I have always loved Easter. I mean, what's not to love? It's a holiday that heralds flowers and spring. When I was little, my sisters and I would anxiously wake up early Easter morning. We would compete to see who could find the most eggs and which one of us would discover our treat-filled baskets first. It was also a day to show off our new dresses or outfits; we loved the fashionable 70's clothes my mom made us each year. I even enjoyed going to church and hearing the Easter story.
But it wasn't until I was an adult that I fully grasped that the childhood Easter account I heard every year wasn't just a story, but a personal message from God to me. Or, for that matter, that the whole Bible is actually personal.
Twenty years ago, I was on a date with my now husband Mark, when he asked me, "Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?" And I eloquently replied, "A what with who?" I had never been asked that question before and frankly wasn't too sure what he even meant. I was raised in a church, and I was familiar with religion but hadn't heard faith put like that before. "A personal relationship with God's Son?"
This question sparked a desire in me to understand what he meant. After talking with Mark, going to church with him and reading the Bible on my own, I came to understand that the Bible wasn't just a collection of interesting stories but a truth-filled book about real people. When I read that familiar Easter story from the perspective of a loving God sending his Son into the world, not just to save a hurting world, but ME -- it's message became real and personal.
In fact, the whole thrust of the Bible changed for me. The impression that had formed in my mind up to this point, almost without my knowing it, was that the God of the Bible was a stern judge who punished people who sinned or strayed from His rules. But that isn't the message I was supposed to receive. The theme I got when I read the Bible for myself was that God loves me. He loves me even when I stray from His rules. He loves me even when my choices aren't ones He likes. He loves me even when I can't love myself. He loves me.
God created a perfect world for us to live in with Him, but this world became tainted by our sin. The only way to repair our relationship with Him was for Jesus to replace me and to replace you, as a sacrifice for that sin. Only then could we live in right relationship with God again.
Jesus' sin didn't put Him on the cross, Jesus' love put Him there. His love for me and for you put Him on the cross.
Having a personal relationship with Jesus means that we accept Him into our lives, into every aspect of our lives and that we ask for forgiveness for our sins. It means that we believe what Jesus did on the cross and say, "A God like that is worth following."
When we do this, God doesn't promise us a life filled with sunshine, rainbows and unicorns. He offers us something far better: hope. The hope of new life. God assures us that because of the resurrection, we can have a personal relationship with Jesus. We'll never be alone in this life and even our death isn't the end of the story. Our future is secure with Him both now and in heaven for eternity.
So it turns out that Mark's question wasn't so crazy after all. He knew something I didn't: that Easter is so much more than egg hunts and new dresses. Easter is about God making a way for us to personally know Him. The fact that Jesus died on the cross isn't the end of the story, and so our hope doesn't die with Him. Easter gives us the hope of new life.