It feels different this year.
Whatever it is, Easter feels different. The air feels warmer, my heart feels softer and the reality of Jesus and His grace feels more real than ever before.
The last year and its experiences have changed me. I am wiser with my words, more grateful with my life, and a little more careful about who I offer my heart to. And yet, in the last twelve months, there was one experience that completely altered how I view Jesus and the Bible, and made sure I would never look at the cross or His sacrifice through the same lens again.
One trip to Israel changed Easter for me, forever.
There I stood, before an empty tomb in one of the most tranquil gardens I have ever visited. It looked like a movie set with hanging flowers and birds singing and small, white tomb, carved out of a rock, minding its own business. Did we know for sure this was the place Jesus was buried and raised? No. Did I care? Nope. To me, this was it.
Standing at this tomb, I was closer to where Jesus had been, than I have been in 25 years of life. I was walking the same streets He was dragged through, while being mocked and whipped and bruised. I was in the place He died, so I didn’t have to.
And yet as I stood at the entrance of the tomb, with more thoughts flying through my mind than I had time to catch, I felt nothing. I wanted to be overwhelmed with emotion, with gratitude, with a new understanding of his sacrifice. But I felt empty and cold and alone.
I was disappointed. I felt like a disappointment.
I looked around and the crowd had gone, our bus was on its way and it was time to move onto the next biblical site, or just to go eat some more hummus, both were arguably as amazing.
But I stayed lingering, I refused to leave with the same numbness and apathy as I came in. I needed to find Jesus.
You see, before this trip, I felt lost. I felt distant. I felt like Jesus was hiding and I wasn’t doing a good enough job trying to find Him. Maybe you know the feeling. I felt like I had done something wrong, that perhaps I wasn’t good enough, and I almost gave up looking. But at this tomb, in this garden, He spoke,
“Elyse, I never lost you. I am here.”
He was here. Suddenly, it didn’t matter whether He had been here, it didn’t matter how accurate the history and geography was, it didn’t even matter that I looked like a panda with my eye makeup running down my face, because my Jesus, He was here.
In that moment, outside a garden tomb, I found Jesus. In that moment, I was Mary Magdalene.
She arrived at the tomb, like I did, undoubtedly feeling empty and exhausted by the weight of grief, ready to say just one last goodbye to the man that saved her life. Instead, she found an empty tomb, but a living Jesus. Talk about a plot twist.
You know what I love? I love that she was the first to discover Him. It could’ve been Peter, or John, or even His mother, and that would’ve made sense.
But for me the beauty in this story is this -- Mary was the one who had been forgiven much. She was the one who knew what it meant to be free. She was the one who had felt firsthand the depths of His relentless love and unending grace. She was the one who found home, with Him.
I got to see where Mary might have been when she found our Jesus, first. For a moment, standing there, I got to be Mary, but instead of finding Jesus, in that garden, I was found by Him.
Honestly, before this trip, I lost Jesus for a little while. I felt the shameful sting of loneliness and the painful reality of regret. I was Mary. But Jesus never lost sight of Mary, and He never lost sight of me. And on that cold, windy day in a garden in Israel, I found Him again. My heart came home.
Today, if you feel lost, take heart, He hasn’t lost you. Perhaps you feel like you have messed everything up so much that He has given up on you. Maybe, like me, you have been searching for Him and feel like He is hiding. Don’t quit. Don’t you give up. Because maybe, like me, it’s when you least expect it, when you are at a place that looks like a bunch of rocks, that you will feel His whisper, “I am here.”
Maybe it’s in the silence we hear Him the loudest. Maybe it’s in our brokenness that He is the greatest artist, creating beauty from ashes.
Maybe, just maybe, it's at the point we feel most lost, we are ready to be found. (tweet that)
I don’t know how to describe my trip to Israel. But if I did? I would tell you, Jesus found me on this trip. And Easter will never be the same again.
Maybe this is the Easter you find Jesus. And maybe this year, you will know exactly how Mary felt, because you will feel it too.