But take courage; I have conquered the world.Jesus, John 16:33 (NRSV)
Easter is my favorite holiday. While we celebrate the Light that entered darkness in winter at Christmas, we celebrate resurrection in the spring amidst the beauty of new life awakening after a long sleep. We see in our physical world the spiritual truth that life is eternal and that hope prevails.
It is because of the truths of this season that I have any courage at all. And while I will always advocate for physical and psychological help for anxiety and depression, I believe that my spiritual health is what has kept me going with more strength than I could have had on my own. In fact, overcoming my unhealthy thoughts is in many ways all about aligning my thoughts with my beliefs.
I believe in Christ, but I also have to remember that I believe in Christ. Two nights ago, I attended a Seder meal to commemorate Passover—to practice remembering both the deliverance of the Israelites from slavery and the deliverance of us all through Christ’s death and resurrection. When God told the Israelites to remember the day of their deliverance, He must have known how forgetful we are and how important it is for us to practice remembering.
At the meal, we had an extra plate on the table where we could imagine the great banquet when Christ will join us and break the bread. This exercise of imagination struck me. I could see us all there, with Christ, celebrating the end of all suffering and the beginning of new life. But I wasn’t just imagining. I was anticipating it as though it were on my calendar in the way I anticipate going to church this Easter.
As a lifelong believer, these moments are rare. I’m sure you can relate. We have believed for so long, but it doesn’t always feel real. I become a confused and distracted disciple, falling asleep in the garden while Christ prays not my will but yours be done.
Maybe this is why I love Easter. We have an opportunity to participate in these yearly rituals and practice remembering and imagining. We set aside time to contemplate these truths until they become real for us.
We remember where our courage comes from.
Everything that I could ask for, Christ has already done. Christ teaches me through his life. Christ forgives me in his death. Christ heals me in his rising. Christ goes with me in his leaving and giving us the Holy Spirit. Nothing I could ask from the Father could be greater than Christ—and yet we have a loving Father who listens and continues to give abundantly.
I believe this. Yet if I don’t work on this belief and set it before me in my imagination always, then I don’t receive the full gift of eternal life with Christ in the present. I would be the owner of the biggest, comfiest bed who never rested in it.
The prosperity gospel promises future but temporary abundance; the Good News is that we have eternal abundance today simply by believing.
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.Jesus, John 17: 3
To know Jesus and be in a relationship with the Trinity is to have eternal life in the present.
In this world, we will have trouble, but Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33). I will have panic attacks. I will have sorrow. I will have pain. Jesus has overcome this and more. It is not that He “will” overcome it. He has overcome it. I can continue to wrestle with imaginary monsters, or I can rest knowing that God has already defeated them.
There is an incredible moment in The Lord of the Rings that isn’t in the films. After the ring has been destroyed, Saruman, the evil wizard, comes back to the Shire to threaten the hobbits. Saruman threatens the hobbits with a curse, and they want to kill him, but Frodo stops them:
“Don’t believe him! He lost his magic power. All he has left is a voice…”
Evil has already been defeated. It may have a loud voice, but it has no power over us.
I’m know I’m not saying anything new today. But sometimes what we need—what I need—is not a new truth but a reminder of the same truth over and over. We have to resist spiritual amnesia. And so we celebrate the birth and life and death and resurrection of Christ each year. We engage our minds and bodies in these rituals to practice our belief and keep it before us.
When we do, we can courageously embrace the eternal life that is here for us today.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[ boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we[ also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.Romans 5:1-5
I hope you all have a wonderful, life-giving Easter, and that it fills you with courage and hope.