Two Words that Will Change Your Easter… and Your Life
APRIL 4, 2023
In the middle of the road of my life, I awoke in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.
That is the first sentence Dante Alighieri penned as he began his classic, The Divine Comedy. He’s referring to himself as a thirty-five year old man, in the year 1300, who is honestly reflecting on his journey. More times than I can count, those words have also described me. Maybe the same is true for you?
I think those words also described the apostle Peter on a Saturday morning a couple thousand years ago. He’d betrayed the One who’d changed his life and whom he’d faithfully followed for three years. It wasn’t a minor misstep but a gigantic leap of rebellion. It was actually more than one leap — it was three.
It had happened on Thursday night and Jesus had predicted it. Tragically akin to an Olympic triple jumper who takes three leaps with the final vault landing him in a sandpit for measurement, Peter denied he knew Jesus. And then he did it again. And then again. The cumulative and devastating result plummeted Peter into a sandpit of shame and regret and, as the Gospel writers tell us, he “wept bitterly.” I think it would be safe to say he found himself “in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.”
Peter’s darkness through the night Thursday and into Friday morning was bad enough. But then the unimaginable happened. Jesus was crucified. What?! He was supposed to be the liberating Messiah. The conquering King. But now He’s dead and buried. By Saturday morning, Peter’s darkness was impenetrable.
WHERE THE DARKNESS COMES FROM
Darkness is ushered into our journey via many types of soul eclipses, but two of the biggest are our shame and our doubt. The shame darkness is related to our stupid, sinful, rebellious behavior. The darkness of our doubt is linked to our lack of confidence in God’s identity and trustworthiness. For Peter, Thursday night brought the shame. Friday’s events delivered the doubt.
Now it’s Saturday. And Peter didn’t know Sunday was coming. (You and I do, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)
Let’s talk about our Saturdays when they’re saturated with shame. Or doubt. Or both. Saturdays in which we wake up “in a dark wood where the true way seems wholly lost.”
So what do we do? If we avoid the initial temptation to somehow try to merely kill the pain of feeling lost (easier said than done), we fall into the next trap: we opt for an “I’ve gotta fix this” routine by coming up with some new mantra of deluded self-sufficiency to help us get back on track. When we do that, we’re revealing we don’t really understand how messed up we are, nor why we’re lost. We’re also revealing we don’t actually get the Gospel.
Bottom line, we’re feeling lost because we’re trying to navigate our days as if Easter Sunday never arrived.
EASTER SUNDAY HAS COME
Let’s be clear, when I refer to Easter, I’m not insinuating a celebration of the arrival of Spring, or an excuse for egg hunts and chocolate bunnies, or even a religious holiday weekend. I’m referring to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection — not just the resurrection of His influence or His memory or His ideas, but His bodily and historical resurrection from the dead. Because He rose again, we can trust Him. He is who He claimed to be. He accomplished what He promised He would. We can trust that His crucifixion wasn’t the death of a martyr but the Savior of the world, and that our sin debt is actually and completely paid — for real.
For our doubt, the resurrection is a validation of who Jesus is. It reaches into our sandpit and sets our feet once again on firm footing that embraces Jesus as the Way, Truth, and Life He claimed to be.
For our shame, the resurrection is also an inauguration of a new day. It’s the launching of a new way of being human. A new way of living as a redeemed and resurrected human who has been made alive with the zoe Life of God. A new way of living in which I no longer need to be imprisoned by shame over my sin, whether it involved three successive leaps of rebellion or three thousand. A new way of living that embraces Jesus’ work on the cross as big enough for any amount of sin in my journey — past, present, and future.
Years later, Peter — yes, the same Peter we’ve been talking about — put it this way: because of that Sunday morning years before, he tells us that God, “in his great mercy, has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Peter 1:3).
In his second letter he explains, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty… and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:16-19).
Easter is an invitation — in the middle of the road of our lives — to depart the darkness by allowing the Morning Star to illuminate our hearts.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN FOR PETER: TWO WORDS
Just after sunrise on that first Easter Sunday morning, three women who had been followers of Jesus — Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome — came to Jesus’ tomb to anoint His body with spices. Instead of His corpse, they found an empty tomb attended by an angel who jolted them to their core with these words: “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you’” (Mark 16:6-7).
Do you notice something oddly but beautifully redundant in the angel’s words? “Go tell the disciples and Peter…” The last time I checked, Peter was one of the disciples. But Jesus wanted to ensure the message reached Peter — especially. Why? Because He knew, at that moment, Peter was in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.
That had been the case on Saturday. But now it’s Sunday. And Jesus wanted to make sure Peter, who was holed away in the darkest wood of them all, heard the hope.
“And Peter.” Those two words changed his life.
“And Peter.” Those two words transform my trajectory whenever I wake up on a dark Saturday and those two words deepen my celebration of Easter Sunday.
“And Peter.” Those two words can be Life-giving for you as well, especially when you replace Peter’s name with your own and hear the resonant, reassuring voice of a Savior who has singled you out to tell you He forgives you and loves you more than you’ll ever imagine.
No wonder Peter began both of his epistles with this radical encouragement: “Grace and peace be yours in abundance.”
How can he say that? Because Jesus is risen.
Why does he say that? Because Jesus is risen indeed.