By Cara Garrity, Development Coordinator
Easter preparation is the 40-day (plus Sundays) season preceding Easter in the GCI worship calendar when we corporately acknowledge that Jesus is saving. During this season we seek to open ourselves to more fully appreciate our deep need for Jesus as we nurture a posture to receive the overflowing graces of Good Friday and Easter.
For some, this season may bring to mind somber traditions of fasting and sacrifice, shame and scorn, striving and suffering, or worst of all, no coffee! For this reason, many of us may be particularly hesitant about this liturgical season.
But what if this season is about more than sentiments of suffering, feelings of unworthiness, or acts of arbitrary self-sacrifice?
The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. In Jesus’ resurrection we encounter humanity’s great hope—the good news that makes sense of the past, gives peace for the present and provides hope for the future. By leading us to encounter our need for Jesus, Easter preparation prepares us to receive the good news of our risen Lord anew each liturgical year.
Opening ourselves to an appreciation of our deep need for Jesus is a humbling experience. The Gospel accounts are full of examples of those who came before Jesus in humble recognition of their deep need. There is one account in particular that I want to explore to illuminate the Easter preparation season.
In Mark 5:1-20, Jesus encounters a man with an impure spirit that was beyond the help of human effort. No one was able to save him, or even to ease his suffering. He lived his life in the tombs amongst the dead. Upon meeting Jesus, the impure spirits knew they had finally met the only one who could save the man they had seized. After a seemingly unusual exchange between Jesus and these spirits (that is a discussion for another day) we read that the man is found “dressed and in his right mind.” Beyond the help of human hands, this man was saved by Jesus alone.
I believe that in this account we encounter the heart of Easter preparation. In more ways than we care to admit, we are beyond the help of human effort. While we may not find ourselves in the exact predicament as this man, apart from Jesus we are also the ones who live our lives in the tombs. We are in deep need of Jesus and he is the only one who can save us.
The somber recognition that we are like this man from the tombs, beyond the help of human hands, in desperate need of Jesus’ saving grace, is part of Easter preparation. But the true wonder of Easter preparation is to recognize that Jesus meets this man right where he was—in the tombs. Jesus meets this man in his most desperate state and gives him new life.
Easter preparation is the time when we acknowledge that resurrection life comes only beyond the tomb, both Christ’s tomb and our own. By the power and leading of the Holy Spirit, we acknowledge the tombs of our own lives, confronting the things of our lives that lead only to death, as well as the ways in which we live as though we were dead, and we focus on our desperate need for newness of life in Jesus Christ.
It is easy to misuse this season in a way that turns our focus inward towards either shame and scorn for ourselves and all humanity because of our helplessness, or towards efforts to make ourselves worthy by trying to earn our salvation because of a fear or hatred of our helpless state. This is not the heart of Easter preparation. It is true that by our own efforts we and all humanity are helpless to save ourselves. Thank God that in Jesus Christ we are not abandoned to this state. In the depth of our helplessness, God found us worth saving, so we do well to surrender self-hatred as well as idolatrous belief that we can earn our own salvation by good Christian behavior as we encounter our need for Jesus this Easter preparation season.
Because of who Jesus is, we can boldly encounter our deep need for him in confidence that it is his good will and pleasure to meet our need. During Easter preparation we can meet him in the tombs of our own lives, the places of our deepest desperation and need for a Savior, confident that Easter is coming, and indeed has already come. When we allow Jesus to meet us in the places of death in our own life, we will find ourselves prepared to receive more fully the overflowing graces of Easter because we have encountered intimately our need for resurrection life. In recognizing our own tombs, Jesus’ resurrection becomes more than just a nice sentiment or Christian doctrine, but our great and only hope.
Fellow believers, my prayer this Easter season is that we would allow Jesus to meet us in our own tombs confident that he is our risen King who is eager to share his resurrection life with us. I pray that the Spirit would embolden us to appreciate our desperate need for Jesus in preparation to receive the answer to our desperate state on Resurrection Sunday.
Practically speaking, what does it look like to meet Jesus in the tombs of your life and acknowledge your deep need for him this Easter preparation season? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Read one of the Gospel accounts with a connect (small) group. As you read, identify with those who express their desperate need for Jesus and pay attention to how Jesus responds to their need for him. (or join our GCI Facebook Community in our Gospel Reading Challenge, as we read through the gospels in March)
- Practice the spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence paying attention to the tombs in your life that Jesus is seeking to meet you in.
- Journal without fear about your deep need for Jesus.
- Start a praise journal recording all the times Jesus has met you in your own tomb and shared his resurrection life with you.
- Practice spiritual disciplines of simplicity, decrease, or fasting for the purpose of increasing your awareness of your deep need for Jesus (rather than out of self-scorn or self-effort).
- Practice a daily or weekly examen to reflect on God’s presence and the ways he responds to your need for him.
- When you fail and when you succeed, take a moment to praise God that it is not by your own efforts that you are saved. Tell him you need him in failure and in success.