Set aside the hollow chocolate bunnies wrapped in foil for a moment and ask yourself: Am I prepared for Easter? I mean, really, are you ready for the holiday? I can do the table setting pretty well. I can pick up the house; but when it comes to inward preparation, that is far more challenging. If you have little kids at home, you probably are running over to Walgreens right now to grab some malted eggs or colored jelly beans. I get it. But what about your heart? This is much harder to ready—either for a holiday or on a daily basis.
If it’s business of the heart, I often find solace in someone else’s words. Godly words prompt me to forget about self-focus and turn to my Savior. Hosea says, “Take with you words and return to the Lord. Say to him, take away all iniquity” (14:2a). This prophet tells me that God my Savior is able to take away all my sin and give me a clean heart, a decluttered heart (see the rest of Hosea 14). How I need that cleaning to create room in my heart for his grace and light! Remember those seedlings you would bring home from school in a Styrofoam cup and leave on the windowsill? And it wasn’t about the beautiful container. But oh how those little seeds would grow, embedded in the soft cotton, watered a bit daily. That’s what I want my heart to be like—exposed to the sun, drinking up his Word. Let me not be like the house temporarily swept clean and put in order only to find more evil enters than at first. Nor let me be like the fig tree that should be promising fruit but is cursed because of the lack of it. (Note to self: A heart, even one familiar with Scripture, without forgiveness from God or toward others, does not produce real fruit.)
Yet God is able to do the deep cleaning. His Word and his work by the Spirit plow my heart to make room for fresh growth. The plowing inevitably hurts, feels painful, but is worth it. And he wants me to work alongside him in this task: “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD that he may come and rain righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12).
Reading the gospel accounts of events surrounding Easter is a wonderful way to prepare personally for the week leading up to Easter. Begin in Matthew 21 and go all the way through Matthew 28, reading a chapter a day. The account in the Gospel of Mark roughly covers the same ground from the Triumphal Entry to the Resurrection, but is a bit shorter and found in chapters 11-16. It is still packed with last events leading up to the cross. If you are doing devotions as a family with young kids, choose episodes to act out. Drama and stage directions are considerably more memorable than merely reading it—even for adults!
I also like to prepare by reading Easter poems. And, yes, I realize this suggestion isn’t for the masses, but over the years I return again to poems that provoke me to think, feel and find illumination for the Easter season.
Here’s four for good measure, and this first one is for the road. Why read it? John Donne makes me imagine I am in an uncomfortable saddle, having a soul-searching ride at the hour of sundown. (If you are planning to skip it, at least read the last seven lines of this poem/prayer. Then go back and read the whole thing!)
Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward
Let man’s soul be a sphere, and then, in this
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
And as the other spheres, by being grown
Subject to foreign motions, lose their own,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a year their natural form obey,
Pleasure or business, so our souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirled by it.
Hence is’t, that I am carried towards the west
This day, when my soul’s form bends towards the east.
There I should see a sun, by rising, set,
And by that setting endless day beget:
But that Christ on this cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad I do not see
That spectacle, of too much weight for me.
Who sees God’s face, that is self-life, must die;
What a death were it then to see God die?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink;
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands which span the poles,
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes?
Could I behold that endless height which is
Zenith to us, and our antipodes,
Humbled below us? Or that blood which is
The seat of all our souls, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
But God, for His apparel, ragg’d and torn?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
Upon His miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was God’s partner here, and furnished thus
Half of that sacrifice which ransomed us?
Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They are present yet unto my memory.
For that looks towards them; and Thou look’st towards me,
O Savior, as Thou hang’st upon the tree.
I turn my back to Thee but to receive
Corrections, till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.
O think me worth Thine anger; punish me;
Burn off my rusts and my deformity;
Restore Thine image so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou may’st know me, and I’ll turn my face.
Next is Easter Wings by George Herbert. That term “imp” comes from falconry, and refers to mending the damaged wing of a hawk by grafting to it feathers from another bird. We are all damaged birds. Our Savior gives us wings.
Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more
Till he became
O let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day Thy victories;
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.
My tender age in sorrow did begin;
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sin
That I became
Let me combine,
And feel this day Thy victory;
For, if I imp my wing on Thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
Christina Rossetti often uses nature imagery to describe spiritual growth. In Long Barren she gives words to the heart of every struggling believer as she makes Easter a personal event.
Thou who didst hang upon a barren tree,
My God, for me;
Though I till now be barren, now at length,
Lord, give me strength
To bring forth fruit to Thee.
Thou who didst bear for me the crown of thorn,
Spitting and scorn;
Though I till now have put forth thorns,
Strengthen me Thou
That better fruit be borne.
Thou Rose of Sharon, Cedar of broad roots,
Vine of sweet fruits,
Thou Lily of the vale with fadeless leaf,
Of thousands Chief,
Feed Thou my feeble shoots.
Finally, Christ is Arisen, a surprising one from the poet J.W. Von Goethe—full of triumph and promise. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:20: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
Christ is arisen.
Joy to thee, mortal!
Out of His prison, Forth from its portal!
Christ is not sleeping,
Seek Him no longer;
Strong was His keeping,
Jesus was stronger.
Christ is arisen.
Seek Him not here;
Lonely His prison,
Empty His bier;
Vain His entombing,
Spices and lawn,
Vain the perfuming,
Jesus is gone.
Christ is arisen.
Joy to thee, mortal!
Empty His prison,
Broken its portal!
Rising, He giveth
His shroud to the sod;
Risen, he liveth,
And liveth to God.
Poems like these? Well, they make me pause, they make me praise; they make me ponder the meaning of Easter and its implications for my heart… in all seasons.