An Easter Trilogy: Introduction

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Introduction

Millions of people in North America, and an added billion or two around the world will celebrate Easter this year. Easter is quite possibly the most celebrated day on the world’s calendar. Yet, this great day of remembrance does not stand alone. This day is significant because of two other events. These events form a triad or Trilogy in the spiritual life of the Christian experience.

For those attending an Easter service this year, it may be preceded by celebration one week earlier—Palm Sunday. That, of course, is a commemoration of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, just a few days before the events surrounding Easter. But what we know as Palm Sunday is not what brought about Easter.

Already you may be asking why this conversation is important and why you should pay any attention. Well, this Trilogy comprises the basis on which all human destiny rests. To go a step further, all human history including yours and mine will be determined by these three events.  As a matter of fact, if Easter stood alone without the other two events, it would be of little consequence to us. There were, after all, hundreds of Jews who were crucified by the Romans, including priests and Rabbis. As far as I know, there is only one crucifixion by the Romans that is remembered today.

A Trilogy of Events and The Two Cups

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What are the three events that will determine the history of your life—present and future? How can these events control the destinies of all humankind since the beginning of time to the end? So, first let’s bring this critical triad onto the stage to examine. We will begin by talking about the middle event that took place in a grove of olive trees, one located on the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem.

We find Jesus making his way to this grove late in the evening on the first day of Passover (our Thursday). He and his disciples had commemorated Passover in Jerusalem in a room provided by an unnamed individual. We pick up that story in Matthew 22:

18 Jesus replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. 20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. […] 26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Before following them into the garden of olive trees, let’s pause for a moment to consider the scene in that room. It is important to focus our thoughts on the cup in Jesus’ hand that he offered to his disciples. As Jesus passed the cup of wine to them, he said, “[this cup] is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Take note of Jesus’ choice of words in calling it the cup “of the covenant.” In just a short time, Jesus will describe another cup, but here he is talking about a cup of blood for the forgiveness of sins. Notice, though, that it is “his blood of the covenant.” Can you see your preacher or priest standing up before you in a service and holding out a cup of wine saying, “this is the cup of my blood of the covenant?” Well, you say, that would be rather strange and odd! Yet, that is just what Jesus said. Why?

The Garden of Gethsemane

From that Passover observance in a borrowed room, Jesus and his followers move into the night and walk to the Garden of Gethsemane. Taking his three closest disciples (Peter, James, John), he says to them:

 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” And a few moments later, he repeats, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matt. 26:36-42).

In your mind, now, take the cup of the covenant from the Passover celebration and compare it with this cup in Gethsemane. What cup is Jesus referring to here in Gethsemane? It is not the cup of the covenant that he offered his disciples (and you and me).

The cup of Gethsemane is a different cup—a cup that in his humanness Jesus wanted to avoid. And what is that cup? It is the cup of condemnation: it is the cup that is full of the sin of all mankind. In this cup is all the evil, disease, corruption, pride, selfishness and rebellion of the human race. And he recognizes that it is his Father’s will that he, Jesus, take this cup that belongs to us—that we own—and make it his.

In doing this Jesus is offering an exchange, a transaction if you will, to give us his cup of the covenant in exchange for our cup of condemnation; giving us his cup of grace and forgiveness for our cup of guilt and despair. He wants to empower us to drink of his cup of the covenant as he drinks our cup of condemnation: to exchange His salvation for my lost condition; His purity for my sinfulness; His redemption that leads to life for my rebellion that leads to death.

So this itinerant preacher named Jesus, with now hundreds of followers in Judea, makes an offer that he wants people everywhere to accept. “Take my cup of the covenant and give up your cup of condemnation” is what he offers! And perhaps in your heart of hearts you hear an echo spoken thousands of times over the centuries: Who needs it? Am I not doing just fine the way I am?

To determine the answer to these and other questions, we have to begin at the beginning. It’s like today’s astronomers who are looking at the universe of galaxies and stars–these scientists have to return to the beginning of things to find out where things are going today. They return to the Big Bang! And without knowing precisely when that was or how it happened, they must still return to that point, be it 13 or 14 or 15 billion years ago. And so, we also return to the beginning.

Next: The Garden of Eden