Many dear friends of mine have been suffering from depression lately. Not just a time of feeling blue, but deep soul-rending pain that leaves them questioning their very existence. Weeping with them and praying for them is in sharp contrast to the new life of spring surrounding us—flowers blooming, leaves returning, sunshine beckoning.
Palm Sunday has just passed, the remembrance of the joyful day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (fulfilling the prophecy from Zechariah 9:9) and people lined up to greet Him with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9) Jesus said if they hadn’t, “the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40) And Easter is next, the most hopeful event in all of history. He is risen. But between those Sundays of celebration, we have a very dark week.
On Maundy Thursday we remember the Last Supper Jesus had with His Apostles, where He washed their feet and instituted the Lord’s Supper. We know His heart must have been heavy as He warned them how Judas would betray Him and Peter would deny Him. And then He went to the garden of Gethsemane, where He asked His friends to watch with Him because “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Matthew 26:38). He went a little farther on and fell on His face (Matthew 26:39) praying if it were possible to be delivered from what His Father had asked Him to do. He returned to His friends, who hadn’t even stayed awake while He was dealing with such torment, and then left them and prayed the same thing again… and then came back and found them sleeping again, and left and prayed the same thing again. The Son of God, who had chosen to come from the full glorious presence of His Father in heaven to live a sinless life for 33 years on sinful earth was about to face the full wrath of the Lord for all the sins of each of His people. What sorrow, what dread! He was under such emotional strain that He began to sweat blood (Luke 22:44). Traditionally at the end of the Maundy Thursday service church leaders strip the vestments from the front of the church and the congregation files out in silence, commemorating Judas’ betrayal and how the soldiers stripped Jesus once they’d captured Him.
As we pass into Good Friday we remember the torture He endured, His death by crucifixion, and His burial. While He hung on the cross, the whole land was dark for three hours in the middle of the day (Mark 15:33). Traditionally churches hold a Tenebrae service to commemorate this darkness, gradually lowering the lights until the sanctuary is dark, as it would have been outdoors while our Savior was dying. When Jesus died, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.” (Matthew 27:51) The Messiah had just been crucified. He was dead, and His followers had to bury Him.
It must have been hard to cling to what Jesus had told them, that He would be raised on the third day (Matthew 16:21). He was dead. They’d seen Him breathe His last, touched His body, prepared Him for burial, and laid Him to rest. They went away to mourn together as the Sabbath approached.
But we know the rest of the story! On the third day the tomb was empty. He has risen, He is alive! Death no longer has dominion over Him (Romans 6:9). Later “He parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:51) and “After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). Not only is Jesus alive, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6). This is unfathomable mercy, grace upon grace.
Theologian Dr. R.C. Sproul and composer Jeff Lippencott collaborated to write a number of hymns in a project now known as Glory to the Holy One. One of the songs is No More the Grave, about Christ’s victory over death. Listen to it sung at Saint Andrew’s Chapel during the debut concert and rejoice with the refrain:
No more the grave can yield its sting,
No more is death our foe.
Our souls can now with gladness sing,
Now gone all curse and woe!
I pray as you travel through this week that you “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)
Serving the risen Lord Jesus Christ with you,