What is Easter really all about? It’s a reminder of who I am. It took me years to understand. I went through four stages and finally got it. Here are the four stages I’ve walked through in my lifetime: sacrifice, penance, obedience, and submission. This is my story.
Stage 1: Sacrifice
I was told as a child, “Jesus died for your sins. He suffered terribly to accomplish this purpose. And he did all this for you.”
The follow on to this was I should sacrifice for him to show him my love. I was taught, “Whenever you are uncomfortable or in pain, offer it up to Jesus. He appreciates you suffering for him. It pleases him.”
To get to school, I had to walk up Stevens Avenue in Jersey City to catch the Bergen Avenue bus. It was a half mile walk up a very steep hill. Back then there were no backpacks and no digital books. I had to carry all my books in a book bag, and this used to hurt my hands and shoulders.
As I walked up that hill, I used to purposely not change hands to increase the discomfort. This gave me the opportunity to offer my suffering to Jesus. I wanted to please him.
Stage 2: Penance
I was standing outside the confessional with my buddies. We were all seven years old and about to make our first confession of our sins. We were on the way to our first communion. I remember everyone asking the same question, “What are you going to tell the priest?” We all agreed we would tell him we had disobeyed our mother 20 times and our father 20 times. We were all so nervous. We just wanted to get it right.
At the end of my first confession, the priest told me my penance was to say ten Hail Marys and ten Our Fathers. I left the confessional and entered a pew where some of my buddies were sitting. They asked, “What did he say? What did he tell you to do for your penance?” We all got the same assignment.
We prayed our penance, and our sins of the past, all that disobeying of our parents, was now forgiven. We felt great. And then…
Stage 3: Obedience
In high school, I came to believe being right with God was more about me being obedient. So I tried to do the right thing. But hormones and peer pressure won the day. I was going to high school in New York City during the late sixties. I was looking for acceptance, and just down the street in the Village were all the hippies with free sex, rock and roll, and drugs galore. Standing there in my military uniform during the most intense time of the Vietnam War protests didn’t make it any easier.
So who did I obey? I obeyed my friends. We drank, went to concerts to hear the Rolling Stones and the Doors, and maybe even smoked a little. Girls were always on our minds, and from what I could see, we were on their minds, too.
With all this going on, I found myself feeling guilty for the decisions I was making. God seemed to judge every move I made. In fact, I was told he was judging every thought I had. And man, did I have some wild thoughts. There just didn’t seem to be any way I could please him. No way. In my mind, the best thing to do was just walk away from God. So I did.
Stage 4: Submission
I chose to live the life of a good person. Sure, I did some things which weren’t very nice to others, but I thought of myself as a good friend, a good son, a good brother, a good guy. In fact, I was better than some of the other people I knew and hung out with. I wasn’t the best guy, but I was above average. At least in my mind.
This being the case, I still couldn’t shake the guilt and, in some cases, the shame. I continued to behave and think in ways I knew were wrong. My behavior didn’t get better. It got worse. I couldn’t seem to measure up to my own standard. I was mostly a good guy but found I often disappointed myself.
I became judgmental of others so I could feel better about myself. I tore others down. God wasn’t the judge. I was now the judge. But the person I judged most harshly was myself. I know it was not right to judge others, but I did it so I wasn’t so hard on myself. I needed to get out of this mess, but how?
A Lesson from Adolph Coors
I heard a man tell his story at the High Tech Prayer Breakfast. His name was Adolf Coors IV. As he explained what happened in his life and how he behaved, I connected. This guy, with all the beer and money in the world, was struggling with the very same issues I was. As I listened, I waited to learn his solution.
He said, “God is God. And that means I’m not God. The answer for me was not found in religion. It was found in a relationship, a relationship with Jesus Christ.” He went on to explain what I had heard when I was a kid. Jesus did die for my sins. But he said something else, “Jesus rose on the third day. Jesus defeated death. Jesus overcame the world.” This means he defeated all sin, including my behavior, my guilt, my shame, and my stinkin’ thinkin.’ He called what Jesus did a gift. He called it grace.
He said, “All you have to do to receive this gift is submit to Jesus as Lord of your life. Once you do this, he is responsible for your life, not you. You will be in relationship with God from now to eternity.”
And this is what Easter means to me. It is God’s plan revealed to man and offered to me. It includes the four stages I went through in my lifetime. The first three stages were completed by Jesus. The fourth was my decision. After all, I wanted the gift!