I just got off the phone a member of our church who shared with me that He’s celebrating all this week. I initially thought he was talking about celebrating Easter, but he told me that it was 75 years ago this week that he and his family were liberated in Holland by the Canadian Forces. He shared some of the struggles of occupation. How the main gathering place for Jews wasn’t far from his home and how they could see the trains travelling to Germany. He talked about how the allies frequently bombed that track to try and prevent them from being sent away. He shared that his area of Holland hid more Jews than any other, in spite of the fact that there were also a higher number of informants. He also mentioned how his dad had been taken prisoner for a short time and was almost sent to Germany. He talked about how long and cold the hunger winter of ’44 had been. But he mostly just shared about the joy of liberation. He told me that there were parades in every town day after day as different places were set free. He and his brothers and friends decorated wagons and the spokes of wheels with strips of foil they had gathered. I learned that allied planes dropped large amounts of this foil on their missions in order to interfere with German anti-aircraft attempts. It was a time of incredible celebration and John called because he wanted me to share in the joy of this celebration with him. I’m glad he did. 

I’m currently reading through the book of Isaiah and He called me while I was reading a passage talking about the destruction of Judah and how its people would be sent into exile. It also talks about the promise that God would not abandon them altogether but would preserve a remnant and restore His people. After getting off the phone, I couldn’t help but think of the joy the exiles must have had when they were allowed to return to Judah many years later. I thought of the words of Psalm 126, which starts with this way,When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’ The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”  

I know that these days aren’t easy ones for most of us. Many of us are experiencing a lot more discouragement than we are joy. But after talking with this individual and after reflecting on what life must have been like for the captives of Judah, I have to say that I’m so thankful for the freedoms and blessings we still get to enjoy. Some of our freedoms right now are limited, but we have warm homes, fridges full of food, people who care about us…and we also know that the limitations we are living with will pass. 

But it also made me think of this season of Good Friday and Easter that we have just come through…and how often we fail to really grasp the gift we’ve been given at the cross and the empty tomb. We don’t share that same kind of joy, because we don’t get the reality of what we’ve been set free from. Those who experienced the suffering of the German occupation and knew the suffering that came with it, can also celebrate their liberation with such authenticity and joy, even 75 years later. 

Maybe it’s easy for me to forget how hopeless our situation was apart from Jesus because I’ve grown up in the church and have always known about the resurrection and the gift of eternal life. I have never really experienced life apart from the hope we have in Jesus. I take for granted that at the cross and by rising from the dead, Jesus set us free from sin and death.  I know we have to been liberated, but sometimes the joy and wonder of that, don’t seem as real to me b/c I’ve never what it was like to not have that hope.  But the truth is, that we have been liberated!  And from an enemy far worse than the Germans. One that we had no hope of ever escaping from on our own. 

I know that sin and death are still very much a reality in our world…but they have been defeated and someday Jesus will come and wipe away every tear from our eyes and make everything new. And while the battle still rages, the victory has already been won. It reminds me of how, after D-day, everyone knew the victory would be won by the allies, but the battles for liberation still had to be fought. We don’t know all of God’s timing or all the details of when Jesus is going to come again, but we know the victory has already been won in Jesus. That is worth celebrating! We are right to celebrate it every year on Easter Sunday, but it is certainly worth remembering and celebrating every day, even if in smaller ways.

So may we face these uncertain and sometimes difficult days with joy. That doesn’t mean we are always going to be happy or that everything will always be the way we wish it was.  But may we face today and tomorrow, and the days to come with the peace and joy of knowing that in Christ, the decisive battle has been won, and the victory is ours!

Have You Been to the Cross

I saw a Twitter post from Christian author Andy Crouch the other day, “Honestly hadn’t planned on giving up quite this much for Lent.” I couldn’t help but chuckle, even if it hit on a point that is all too true. People often give things up during Lent to help them remember Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice for us. However, with Covid-19 and all the restrictions and cancelations we are living with, many of us have been so distracted by what we’ve had to give up, that we haven’t given as much thought to what Jesus sacrificed for us. Maybe more than ever, we need to hear the message of Good Friday and Easter; to remember God’s love for us and His power, even over the grave. It may sound strange, but my suggestion is this: Let’s all take a trip. No need to violate our current travel restrictions; it’s a trip we can take in our minds…and in our hearts.  

To help us do this, I want to share an experience I had almost 20 years ago when I spent a year living in Israel. It took place on a Sunday evening at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a massive complex of 5 ancient churches in Jerusalem that join together to stretch over the sites where the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus are believed to have happened. I had been to this church several times and it had always been crowded with people. On this particular Sunday evening, however, it was totally quiet and I found myself sitting down only 10 feet from where it is believed Jesus’ cross had been and reflecting on what had happened there so long ago.   This was where Jesus had been nailed to the cross. This was where he had been lifted up and struggled for every breath until he finally died. His blood had once dripped down on that very ground in front of me. I thought about what it must have been like to have been there, watching it all happen, and I found myself horrified as I considered the reality of how Jesus had suffered that day.  

But it wasn’t just the horror of Jesus’ death that struck me. I found myself overwhelmed with His love. As I reflected on His sacrifice, I realized again that Jesus didn’t have to go to the cross…but He did. He did it, because I needed Him to. He had done nothing wrong. I was the one who deserved to die, and yet, He had willingly offered Himself in my place so that I could be forgiven and live. William Barclay caught some of what went through my mind when he wrote, “if the Cross will not waken love and wonder in (people’s) hearts, nothing will.”

The past couple of weeks, I have been struck by the extreme measures our world is taking to minimize suffering and death — and how our Saviour chose the opposite path – willingly enduring the path of suffering and death for me.    

In these days before Good Friday and Easter, I encourage all of us to take that trip.  To visit the cross and ask God to help us understand what Jesus did for us on that first Good Friday. As we do so in the context of challenging days ahead, may God grant us eyes that see and hearts that understand how much He loves us. May we see what that love cost him and the gift we have received because of it.