This is my story.
Robed in a wrinkled, sky-hued tunic, turbaned in a rough-woven headdress, my hopelessly pale face stained an unbecoming orange by stage makeup, I stood at the stage door, primed for the play to begin. All of us cast, in our strange costumes and stained faces greeted each other with whispers or grins, the vim of excitement in our eyes as we quieted for the opening scene. A current of laughter thrummed between us as the music rose to announce the start of our play. The lights dimmed, the curtains came up, and we shuffled onto stage. The epic of the Gospel was about to begin. The whole week of Palm Sunday, Joy and I were in an Easter play called The Thorn, put on by our church. Joy acted in it last year and talked me into an audition. Lo and behold, I was cast as "the mother of the dead girl," (I prefer to think of myself as "mother of the about-to-be-raised-girl,"). This meant I acted as an ancient Jewish woman, weeping dramatically up to Jesus in the miracle scene, then dancing with unmitigated joy at the nightly "raising" of my child. I found delight in this acting that I didn't expect. Friendships made of course, prayers whispered, memories crafted, and the thrill that the stage always brings. But I also got the unexpected gift of living a week-long, Easter meditation on the life of Jesus. Imagine a daily immersion in the Gospels, imagine Scripture leaping to life each night before your eyes with song and laughter, a touchable Gospel.
For me, it became a means of contemplation. Nightly, I witnessed the way that Jesus' baptism and miracles, his sermons, his crucifixion might have entered the eyes and heart of the crowds who followed him. I thought of what I might have actually felt had I been a workaday woman in Jesus' time, confronted with a kindly, confident young man claiming to be my savior. Night by night, the Gospels entered more deeply into my thought.
Now, I've known the story of Jesus all my life. You might think the extra repetition of acting it out nine times in a row, on top of hearing it several dozen times a year since birth might inure me to the story portrayed, lend even a lackadaisical sense to my viewing of the Gospel tale. But not once did it bore me. Not once did my interest wane in the drama portrayed. Night after night, my eyes were drawn to this story of God in human skin, touching, healing, laughing, weeping. I noticed my friends and fellow actors in a similar absorption; some of us sat and watched, prayed in the hallways, hummed along with the story of Jesus. Hundreds of people crowded in each night to join us in the wondering, and I asked myself, what is it about this tale that draws the human heart?
I am always pondering the power of story. Stories, I am convinced, enter our minds and souls with a force of imagination that shapes our very concept of what true, imperative, what is required of us while we draw breath in the earth. As I watched The Thorn night after night, I began to question the unceasing power of Jesus' story; something more than another heroic adventure, something better than another kind of romance, something grander than the old epics, subtler than even the best of poems.
There was a moment in the play that moved me strangely each time I saw it, a moment during the brutal whipping of Christ in which his hands slip from the whipping-post chains, he falls to the ground, the action abruptly suspends and the voice of Satan is heard as it might have whispered to Jesus in that agonizing moment. Give it up Jesus. You can still escape. You can avoid crucifixion. Just go now, it's your choice. But Jesus rises even in the torture of his pain, face twisted in grief, back already scarred, and of his own will, puts his hands back in the straps. He grips the whipping post and gives his life, free-willed, to the people who are lost in darkness all around him.
Watching that scene the last night, there came into my head a thought that explained the fascination of this tale: this is our story. The possibility of hope begins for us in that man as he takes pain willingly into himself. Of all the lives ever lived, the stories ever written, this is the one true tale. Every one of us hunched in the back-stage shadows or crunched in the auditorium seats must confront the offering of this one man because in Jesus, the story of every person on earth finds its conclusion. The Gospel tale is never neutral, Jesus is never simply another hero. To each living soul, in every portrayal of the Gospel, the one epic story of the world is revealed. This is the draw of Jesus, the reason we cannot turn away.
But then came another thought. This is my story.
The tale of this Jesus, this Lover, is the story of the one whose personal love for me tore open the heavens, brought God to my side determined on rescuing my broken heart, my marred spirit hungering for life. He yielded to death, he bore unspeakable pain so that I would not be left in the darkness. This is not some vague epic, or world myth or yet one more hour of overblown entertainment. The story of the death and life of Jesus defines every moment of my existence because he loves me as no one else ever can.
And though this is true for every person in the earth, somehow, the love of Christ is still an intimate, eternally personal gift to each individual soul. His love comes to us with a whisper meant only for us. Though a million people watch the story of Christ with me, though thousands sit in the dark auditorium round me, still, this tale is as personal to me as the inner room of my soul. For it is in that place, that world of my own self, that the risen Jesus dwells, the glad-faced Lover, the tender holder of my grief, the one who fills the darkness at my core with a light that cannot be extinguished.
After that, to watch the play was to be struck, to be undone, by the Love it told, the Love of my life. I watched the last few shows in burgeoning of happiness, a lightness of spirit that came from the way that my whole being was grounded in story of my Love, the crucified, risen Lord. Now, as the dawn of Easter nears and I think of what I want to say to you, my friends, I am aware of joy like a small child tugging insistently on my hand, of a high, sweet voice in my head chattering over and over in giddy delight, "rejoice, rejoice! Jesus has come to you, to them, to all!"
And it is this voice that speaks in my heart now, that reaches out through the fingers that type these words, calling to your own hearts this joyous Easter day. Listen. The God of the universe came to you, and his coming was the love you have desired from your birth. Easter is the story of Love chasing your heart down, holding your hungry heart in his arms. Easter is not just another big holiday. The Gospel tale is not the reenactment of some historical occurrence entirely severed from our humble, daily days. This is your story. This is the love of your life crying out to your heart. This is the light that shatters your darkness and draws you back to life. Jesus' face is set upon you with a Love that offers all you have ever hoped. Rejoice beloved one, for the Savior has risen and he is yours.
Happy Easter my friends. Christ has risen! And oh, the joy it is to the world.