I love Easter — It’s a beautiful time of year. The air begins to warm, the sun seems to shine a bit brighter, birds return to sing their songs and we are surrounded by a sense of renewal. After the dreariness of winter when the trees are bare and dormant, animals hibernate and we spend more time indoors as our energy slowly dissipates, this promise of renewal is exactly what we need. Do we truly understand though, that the process of renewal could not happen unless we first go through a time of darkness? It is necessary to prepare us for everything that is about to bloom. Just when we feel we can’t handle winter any longer as we tire from looking at the brown grass, bare trees, dirty snow and empty gardens we begin to witness the world around us being renewed.

I was thinking about this at our Good Friday service as our pastor read a detailed account of Jesus’ death. The church had never been so silent and solemn. We had watched the “Passion of the Christ” a few nights before so the images were fresh in our minds. It had been difficult to watch and painful to hear, but it struck me that it was so crucial that we did.

We so often look at Easter as a time for decorations, vacations, bunnies, candy and colorful eggs. If we are Christian we have a ritual of going to church to celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead and we believe in him. But do we REALLY? Do any of us truly realize what this means?

The attendance at this service was much lower than usual and I think it’s safe to say that on Easter it will be packed. After all, Easter morning is fun and full of joy and it’s a holiday. But who really wants to go out on a Friday night and hear about an innocent person being tortured, mocked and hung on a cross to die the most horrific death? It made me uncomfortable and for a brief moment I started to think about getting home and starting my weekend, but then I really started listening to the truth.

The enormity of what happened over 2000 years ago really hit me in a way I have never experienced before. Without this incomprehensible moment of darkness — without Jesus submitting to God’s will and dying on a cross beside two criminals — the miracle of Easter would have never happened. We’d have no reason to dress up on Sunday morning, hunt for eggs or decorate and fill baskets with candy. But guess what? The hard reality is there would be no HOPE for ANY of us. There would be NO REASON to celebrate. Darkness, humiliation, torture and death had to happen FIRST and no one but God knew it. Jesus knew what he would have to endure but he did it anyway because it was all part of God’s plan to save us. He took it all on — EVERYTHING– so he could show us that death has no power over us. He could have walked away and saved himself. He could have turned his back on all of us and our stubbornness, sinfulness and our tendencies to turn our backs on HIM. But he CHOSE not to so HE could show US the way. One we would never be able to find if left up to us.

I’ve always known this in my mind but never truly in my heart until this year. Reflecting on my own life and seasons of darkness that I believed would never end, I see how I’ve always come out on the other side into a time of renewal and hope. I’ve been drawn closer to God and no matter how many times I’ve turned my back on Him, He’s always answered me when I’ve called out. I would not be who I am today without having gone through the hard times. I would not know in my heart that I have nothing to fear because I never would have turned to God in the first place.

I used to think if I was a good person compared to everyone else, I would go to heaven up in the clouds and be surrounded by angels and all my hard work would have paid off. But in my heart I never felt that to be the truth. Deep down I would always be hoping I was doing a good enough job and therefore end up in a good place. Slowly building a personal relationship with God by placing my trust in Him in my moments of greatest need, I’ve come to realize that I could never save myself. What God wants most is a relationship with me and He went as far as dying and conquering death in order for me to see how much He loves me. As I truly tried to imagine the crucifixion last night something in my heart shifted. I felt a closeness to Jesus and an appreciation for what he did. It wasn’t just a history lesson or a Bible story I had grown up with. It became personal.

As I write this on the day between his death and resurrection I can’t stop thinking about what these two days really truly mean for us. I think about what his mother and followers must have felt after they sealed the tomb and they finally had time to reflect and absorb what they had just witnessed. The helplessness while watching him die. The hopelessness they felt when their savior appeared to have lost the battle. The despair and loneliness that comes from losing a loved one must have been unbearable especially given the circumstances of his death. What seemed to be the darkest point in history was only hours away from turning into the greatest miracle ever witnessed. They couldn’t see past their pain as we so often can’t. But God could! He had a plan and knew all the pain would be necessary and worth it in order for us to finally see the beauty on the other side.

I know God feels my pain. I know He can see what’s ahead of me and will lead me through whatever comes my way. And the really amazing thing is that even though I can’t quite see what is right around the corner, I do know how it all ends. The moment I asked him into my heart to help me and lead me I was assured my place in heaven. It’s hard to explain the certainty I have in my heart but I know without a doubt my eternity is secured. It has nothing to do with anything I’ve done and I have Jesus to thank for that. If it was based on my accomplishments I would fail miserably. I can’t do it on my own but thanks to the miracle of Easter I don’t have to. What seemed to show evil trumping goodness turned out to be the most amazing moment in time and God knew it all along. He conquered death for us. All we have to do is BELIEVE and put our faith in Him. He’s already taken care of the rest so we have nothing to fear.

I look forward to waking up tomorrow with the hope that Easter Sunday brings. As the weather warms and buds begin to appear I will be reminded of God’s greatest gift to us that was made possible through His ultimate sacrifice. When I am in pain I will remind myself that when He died there was a plan to turn death into life, sorrow into joy, darkness into light. I may not be able to see the necessity of what I am going through at the time but I can be assured that it all is with a purpose. There is nothing God doesn’t use and there is nothing He can’t handle. There is nothing for me to fear and thanks to the miracle of Easter we can all be assured of the day when all our troubles will be gone forever as we celebrate face to face with Jesus. All we have to do is BELIEVE!