By Patrick Miller
It’s easy to see why holidays sneak up on you without warning. You don’t prepare for Easter. It’s just here. So it’s all too easy to dunk some eggs, don some pastels, and descant some songs without ever really experiencing God.
In the past, churches followed calendars that set themes for every Sunday. This tradition prepared people for “high holidays”—think Christmas and Easter—so no one was surprised when they arrived. Instead, they were ready to experience something transcendent. They were prepared for God to become present and active.
How I Experienced God for the First Time
Easter has always been a special holiday for me because I met Jesus for the first time during the Easter season. A church in downtown Kansas City had an evening prayer vigil on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter, when we reflect on Jesus’s death on the cross in our place).
I was on the tail end of the worst depression of my life. And my desperation led me to consider the claims of Jesus for the first time. At this point, I believed in God. And I believed that Jesus was the incarnation of the God of the universe returned to rule over his creation.
But I did not know what was next for me.
Around midnight, I was walking the stations of the cross. This is an old Catholic practice where people walk through a church and pause to meditate on paintings and scriptures which describe each stage of Jesus’s journey to crucifixion.
The experience unraveled me. I walked through Judas’s betrayal. Jesus’s mock trial. His best friend’s denial of him. His scourging. Pilate’s sneering pragmatism. The crowd’s bloodlust. His stumbling march to Golgatha. The nails. The bitter wine. The mocking thieves. His cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His selflessness as he entrusts his mother’s care to John. And finally, his death.
At each stage, a truth sunk deeper into my heart: I have done nothing but deny him. Rebel against him. Disobey him. Hate him. Disown him. Wreck his world. Hurt those he loves. Worship what he despises.
And what did Jesus do for me? He endured torture, humiliation, and death. He took the just punishment for my sins.
Why did Jesus do it? Because he loves me.
There is nothing complicated or two-faced about Jesus’s motives. He simply loves me. And he wants to bring me out of this living death into living life. He went through death and came out the other side alive. Now he offers to take me on that same path.
Why? Because he loves me.
There is no time like Easter to see the depths of Jesus’s love and the impossible power of his life. For me, this slow movement through Jesus’s story led me to experience God like I never had before.
Do you want another spiritually empty Easter? Or do you want to experience God in a unique way? Easter may be right around the corner, but it’s not too late to prepare.
5 Ways to Experience God this Easter:
1. Celebrate Good Friday.
This year, like last year, Good Friday at The Crossing will be online. Don’t sacrifice the sacrifice of Jesus for a Netflix night. Turn the Good Friday service on. Watch it on your largest TV. Sing. Reflect on your sin and ask Jesus to help you see his love.
2. Read the Resurrection Accounts.
For more, listen to this episode of Ten Minute Bible Talks as I discuss Jesus’s crucifixion in Mark.
3. Celebrate with kids.
They don’t have to be your own. Maybe it’s a niece or a nephew or a friend’s child. Download this free Easter Activity packet. Go over and do it with the kids. There is something about explaining the Easter story to others and watching a child’s joy that sends the roots of Easter deeper into your heart.
4. Convert your imagination.
The crucifixion and resurrection are the single most depicted events in the history of art. There is something about seeing that helps us meditate. Consider watching The Passion of the Christ or these Bible Project videos that retell Luke’s narration of the crucifixion and resurrection.
5. Set aside 30-60 minutes to pray.
Put away your phone. Make sure your responsibilities at work or home are taken care of. Give yourself time to meditate on your sin. Meditate on evil and injustice in the world. Meditate on Jesus becoming the focal point of all that sin and evil. Meditate on his suffering to wipe the world clean and justly forgive sins. Meditate on Jesus forgiving you. Meditate on him rising from the dead. Meditate on your future resurrection. Meditate on the renewal of all creation.
This year, our Good Friday service will be all online. Tune in after 4 p.m. on Friday, April 2nd for a time of worship and reflection.