Easter is my favorite time of year. I would bet it is for a lot of Christians. There are so many reasons to love this particular weekend, and at the top of the list is, of course, the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. It is also a time when we get to reflect on the sacrifice of Christ on Good Friday. It seems every year these two elements of Easter increase in significance for me. But for a worship leader, Easter has also become one the busiest times of year. Although I recently spoke with some worship leaders who told me their church feels very similar on Easter as it does most other weeks, that is not the case at our church. We, to say the least, go all out. And it begins a few weeks before Easter.
Easter is the quintessential event in most churches, and for us, that means new stage design, extra elements, and an over attention to detail that we don’t necessarily have the time, energy or resources to do on a weekly basis. It would be my deepest desire to be able to pull out all the stops on a weekly basis, the limitations for a medium size church makes it impossible to do so. So currently we have these event Sundays. And what better reason to pull out all the stops than celebrating the greatest moment in history. So for us, all of these newer elements and attention to detail end up making the weeks leading up to Easter Sunday very busy. Usually there are some newer songs that need to be arranged and rehearsed. Video elements that need to be figured out. Stage design that needs to be built and then programmed to work with lights. Not to mention extra rehearsals for the band, Holy Week services like Good Friday to attend (or lead).
This year, as we were heading into Holy Week, our pastor asked the staff to read through the Passion account of a Gospel each day in order to “keep us in the moment.” At first the accounts felt very much like they always do; mysterious, sad, exciting, and triumphant. The more I read, the more detail began to emerge from the accounts. Like learning a song, I was getting the rhythm of the stories memorized so the nuances of the story became easier to grasp on each reading. On Good Friday I was reading through Mark’s account of the death of Jesus and I decided to start a little earlier in the story. I came across a very short story that I have read many times, but didn’t think much of it. But in the context of reading through the accounts of Christ’s sacrifice multiple times, it hit me differently. The story, as recorded in Mark 11:12-14 goes:
“The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it.
This happened immediately after the Triumphant Entry, or what we now know as Palm Sunday. Imagine if you were there and saw Jesus do this. He goes up to a perfectly good tree, who should not have any fruit anyway because it was not in season, gets mad when there isn’t fruit, and curses the thing for not having what it was not supposed to have. Jesus was stressed. He was about to embark on the craziest, scariest, most stressful, most earth-shattering week in the history of mankind, and he was stressed. When I read this story I was immediately and powerfully struck by the fact that Jesus didn’t “just” get crucified. It was not like he was walking along and was super surprised that people decided to arrest and kill him. He knew exactly what He was getting himself into. He decided, in fact he decided over and over again, to embark on the path to the cross. A Path that began weeks before the cross. In the midst of it, time after time, Jesus chose to endure in the face of his fear and anguish. I sat on my porch, sun blazing down on a beautiful spring day, and was overwhelmed by the realization that my Holy Week is nothing but a series of blessings and good-times because Jesus endured the first Holy Week. And He didn’t do it stress-free. He knew what He was walking into. Jesus would say the night before he was crucified in Mark 14:34 “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.” He understood what was going down. He did it anyway.
My little insignificant stress was nothing. In fact, in that moment I wish I could have had heaped on so much more because it felt inadequate. I felt like I should have given more in honor of a God who gave me everything He had. After an hour or so just living in this land of feeling like what I was giving wasn’t enough, the second realization of the afternoon hit me equally as hard. Even if I wanted to, I don’t have to heap on the stress. That another reason why the cross is so powerful. It both reminds us that we can give more, endure for the Kingdom, push harder in the name of Jesus, but also that there is not condemnation when we fell we fall short.
Needless to say, this Easter was a special exercise for me personally. I am happy to report that our celebration was ridiculously awesome. Not because we had lights and sweet guitar riffs, but because people came alive in the name of Jesus. The joy in celebration was palpable, and I know people who were far from Christ came to the realization that his sacrifice and victory was for them. It was a weekend I will never forget. Which makes me long for next year when I can embrace the stress as wholeheartedly as I can.