Where We Are in the Story of Easter

Written by Peter Greer, President & CEO of HOPE International

The story of Good Friday didn’t begin that morning. The narrative arc opens many years earlier in Bethlehem, with the miraculous fulfillment of prophecies spoken long ago. The story of an anticipated Savior unfolds with miraculous healings and captivating teachings to growing crowds. But the narrative arc peaks on the night before Good Friday. The rising action reels us in:

We find Jesus gathered with his closest friends, washing their feet.
He slips away to a nearby garden, wary and tense, while the rest of the world sleeps.
Judas, a close friend, becomes a betrayer and sells Jesus out for cash.

And on Good Friday, it seems as though the story concludes.

There’s a string of unjust trials in the city epicenter.
A gruesome (and undeserved) sentence ushers in episodes of violence and agony.
Jesus is marched through the streets, jeered and mocked.
The Messiah is hung on a cross, struck with anguish and grief.
Jesus breathes his last, and the earth quakes.

We feel the weight of each scene. The devastation is palpable.
But before the city’s gossip over Friday’s events goes silent, God reveals the unexpected. This is not the end; the climax in the story arc is still coming:

Sunday morning, Jesus’ mother starts up the path to her son’s resting place.
Crying out, she freezes in horror, finding Jesus’ tomb has been tampered with.
Suddenly an angel appears with incredible news.
Jesus! Alive! Is it too good to be true? Who would have seen this coming?

And we know how the rest goes…
It’s the best resolution anyone could have hoped for. And it’s real.
Jesus’ mother and disciples had brand new reasons for rejoicing that day. Easter morning delivered a joy-filled conclusion. A perfect story arc.

Yet there is one thing I’ve realized after so many years of talking about the Easter narrative: a significant portion of the plot feels left out. We get so excited to jump to the good news of the resolution that we miss the lesson in the lull before the climax—we miss the Saturday in the middle.

In the Easter story, Saturday barely shows up. Of the four Gospel writers, only Matthew mentions it, and he devotes a scant five sentences. We’re told some nervous Pharisees and chief priests ask Pilate’s permission to place guards in front of Jesus’ tomb. Pilate agrees, and that’s that.

We don’t know how the disciples spent their Sabbath Saturday. We aren’t told what Jesus’ family does in their grief. All we have is an imagining of the 24 hours they experienced. Their heads must have been spinning and their grief overwhelming. We imagine their disappointment, confusion, and anger. Jesus was gone; the story seemed finished.

The same might feel true of how we navigate our own Saturdays on this side of heaven.

It is easy to feel heavy-hearted over many situations in our lives and in our world. We recently passed the one-year mark since Russia invaded Ukraine. Despite unstable circumstances, last week I was able to spend time with HOPE International’s team in Ukraine for a visit. While I’d seen headline after headline of schools hollowed out, hospitals reduced to brick piles, and family members without homes because of misaimed bomb raids, it was an entirely different experience to spend time with people who lived in this reality.

Our Ukrainian brothers and sisters have been experiencing the utter devastation that comes from war with a ruthless enemy. They shoulder feelings very similar to those the disciples must have felt—carrying burdens of disappointment, confusion, anger, and grief.

There is no script for them to follow that promises a joy-filled resolution, yet I am constantly encouraged by their hope-filled response. Our colleagues in Ukraine have shared countless examples of how they’ve been spending their “Saturdays.” As they wait for peace, they persevere. They support their nation’s recovery and come alongside entrepreneurs who are rebuilding. Churches still meet to proclaim the goodness of God and to sacrificially love their neighbors.

As they face the realities of Saturday circumstances, they remember where they are in the story. They remain assured of the goodness that Sunday can bring and the faithfulness of our Father who orchestrates it.

As we support our friends in difficult seasons or spend Easter Sunday wrestling with our own Saturday realities, be encouraged: This isn’t the end of the story. Our resolution may not be the ending we are praying for, or the one we would expect, but we can trust that the same God who raised Jesus from the dead is alive and active in our world today. There is reason to keep going—because Sunday is almost here.

If you would like to hear more from Peter Greer, you can see him in episode 11 of our Wisdom for Wealth. For Life. podcast discussing how HOPE International has helped the people of Ukraine and the dangers of mission drift in a faith-based organization. Click here to watch now.

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