Every day can be an Easter

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

When I think of Easter, I think of one of the most precious gifts Christ Jesus gave to mankind. The promise of resurrection – of life, and not of death.

At this time of year, many focus on the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. I embrace his crucifixion as the supreme model of unconditional love and forgiveness. He unselfishly bore our infirmities. And I’m humbled.

But I can’t stop there. Especially in light of the fact that the crucifixion was not the end of the story. Evil didn’t win the day. How important for humanity that his life example continued with his resurrection and ultimately, his ascension.

Renowned spirituality and health author, Mary Baker Eddy, writes much about the life and works of Christ Jesus and shares poignant ideas about the meaning of his example. These ideas are found in her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

Of his crucifixion she wrote, “Despised and rejected of men, returning blessing for cursing, he taught mortals the opposite of themselves, even the nature of God; and when error felt the power of Truth, the scourge and the cross awaited the great Teacher.” And she describes the cross Jesus carried “up the hill of grief” as “the world’s hatred of Truth and Love.”

Truth, as well as Life and Love, are among many Biblical synonyms for God, and error, the opposite of Truth, is one of many names Eddy uses synonymously with evil. And unfortunately, mankind has often found itself being misguided and controlled by evil in some form or fashion – dishonesty, jealousy, hypocrisy, slander, hate and all the etceteras.

Many have questioned why Jesus allowed his enemies to crucify him since they believed he had the power to stop them.

But might that be where one of the incredible lessons of the resurrection comes in? He allowed his enemies to attempt the destruction of his mortal life. But his resurrection gave us proof of his immortal life. And as Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Nothing could kill this Life of man.”

What a promise for each of us!

His example teaches us that we can never be separated from Life, God — the source of our spiritual, indestructible, eternal life.

Can’t this knowledge also become our resurrection, in a sense, right now?

Think of the many ways we may feel like we’re being crucified today.

Overwhelmed with debt that seems impossible to get out of. Battered with illness leaving our body weary for peace. Depressed with loss and loneliness with dim prospects of a brighter tomorrow. Feeling misunderstood or not appreciated.

Might Easter give us the promise of being resurrected from such crucifixions?

Remember the disciples’ mistaken grief over the death of their Master. And their hesitancy to believe his resurrection could really happen. Christ Jesus later upbraided them for their unbelief, as the Gospel of Mark tells us.

Have we given up hope?

Perhaps it’s possible to believe no more that something can forever destroy our hope and peace – or even our health.

Is it possible that such knowledge, such confident expectation, could roll away the stone from our tomb of despair?

What if the revival of our faith and hope could bring renewed strength, regenerated courage and restored confidence. Such a faith might proclaim that nothing can extinguish our health, our hopes, our dreams, and our peace that is given by God to all of his beloved children.

And today could be an Easter for you and me!

A view to the passion

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

Watching movies about Christ Jesus has long been one of my traditions at Easter time. These viewings fuel my own passion for examining what Jesus’ sacrifice and triumph meant to humanity, then and now. Recently the season sparked my interest in watching again “The Passion of the Christ.”

I have friends who have never watched Mel Gibson’s movie. Although I was not the first in line, I knew I had to watch this film. The only reason I hesitated initially was my squeamishness when confronted with graphic violence onscreen. But after reading an editorial’s question, “[Can I not watch 126 minutes with him?” — I went.

Our expectation has a direct effect on results in any situation, including watching a movie. My view of Jesus as Master, Way-shower, Teacher and Exemplar is uppermost in my thought when I watch any movie on his life. So, my expectations for watching “The Passion of the Christ” were from the perspective of a student. Open and eager for learning, I anticipated lessons and expected to be taught — and was.

For me, the part of Jesus’ story known as the Passion is as much a classroom as is the entire life and ministry of Jesus. And, of course, class doesn’t end with the crucifixion. It continues with lessons learned from the resurrection and 40 days later with the ascension. While Gibson’s movie didn’t tell Jesus’ whole life story — I’m not sure any movie does — there was never a moment when Jesus appeared to be a helpless victim. To the contrary, there was never a moment when Jesus wasn’t continuing to teach and heal, even during what must have been the most difficult hours of his life. A life lesson in itself!

The Passion illustrates his most profound lesson to be teachings on love.

A love that could forgive those who falsely accused and tortured him, even as he hung on the cross. How many times have I felt defeated or thought about revenge when a friend or foe did something to deliberately hurt me?

