Here we are in the season of Easter, learning to live on the other side of the resurrection.
These last 40 days we’ve walked with Jesus toward the cross, toward Good Friday—that terrible, wonderful day when the world of Jesus’ friends was shattering, and a new world they couldn’t yet glimpse was opening up.
Some years as we approach Good Friday I wish I could feel more. This year it didn’t seem difficult for me to put myself in the disciples’ place—to feel their confusion, their grief, their fear, and the haze of questions that rose when they lifted their eyes to the future. Their world was breaking around them. They’d thought they understood how things were going to go, and now they no longer knew what they could trust.
It was so easy to put myself in their place that on Good Friday morning I felt like I couldn’t bear the emptiness and despair of Jesus dying. Before I’d even managed to put that into words I sensed Jesus whispering, “You can sit like a child on my lap and watch the events of Good Friday with me now. I’m not going away again.”
It felt like a tender gift, an extension of the same love and compassion Jesus offered his mother and his best friend in his last hours on the cross. “Dear woman, here is your son,” he said to his mother. And to his best friend, “Here is your mother.”
I’ve always found that scene so touching. Jesus, in the hour of his death, offers comfort and care to those he loves. But this year I see it not only as a beautiful moment, but as a parable or an icon—a picture through which we’re meant to see a truth so deep and beautiful that it needs to be told, as Emily Dickinson said, “slant.”
In his dying, Jesus not only gave his disciple, John, Jesus’ own mother, he gave all his disciples his own Father. Jesus placed John in his own position relative to his mother, and he placed us in his own position in his relationship with his Father.
Now, as we stand in Christ’s place, the Father can speak over us the words he spoke over Jesus at his baptism, “You are my son, my daughter, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.”
It has always been a lot easier for me to accept the first of those statements than the last. “You are my daughter, whom I love”—this I can chalk up to God’s character. God is love, so he loves us all. Good Friday wouldn’t have happened without that love.
But “with you I am well pleased”? How can God be “well pleased” with me when I consistently fall short of his perfection? How can these words the Father spoke over Jesus apply to me?
And yet, how can they not when we are “accepted in the beloved” (Eph 1:6, KJV) and part of Christ’s own body (1 Cor 12:27)?
How can they not when Jesus has taken my place, swapping my sin for his righteousness so thoroughly that Paul says Jesus became sin that we might become his righteousness (2 Cor 5:21)?
How can they not when Jesus has made me a new creation over which God can say, as he did over his first creation, “It is very good” (2 Cor 5:17)?
Indeed, how can they not when I’m God’s own child, carried in Jesus’ body, birthed into new life through Jesus’ own excruciating labor?
His delight in us is not on account of what we’ve done but who we are—His.
If I miss this, I’ve missed the gospel. What was wrong has been righted, the relationship restored, and I’m free to walk confidently again, knowing I am loved and delighted in.
What, then, about Paul’s statement that “we make it our goal to please him” (2 Cor 5:9)? Or the exhortation to “find out what pleases the Lord” (Eph 5:10)? How can I already be pleasing to God and simultaneously making it my goal to please him?
Perhaps a truer question might be How could I already be pleasing to God and not making it my goal to please him?
Jen Pollock Michel helps me here in her wonderfully profound, readable book, Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of And in an Either-Or World.
“When that younger brother of Jesus’ famous parable returned home, only to be picked up indiscreetly by his father and twirled in jubilant, tearful celebration, it’s impossible to imagine that he plotted a way to leave again. Where would he go after he’d been welcomed and loved so liberally by this aged man with tears running down his beard? . . .
To expect transformation is not to negate grace but to affirm its intent and power” (p. 119, 121).
We are not finished. But does a parent wait until his child is fully grown to delight in her, or does he enjoy her along the way?
When I’m able to rest in the certainty of being safely loved and delighted in, I find myself freer to live in a way consistent with that love.
And when I wonder and question again, as I inevitably will? Then I’ll be surprised all over again to find myself the recipient of grace:
“I wonder about the slowness of my transformation, lagging as I still do behind my own exacting ideals. It’s with great befuddlement that I daily receive the surprise of grace: God’s patience is wider and higher and deeper than mine” (Michel, p. 118).