesus meets me in the aftermath of these, picks me up, dusts me off, and restores me with love and relational connection!

We enjoyed a traditional “St. Peter’s Lunch”  . . . tilapia from the Sea of Galilee. I doubt Jesus included french fries. 🙂

I love it, too, that Jesus included breakfast in this scenario. Perhaps He was mindful that good food and fellowship warm both the heart and the tummy at the same time (smile). And I love it that He picked a beautiful place that was scenic and dear to His friends’ hearts. Idyllic. What a striking picture of the message of the Resurrection—restoration, life, relationship and hope.

May we always live in the beautiful, restorative aftermath of Easter!

The “Jerusalem Cross,” this one on a door at the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem.

(c) 2019 Arlyn J. Lawrence. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holy Land Reflections on Easter Sunday

An empty tomb (not Jesus’) … this one was just by the side of the road! But it shows you what they generally looked like, and how the stone would be rolled into place to seal it.

One of the questions I’ve been asked the most since our return from our Holy Land trip is, “Did you feel closer to God there?” (Implication: after all, weren’t you walking the very land our great heroes and heroines of the Bible walked on, seeing the places where they lived and experienced God so powerfully?).

There’s an easy answer to that question (for me, anyway), and it’s, “Not really.” At least, not in the sense that I thought, Wow, the Presence of God is really in this place. In fact, I found it almost harder to find Him—partly because there’s the expectation that it might be so (which can be a set-up for disappointment right there), and partly because, well, I found Israel to be crowded, somewhat chaotic, overrun with tourist buses and droves of “pilgrims” from around the world, and, in some places, harsh and dirty. It was a little hard to get past all that at times.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Ironically, one of the times I did sense God speaking to me was when I was in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the church built over the presumed location of Jesus’ empty tomb. (I say “presumed” because there is another contender for that distinction as well).

I sensed Him say to me, I’m not in this.

Interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and presumed location of Jesus’ empty tomb

Church interior. I really don’t know what all the trappings were for. Incense, candles, altars, icons, etc.

You may think this is weird, but I often have a running dialog in my mind between me and God. So, this is how our “conversation” went:

Him:    I’m not in this.

Me:      (Looking around the insanely crowded cathedral full of icons, incense, and two-hour lines of people waiting to file past the tomb for a glimpse or touch a relic, etc.) Yeah, I know. That tomb is empty.

Him:    No, I mean I’m REALLY not in all this hoopla. You’re not going to find me in this. In fact, I want to be everywhere else BUT in a place like this!

Me:      Ah yes. I remember. Jesus kicked over tables in places like this. Yep, I can see why You wouldn’t want to be here either.

Then I realized I was possibly physically standing on the very spot where the angels greeted the women who came to the tomb that Resurrection morning, saying to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!” (Luke 24:5) For sure, definitely not there.

I was able to feel the wonder of Jesus’ Resurrection a little more distinctly when we visited the other possible location of Jesus’ tomb, located a bit further away and with considerably less hoopla. There we experienced more of the ambience of what it might have been like for Jesus’ disciples as they encountered the empty tomb for the first time.

After we visited the Garden Tomb itself, we had the opportunity in the garden to sing some worship songs, reflect, and take communion together . . . and some passers-by, strangers from different places around the world, even joined in with us! It was a moment of truly experiencing the sense that, Yes, He is Risen! And His Spirit now lives in each of us wherever we are! The very Presence of God EXPLODED out of the tomb that Resurrection Day, and the message of new life, available to all, went out around the world.

Doug exiting the empty tomb … when I saw this I remembered how John wrote, in his gospel account, that Peter had to “bend over to look inside” (John 20:5).

Don’t get me wrong about not feeling close to God in Israel. I did feel close to Him. I just didn’t feel CLOSER because I was in a particular location. In fact, that’s part of the mystery and amazement of what Jesus’ death and resurrection did for us, and what we celebrate on Easter.

  • The separation, the veil, between God and mankind has been ripped away (see my Good Friday post).
  • By faith in what Jesus did for us, we can have a restored, personal relationship with our Heavenly Father.
  • He dwells with us! We can experience Him personally, lovingly, and joyfully in so many ways, right where we are, wherever we are.

I’m so thankful we know and serve a Risen Jesus!  He is with us everywhere always, unrestricted by a physical location. Reflecting on all that today, Easter Sunday, is what really makes me feel closer to God. Visiting the sites of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was moving, and it’s great to have a visual for where those events actually happened. But whether I’m here, there, or anywhere, Jesus is alive and with me!

If you haven’t experienced that wonder for awhile–or ever (and you don’t need a trip to the Holy Land to experience it), I hope you won’t wait for another Easter to pass. After all, it can be Easter EVERY DAY!

(c) 2019 Arlyn J. Lawrence. All Rights Reserved.