“Joy & Suffering: Reclaiming the Wonder of Easter” – Sarah E. Westfall

For the last few years, Easter Sunday has left me unsettled. I’d arrive at church happy to be on the arm of my handsome husband, our four little boys begrudgingly wearing their carefully curated button-up shirts. I wanted to feel the joy of that day, to have celebration radiating from my toes at hearing again how Jesus conquered sin and death, but instead my heart was numb. I felt nothing more than mediocre sentiment.

“What is wrong with me?” I began to wonder. Maybe I had been in the church too long. One too many palm branches and foot-washings and greetings of “He is risen!” to feel the effect. Perhaps this progression was normal, that if you’re “saved” long enough the Easter story slowly loses its fizzle.

But this reasoning didn’t make me feel any more settled.

The more I tried to rationalize how disconnected I felt from Jesus’ death and resurrection, the more discontent I grew. I knew in my heart that the Gospel story had not lost its power—so what had changed?

This year, I wanted Easter to be different, so I began to ask my questions a little earlier. Over the last few weeks, I did quite a bit of thinking and reading. I dove into the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, leaning in to the things Jesus said and the ways He reacted and His connection to the people around Him. I paid special attention to how Jesus experienced being human.

And here’s what I discovered: Celebration is correlated highly with our connection to Christ’s suffering. We can’t have one without the other. We cannot rejoice unless we’ve wept. We cannot see grace without the grief. We cannot experience redemption without first being broken. And we can’t have Easter Sunday without Good Friday—without ripped flesh and bleeding hands and blatant disrespect for both the humanity and the deity of Jesus.

Pain is certainly not where Easter ends, but the suffering of Jesus is certainly where it began—and so should we. We must let ourselves go there, using force if necessary, to connect to the suffering of Jesus.

It’s not going to be easy, friends. Too often in our culture, we like to breeze right past the hard stuff. We look the other way. We choose busyness, diving into to-do lists hoping that the mess will work itself out (or better yet, disappear). We look for quick distractions, a chance to numb out while scrolling, shopping, or being entertained. Sometimes we drown our suffering in substances, hoping for momentary escape from what’s lurking in the shadows.

But it is not until we stare pain in the face, until we have felt the depth of our humanity and our need for something more that we can cry out to God and taste the sweetness of His presence. For it is through pain that joy is realized. It through sorrow we find salvation. And it is by connecting to Christ’s suffering and our part in it that we arrive Easter Sunday ready to celebrate.

For me, that’s meant making some adjustments in the days leading up to Easter. I’ve slowed down and stepped away. I’ve spent less time on Easter baskets and more time learning about Jesus. And what I’ve been noticing are all the things that caused Jesus pain—the times He wept or grew overwhelmed or felt alone, not to mention His anguish on the cross. I’m giving myself permission to ask questions about what He must have gone through those three days in the grave and what it really meant for Him to take on the sins of the world. I’ve let my heart grow heavy. I am not doing anything new.

Churches have all kinds of traditions aimed to help people slow down, contemplate, and make more space for God in the weeks leading up to Easter. But it’s doing something new in me. And for the first time in a long time, I feel the joy of Easter, the eager anticipation of beauty emerging out of brokenness and pointing us to a risen Savior.

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