When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust;
I am not afraid; what can flesh do to me? —Psalm 56:3-4
According to a recent survey (http://bit.ly/czmm53), only 2% of Americans realize Easter is the most important holiday in the Christian faith. Even among Protestant Christians, just 78% recognized Easter as a religious holiday, and only a bare majority (51%) could connect it with the Resurrection of our Lord.
I always encourage people to participate in worship services during Holy Week, like our own Maundy Thursday service at 7:00 p.m. on April 1, or the community Good Friday service at noon on April 2. The reason is that, like Easter, Palm Sunday is a joyous occasion, and we can gloss over what happened in between the two. But without an appreciation of the price Jesus paid, and the impact it had on his first disciples, it’s easy to forget why Easter is so important.
There’s a fascinating example of that in Mark 15:43. Jesus has just died on the cross, and Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish ruling council, requested the body so it could be buried. (Standard Roman practice was to leave the bodies of crucified people hanging, as a warning to others.) Our pew Bible says he “went boldly to Pilate,” the governor, to request Jesus’ body. But that is surely too weak. The word translated boldly means “to be so bold as to challenge or defy possible danger or opposition.” Paul uses the same word when says (Philippians 1:4) that even though he is imprisoned by Caesar’s imperial guard, he “dares to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.”
The amazing thing about what Joseph of Arimathea did was that it happened before the Resurrection. We know how hard it can be for us to be unafraid-and we know that Jesus rose from the grave; we know that he will return to claim his church, when the dead will rise to meet him (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) and even those who have not yet died will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51ff). Joseph didn’t have that assurance. He dared to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body, not knowing if it would cost him his own life-if he would end up hanging on a cross next to Jesus’ body. The reason Joseph could risk so much was that he was “expectantly waiting for the Kingdom of God” Jesus had proclaimed (Mark 1:18).
Is there anything you are afraid of? Easter reminds us that the worst thing that can happen to us-death-has been defeated. If death has lost its sting, how much more the trivial things most of us worry about. What can that reassurance do for you? What freedom does it give you? What things does it enable you to dare, like Joseph of Arimathea did?
I hope to see you during Holy Week!