A love that could express compassion toward his grieving mother while he himself was suffering. How many times have I been too self-absorbed to help another in need?

A love that could offer comfort and heal others, not only while suffering himself, but also in the midst of his enemies. How many times has a sense of inadequacy stopped me from sharing a hopeful message or fear kept me from saying what I know is true, because criticism or laughter might follow?

As I watch the various replications of Jesus’ life story, I’m reminded I still have much to learn about what it truly means to “drink of his cup” and “partake of his bread.” But more and more, I’m realizing that these metaphors speak of striving to follow his example and understand the truth he taught and practiced.

And so I continue to ponder his instructions, such as:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you” (Matthew 5:44) … “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1) … “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein” (Luke 18:17) … “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12) … “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also” (John 14:12).

I’m beginning to understand divine service to mean following, in earnest measure, the example of our Master. Clearly, Jesus illustrated the meaning of his transforming words with healing and regenerative works. We can do no less in our discipleship.

At this holy season, I’m once again humbled by Christ Jesus’ life example, and I’m rededicating my life to being a better steward of my faith, knowing, as James reminds us, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). It seems the least I can do to show my love and gratitude to the Master is to do my best to be a faithful student of good works as much as good words.

Mary Baker Eddy perfectly expressed what’s in my heart this glorious Easter and always with this statement: “For the body of Christ, for the life that we commemorate and would emulate, for the bread of heaven whereof if a man eat ‘he shall live forever,’ for the cup red with loving restitution, redemption, and inspiration, we give thanks.”

How to forgive the unforgivable

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

There’s something about Easter.

Maybe it’s a time for ending? A time to let go of long-harbored anger and hurt.

Perhaps a time for beginning? A time to make new friends, exchange marriage vows or explore new opportunities, new career goals, follow new dreams.

Or maybe it’s a time for renewing? A time to resurrect relationships fallen by the wayside.

One Easter long ago became a time for me to learn about forgiveness and love. The kind of love so beautifully exemplified by Christ Jesus life example. A love that is powerful enough to heal and transform lives. He showed that love is stronger than hate, violence, apathy and fear. Jesus made forgiveness look natural and easy. I have not always found it so. Yet Christ Jesus instructed, “If ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them.”

Others have given insightful instruction on love and forgiveness. Mother Theresa advised, “If we really want to love, we must learn to forgive.” Alexander Pope declared, “To err is human; to forgive, Divine.” And Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Love your enemies, or you will not lose them; and if you love them, you will help to reform them.”

So what about forgiveness? How can it be natural and easy to forgive someone who has caused hurt, pain, disappointment? And why should I forgive, especially when I am the innocent one and justified in my anger, hatred, and resentment?

A neighbor spoke to me in such a way that I thought was unforgivable. The entire event revolved around what appeared to be an on-going irreconcilable situation. The only obvious solution was to move. Something I really did not want to do. Thus, my dilemma. It was the Saturday before Easter Sunday.

Have you ever attended a church service and felt like the sermon was directed right at you?

I sat there listening to readings about Christ Jesus, his enemies crucifying him, his friends deserting him and yet…he forgave them all, he never stopped loving – friend or foe. I longed to love in such a way. I thought perhaps it was his love that enabled him to conquer death and the grave and all the evil that had been directed at him and inflicted upon him. I can only say there came a moment during that Easter service when I felt nothing but compassion and yes, love for the one who had wronged me.

Mary Baker Eddy in her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, describes the “universal solvent of love” as what’s needed to dissolve self-justification. I had certainly swallowed a big dose of that! I had been focused on being justified in my reactions and in being “right”. Consequently, love was nowhere to be found in my heart or in my reasoning.

And here’s the thing. As I forgave, I felt free from the effects of another’s evil intent. Forgiving wasn’t erasing history or exonerating. But forgiving was relinquishing the destructive power of anger that would have continued to imprison me and determine my actions, thoughts and words. I wasn’t putting the heavy baggage of another’s evil behavior on my back. Forgiveness dared me to imagine a better future. One that was based on the blessed possibility that my hurt would not be the final word on the matter.

I returned from that Easter church service transformed and later that day received an apology from my neighbor. We made a mutual commitment to make things more harmonious. And so they have been. Never again were harsh words spoken. We’ve been neighbors for over twenty years now. I have continued to learn more about love. The kind of unconditional love that God gives to all his children. And what Christ Jesus referred to as the second great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

I am now convinced that forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. And furthermore, that forgiveness may be the most powerful step that people, and even nations, can take to bring about transformation, progress and growth. So most definitely….Easter is a time for forgiveness. A time for love.

