“How many Easter eggs shall we buy? or “How would you like us to decorate the church?” is what they may as well have been saying, when they asked him: “Where do you want us to go to prepare the Passover meal for you?”
Because for these follower-friends, this was just another religious festival. Like preparations for an Easter party or Christmas service.
Unwittingly, however, because their lives were already intertwined with that of Jesus, they were asking a far deeper question:
“How can we participate in your imminent, agonising crucifixion, your magnificent, world-healing resurrection and your new life?”
For Jesus, celebrating the Passover on this occasion was not just another religious festival – this was the start of the events that are commemorated every Easter, in which he willingly and pre-knowingly gave everything he was, everything he had, so that everyone could have real life. He was about to live out the Passover in the most stark, brutal way, by being the sacrificial lamb itself.
The follower-friends may not have realised that they were enquiring into so much more than just a religious occasion, but they were with him all the way. They’d already given up lodgings, livelihoods and loved ones, in order to follow this Messiah and, to the best of their human ability (which inevitably waxed and waned), they were all in.
Their commitment and their passion and their understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus would grow in time to come, but they knew from the start that this Man was the one to watch, the one to follow. There was no turning back.
Jesus never asks people to ‘make a commitment’ (the unfortunate euphemism that Christians sometimes use for that step of faith towards Jesus); he calls them to follow and to trust him. And then to keep on following and keep on trusting.
He’s the one that made the commitment to love us. He calls us to live in that love.
Some of us who started following Jesus years ago had no idea what that would mean. People sometimes talk about ‘counting the cost’ before becoming a Christian. Whatever Jesus meant by counting the cost, we cannot possibly know at the beginning what the implications of following him would be in years to come. We follow where he leads. And we find out where he’s taking us as we go along!
In 1987, when I prayed my first ever prayer, all I knew was that I believed in God for the very first time and that Jesus was the Way, the one to follow. I started to pray and to find out what it meant to follow him, and he began to change me from the inside out. The rest, as they say, is history. In fact, better-than-I-ever-could-have-imagined history – and probably-different-than-I-ever-could-have-imagined history. It’s been, and still is, an adventure.
The follower-friends had no idea of the ramifications when they asked, “Where do you want us to go to prepare the Passover meal for you?” But, by implication, they were inadvertently asking:
“How can we also sacrifice our lives for others, following in your footsteps? How can we share in your passion for those who are marginalised and oppressed?”
“How can we love others with your kind of love?”
“Help us to learn to pray as you’re about to pray at Gethsemane, in intimacy with the Father, in order to achieve what can only be achieved through prayer.”
“May we be ready to be misunderstood, rejected and insulted, just as you’re about to be, for carrying out mercy and speaking out truth.”
“Show us how to follow your ultimate example of non-violent resistance, thereby breaking down injustice and inequality just as you did.”
“Show us how to bring to others the healing and wholeness and happiness that you’re about to die for. Show us how to be your ambassadors in this world.”
“Show us how to receive and enjoy the real life that you’re making possible through your death and resurrection.”
The follower-friends lived out the answers to those questions in tangible ways in the ensuing years, many suffering martyrdom. Some of those questions are being answered along the way on my journey too. How they will play out in years to come will probably be completely different again.
When someone takes their first steps to Jesus, they may not know that those are the kinds of questions they’re signing up for. They may not even need to know. Like those early follower-friends, all they may need to know is that Jesus is worth following. He’ll show them the rest as they go along on their journey with him.
As we approach Easter 2015, I’m asking Jesus (figuratively):
“Where do you want us to go to prepare the Passover meal for you?” – with all its implied questions:
“How can I sacrifice my life for others, following in your footsteps? How can I share in your passion for those who are marginalised and oppressed?”
“How can I love others with your kind of love?”
“Help me to learn to pray as you prayed at Gethsemane, in intimacy with the Father, in order to achieve what can only be achieved through prayer.”
“May I be ready to be misunderstood, rejected and insulted, just like you were, for carrying out mercy and speaking out truth.”
“Show me how to follow your ultimate example of non-violent resistance, thereby breaking down injustice and inequality just as you did.”
“Show me how to bring to others the healing and wholeness and happiness that you died for. Show me how to be your ambassador in this world.”
“Show me how to receive and enjoy the real life that you made possible through your death and resurrection.”
Whether or not you’re someone who normally prays, you could think about joining me in that prayer. Who knows where it might lead? A new life? A new adventure?
Maybe Easter doesn’t have to be just another religious festival after all.