For the world’s 2.19 billion Christians, Easter Sunday, marks the holiest day in Christianity — the day that the tomb was empty. Jesus Christ had risen in triumph over physical death.
Before that triumphant day came the Last Supper, Gethsemane, a cruel betrayal, a mock trial and death on a wooden cross. For Christians, the act of Jesus’s Atonement is one that we believe paid the price of our sins. We often say that we know that He atoned for the whole human family — but sometimes we forget that the Atonement covers more than just sin. It covers all of life’s losses and sorrows.
It covers the sorrow of watching an 850 year-old cathedral go up in flames. It covers sorrow that the eye can't see. It covers the grief of families being separated, the pain of miscarriage, or of cancer, or infidelity.
Each of us, in some microcosm of the Garden, will experience sorrow, pain, loneliness and betrayal. Cancer, disability, downsizing, addiction, divorce, bullying, a child’s death, infertility, abuse, rape, being left out, criticized or used by “friends” to advance their own agenda and countless other losses can drive us to our knees. The Atonement covers it all.
Cheiko Okazaki (1993) wrote “He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced Napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism. Let me go further. There is nothing you have experienced ... that he does not also know and recognize.”
Beyond the Garden, each of us will experience our own Fridays and multiple “deaths” before the one death that marks the end of our mortal lives. The death of a dream. The death of a relationship. The death of a job. The “death” of health. With each death comes grief. Sometimes crushing. Sometimes “only” causing us to stagger under the weight. Some “Fridays” find us lying in broken pieces wondering how it was that our world was just shattered and how on earth we can possibly rebuild.
But Sunday always comes. The message of the Resurrection for Christian believers is one of hope. Hope that we will see our loved ones again. Hope that all injustices will be made right. Hope that our brokenness will be made whole. Hope that we can start anew. Hope that the light will come. Hope that we can forgive and be forgiven.
Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who helped Jewish people find safety during the Holocaust, wrote of her experience forgiving one of the cruel guards in the concentration camp where she had watched her sister die.
“Forgiveness is not an emotion,” she said. “Forgiveness is an act of the will ... [and] the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”
The Savior of the New Testament is not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior or an Atonement. He is not waiting for us to be whole. He asks us to come unto Him, all of us who are heavy-laden and He will give us rest. He came to heal the broken-hearted, the guilt-ridden and the grief-stricken. He knows all of our secrets, all of our mistakes, all of our sorrows and He loves us anyway. He came to give us “beauty for ashes” (Isaiah 61:3).
His last recorded words to his disciples were, “And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). This Easter weekend, amid bunnies and chocolate and dyed eggs, Christians worldwide will also be remembering that Christ’s love and light is stronger than the blackest darkness, life is stronger than a tomb and love is always stronger than loss.
Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.