I am grateful for this place to write and for the time you take to read this blog. I don’t take this privilege lightly. On the contrary, I believe this space matters greatly in God’s economy. So I want to use it well.
In this space, I try to honestly proclaim the many times and different ways in which God is faithful to give my family Happy Turtle Lives. I try to tell stories that I hope will matter to someone else; I try to say in a loud voice, “You are not alone, and God hasn’t abandoned you! He’s still working!” As I’ve been asking God what He wants me to write about this week, He keeps reminding me that it’s Easter, the culmination of the Gospel story of Jesus Christ.
Have you heard the Gospel story?
When I was a little girl, I wanted to live in Heaven with Jesus when I died. My parents, my pastor, and my Sunday school teachers told me that the only way to get to Heaven was to ask Jesus to come live in my heart. When I was four years old, I asked Jesus to come live in my heart and make me ready to live with God forever. I remember that day vividly. Even though I was very young, I know it was a real experience. I have seen God work in my life and in my family ever since that day.
My understanding of the Gospel has broadened and deepened since that day on February 17, 1970. On this Good Friday, let me tell you the Gospel story—what Jesus has done in my life, what He wants to do in your life, and why it all matters anyway. Because it is really important, I want to tell you the truth, just in case you’ve never heard it before.
There is only One God, and His name is Yahweh. He is holy, blameless, righteous, glorious, and good—and we are not. It makes Him sad that because of our sinfulness, our selfishness and envy and pride and all the other yucky parts of us, we cannot live with Him.
Because He so desires us and wants to live in relationship with us, He made a way for us to be reconciled to Him, to be brought back together with Him. He made a way for us to be able to live in His presence, to sit with Him and talk to Him and listen to Him. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to earth, to live with us, to be like us, only sinless, only good, only right, only holy— yet human like we are. When Jesus died on the cross, it was to pay the penalty that the One True Holy God demands for sin. Jesus died instead of us. He died so we don’t have to be punished for our sin.
Here’s the best part of the Gospel story, the part that makes Christianity different from all other religions: Jesus didn’t stay dead! Jesus died, was buried, and then rose to life again after three days in the tomb. Jesus walked on earth for 40 days and was seen by many people before He rose up to Heaven to be with God again. He told His followers at that time, “I won’t leave you alone. I will send My Spirit to comfort you after I leave. The Holy Spirit will teach you the ways of God, and will remind you of all the things I’ve told you.” (See John 14:16-18 and 25-26.)
That’s why other belief systems and Christianity—the Jesus-kind of Christianity—can’t be the same thing. No other god or prophet came back to life after being dead. No other god or prophet lives in the human heart and teaches people how to live like the One True God created and designed them to live. Only Jesus Christ does that. Only Jesus.
When my grandmother was in the hospital for the last time, I remember holding Mimi’s hand and telling her I was there. She couldn’t talk because she was on a ventilator, but the expression in her eyes changed when she realized I was there. I hadn’t seen her in probably more than a year. Her eyes smiled when she saw me. Then she saw my husband Michael leaning over my shoulder, and the corners of her eyes crinkled up like she would be smiling from ear to ear if she could.
She squeezed my hand so tightly. I told her how much I loved her, how much I would miss her when she moved to Heaven to live with Jesus. Michael and I had been going through infertility treatments, and we wanted a baby so badly. I remember saying, “Mimi, when you get to Heaven, you and Granny and Aunt Marlene get together and help Jesus pick out some precious children to send to us.”
She squeezed my hand even more tightly and nodded her head “yes” just slightly. “But don’t send me too many at one time, now!” I said. “Only send me what Jesus and I can handle.” The corners of Mimi’s eyes crinkled up when I said that. Mimi moved to Heaven just a week later, on July 18, 1999.
In November of 1999, Michael and I found out we were indeed expecting a baby. I know Mimi and Granny and Aunt Marlene look down from Heaven and delight at my Cami girl, how much like them she is, how much like Jesus she is. She asked Jesus to come live in her heart when she was five years old, and I clearly see Him living in and through her today.
Even though our time on earth comes to an end, our lives don’t end. God created us to be eternal beings. That’s why I could say those things to Mimi: I knew she would see Jesus and Granny and Aunt Marlene again because I knew they would all be together in Heaven. I knew they would be in Heaven because I’d seen the evidence in their lives on earth, evidence of the Holy Spirit changing them into new creatures, just like a caterpillar changes into a butterfly. (See 2 Corinthians 5:17-21.)
At Easter, Christians remember the Cross of Christ: His amazing grace that saves us from God’s wrath because of our sin; and His complete sacrifice, the shedding of His blood that washes us clean from our sin and gives us right standing with God.
At Easter, Christians also remember the empty tomb: proof that death no longer triumphs, that Satan is defeated and eternal life is ours in Christ. What happened in the tomb where Jesus was buried? God’s mighty power raised Him from the dead! In Ephesians 1:19-20, 3:20, and Colossians 1:11, the Apostle Paul tells us that we have that same power—God’s mighty power!—living in us through the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ.
The very Son of God in all His power and glory takes up residence—dwells, abides—in and through our very lives. How cool is that? That power, the Apostle Peter tells us in 2 Peter 1:3, gives us everything we need for life and godliness as we learn to know Jesus more and more. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like what I need is overwhelming, and what I have isn’t enough for what I need. But if I believe scripture (and I do), the truth is that I have everything I need for anything I’m going through because I have God’s mighty power in me, and that same power raised Jesus from the dead.
Today, look into your heart. Be honest with yourself: does Jesus live in you? Does He live through you? If He doesn’t, when you die here on earth, you will be separated from the One True God forever. He doesn’t send our spirits to earth over and over again until we learn to live correctly. We will never live a correct life on our own. Only Jesus lives a correct life. That’s why we need Him to live His life through us.
He loves you so much, Friend. He wants to live with you forever. But you have to invite Him into your heart to live in you and through you. It isn’t a choice that your parents or your siblings or your loved ones can make for you. You have to choose.
Please choose Jesus.
I pray that God, whose name is Yahweh, the One True God, will open the eyes of your heart so that you can understand all of His love for you, how much He wants to live in you here on earth and with you in Heaven after your time on earth is over. I pray that the Holy Spirit will speak the truth to your spirit so that you will understand the hope He calls you to. I pray that you will feel Jesus hugging you closely, that you will know that He is near and wants to live with you forever.
I pray that your struggle—whatever hardship, trouble, pain, or strife you’re facing—is just like the chrysalis that a caterpillar spins. In the dark of that chrysalis, the caterpillar changes from a squirmy crawl-on-the-ground creepy thing to a beautiful butterfly who floats and flies on the breeze. I pray that you, too, will become a new creature—an Easter person—who is new and whole and free.
“We are an Easter people and alleluia is our cry,”
Saint Augustine wrote.
Alleluia means I have found God in the here and now.
I celebrate the Presence that gives life quality and gives life meaning always.
I sing to Monday mornings, alleluia;
to washing dishes, alleluia;
to friends and work, alleluia;
to dawn and dusk, alleluia;
to old things and new, alleluia.
Say alleluia, alleluia, alleluia to life.
That’s what it is to be “an alleluia people.”
~~Sr. Joan Chittister
Benedictine Sister and spiritual writer
Alleluia! He is risen!