Have you ever imagined Jesus next to you? Like really sitting right next to you? For me this sometimes seems like a stretch. He is invisible – or at least I can’t see him.
And then the stretch rips as I experience losses in my life. I am left empty, alone and bitter.
It feels like God is distant, a God who takes away joy.
And when Easter rolls around and I hear about a God who is risen and alive, I’m tempted to think, I’ll just take another yellow Peep. I’ve heard the Resurrection story so many times that it suffers from presentation fatigue. Surely it belongs to yester-year, to fairy tales. A pastor shouts, “He is risen!” and I mumble, “He is risen indeed.” I feign excitement and am bitter that the Resurrection seems so far away. The truth that Jesus is alive doesn’t appear to afford me hope.
I don’t feel free to imagine a God with me and for me.
To think that the Resurrection applies to me, today, right now, seems audacious. I’m tempted to view it as a mind game I should trick myself into believing.
But the Resurrection is no game. It came in real time. A few days prior to the Resurrection, Jesus was tortured and executed. What Jesus suffered physically doesn’t hold a candle to His spirit’s suffering. What whispered lies did He hear? What was His agony when He cried, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me”?
He was destroyed for me and people like me. Jesus’ last breath was, “It is finished.” The temple curtain ripped top to bottom and the door opened wide for me to come to God. But I feel what the disciples must have felt, hiding behind locked doors like shaken-up prisoners, frozen by fear.
They needed a risen God, not just a God who died for them.
Years ago, I yearned for this God of the Resurrection, yet I suspected He was aloof. I hungered for freedom to imagine a God with me and for me. During those years, one of my favorite places to wrestle with God was in the mountains of Vancouver, Canada. Growing up, I wasn’t an outdoorsman. I grumped on hikes, driving my parents crazy, but the sport of mountain biking drew me outside.
During one of my bike rides on Mt. Seymour, I paused on a little, wooden, rail-less bridge over a creek. I’d ridden over the bridge dozens of times before, but I hadn’t stopped. So, leaning my bike against a boulder, I took off my helmet and gloves, plopped down and dangled my legs over the creek.
I looked around. Rays of sunshine broke through gigantic Douglas firs, swirling in fog and dancing on ferns, moss and mulch. Clear water played beneath my feet – pooling, bubbling and gently tumbling over rocks. Sunlight glowed through water, illuminating colors of rocks on the creek bottom. My heart grew warm and tender. I felt strength.
And I wept. The God I’d envisioned was smaller than this God of the woods, who created all this for me to play in. I felt God with me at that creek. I was drawn closer to the reality of the Resurrection.
I experienced Jesus as alive, and I dared to imagine God with me and for me.
Imagination, even imagining reality, is a personal thing, but Jesus wants us to experience Him. Imagining Him, I notice the joy in Jesus’ eyes when He looks at me. He is far from being a detached, blond-haired guy who hovers around. He walks carefree. Jesus is earthy, He is engaging and He likes me.
Jesus is family to me, and I am His family. As I feel this, I am free to take His hand and pass through the torn curtain into Father’s house. There is Father, arms spread, all smiles and dancing eyes.
Yet life happens and I grow tired. What’s the resurrected Jesus up to? How come I still need coffee, escape, TV and addictions? Perhaps I don’t believe enough?
No, the Resurrection isn’t an abstract philosophy. Jesus lives in me, always working whether I believe Him or not. Perhaps He works more in times when I assume He isn’t, or can’t. But feelings are vital, and Jesus hopes I’ll feel Him with me. His hope is for His brothers and sisters. He went to the cross – crossed through His Father’s wrath – with this hope.
The Resurrection doesn’t pull me out of the world. God knows that I continue to struggle with lies, lack of belief and sin. So why does He allow it? Maybe it’s so I may dare to hope that He is with me.
And the risen Jesus assures me that the same power that God used to raise Christ is re-creating me.
Easter is an invitation to hope, that, way beyond my wildest dreams or imaginings, God is more for me, God is more powerful to rescue and renew me, God is more capable to do for me what I think impossible, God is more passionate for me to experience His love, God is more creatively at work in me than I’ll ever understand, God is more joyful and pleased with me than I’ll ever get, and God is totally satisfied in me.
Because Jesus lives, I am free to imagine God with me and for me.
This Easter, try something new: Imagine Jesus sitting beside you. Does he like you? If you have trouble, think of someone you know who really likes you. Now imagine Jesus. This is not idolatry or fanciful thinking; it’s daring to consider reality – Jesus, risen and with you.
writes for Cru's publications as a missionary journalist. He earned a master’s degree in Christian studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. Philip balances family life along with bike riding, drawing and whittling toy cars. Contact him at Philip.Long@cru.org.
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