My Easter lesson: “I forgive you”

by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.

My husband John and I lived with our 3-year-old daughter Jennifer just a stone’s throw away from my in-law’s house on the family cattle ranch. Jennifer spent nearly every day with her grandparents and I wanted them to be part of her life. But their proximity suffocated me at times. After four years of daily exposure to my father-in-law’s “I know best” attitude, my resentment was building up. I found him opinionated, arrogant and domineering. Especially concerning my daughter. And this time things went too far.

It was a warm and sunny spring Saturday—the day before Easter Sunday. Jennifer busied herself building sand castles in our fenced-in back yard. I helped with the building until the phone rang. I stood at the back door where I had a clear view of Jennifer while I talked.

My father-in-law arrived and took Jennifer off with him.

In the middle of my call, I watched as Pa-Pa, my father-in-law, suddenly arrived (he didn’t see me) and took Jennifer off with him without letting me know. Mind you, they often went for walks to pet the cows and feed the ducks and catfish on the farm, which delighted Jennifer. But his actions infuriated me. How could he take her without asking? After all, I’m Jennifer’s mother—I’m the boss here.

So later that day I confronted my father-in-law. I accused him of overstepping his bounds and disrespecting my authority. He staunchly defended his behavior with his own angry outpouring of accusations. The scene ended with hurt feelings on both sides. I walked away in tears, ready to pack up and move far away.

But I knew moving wouldn’t solve my problems. In retrospect, I think I wanted to find ways to prove him wrong—to assert my authority over his. And being the mother of his granddaughter seemed the only avenue I had for establishing my position in the family and gaining some respect for my viewpoints.

I welcomed the opportunity to get away.

Easter Sunday came. I welcomed the opportunity to get away from the ranch for a few hours. I had recently started attending church again and I loved the way I felt there: accepted, welcomed, unconditionally loved. But I dreaded coming home. I knew my in-laws would have Easter goodies for Jennifer and would want to come over. What would I say? How would I act? How could I face my father-in-law again?

In church, I listened to Christ Jesus’ life story. The meaning behind his teachings, his enemies crucifying him, his friends deserting him and the fact that he never stopped loving—friend or foe—astounded me. I sat awe-struck and humbled.

Clearly, Jesus intimately knew divine Love—and this knowledge healed and transformed lives. His life proved love’s power over hate, violence, apathy and fear. He instructed, “If ye love them who love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.” Jesus’ love enabled him to conquer death and the grave; his unconditional love enabled him to forgive all the evil directed at him.

Mary Baker Eddy, in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, describes the “universal solvent of Love” as what’s needed to dissolve stubborn self-justification. I was certainly full of self-righteousness as I justified my actions and feelings toward my father-in-law. But through my study of Christian Science I knew the question I needed to ask was: where was the love?

I prayed to stop judging.

That Easter Sunday service left me humbled. I prayed to stop judging and critiquing my father-in-law’s every action and word. And I had a deep desire to love as Jesus loved.

Then, toward the end of the service, I began to feel nothing but compassion and yes, love, for my father-in-law. The power of Christly love and forgiveness filled my heart and replaced the hurt.

I felt resurrected from the destructive power of anger that had prevented me from seeing a solution. I knew I could choose a new basis for my relationship with my father-in-law—one based on unconditional love, understanding and gentle communication. The day took on a whole new meaning for me. I now looked forward to returning home.

I welcomed my in-laws when they arrived with their gifts for Jennifer and we spent a lovely afternoon together. As they departed, my father-in-law embraced me and, kissing my neck, apologized for what he had said. I said, “Me, too.” (My husband remarked later that he’d never seen his father apologize like that before.)

We made a mutual commitment to promoting harmony. And, you know, I can’t recall harsh words between us in the 25 years we’ve been neighbors since.

I have continued to learn more about love.

I have continued to learn more about love, the unconditional love God gives all His children. Also what Christ Jesus referred to as the second great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

These words by Mary Baker Eddy recently reminded me of my Easter lesson:

“You must yield your obedience to God, give up your own will, love your enemies, do them good instead of resent or revenge wrongs…and rest in peace, for all things will work together for good to them that love Good.”

Forgiveness comes with Love’s help