I looked at the readout on the gas pump and did some quick calculations in my head. I’d borrowed the car from a friend. It was a 20-year-old, black Buick. One gallon of gas could probably only push the eight-foot hood about fifteen miles. It was a little over thirty miles to get back home. I had about $7 in my bank account and none in my wallet. I slid my debit card in the reader and pumped two gallons into the tank. That should get me back. Barely.
I was out in the suburbs of Chicago, searching for an Anglican church I’d been to a couple times before, but I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere before noticing the needle on E. This was before the age of smart phones and GPS. I said a quick prayer that I’d find my way without a gas draining detour.
It was Good Friday, and I wanted to make it in time for the four-hour long Easter Vigil service. The Church of the Resurrection lived up to their name, and both the Easter Vigil and Sunrise services would pack out. If I didn’t get there soon, it was going to be hard to find a seat.
I made it in the door in time.
On the way back to my dorm room in the middle of the night, I felt a weird sense of freedom—even as I listened to the drone of the engine exploding my last pennies. As a broke college student, I had no income, but my bills were paid and it was only a few months to graduation. I had no money left to lose, but I was going to make it even if I was going to miss some meals. I’d struggled the past five years to pay my way through college working through my spring and summer breaks. The math had always been bleak. But the bills always got paid, and I was finally on my homeward stretch.
It was a dark night a couple of thousand years before when Christ lay in the tomb. The disciples were scattered and confused. They didn’t understand what had just happened. Their journey with Jesus hadn’t just ended with a stranded car on the highway out of gas and out of money. The car had blown up. Jesus was dead. Their Messiah was dead. They didn’t really know where home was or if they’d ever get there without him. They didn’t have assurance of a not quite empty tank of gas and a known road home.
Another Easter Morning
Seven years later, I pulled into another church parking lot on Easter morning. This was a much smaller church, located between some corn fields and a tiny town two hours outside Chicago. I entered the church, wondering if there would be any new faces that morning but knowing it wouldn’t be hard to find a seat.
We didn’t have to take attendance each Sunday. You could count with a glance. If my three-year-old son wanted to count, he could usually get everyone on two hands. But that day, he’d have to take off his socks. A young family loosely associated with the church had shown up. And one of our member’s husband had come. He regularly showed up to fix things around the church, but he wasn’t a believer and didn’t appear too comfortable there on Sunday morning. But he’d come this Sunday to humor his wife. The uncle of the only kid in the church, other than my two, came too. They lived next door to the church, and the boy always came, but always unaccompanied till that day.
I preached out of Romans that morning. It wasn’t the traditional Easter morning text, but it laid out the gospel and clearly showed the true purpose of Easter. I didn’t know if these new faces would return. I didn’t know if we’d be holding service much longer.
I’d only been there a few months as an interim pastor. I lived an hour and a half away, and they couldn’t pay me enough for me to quit my day job and move into the parsonage. I wondered if they’d ever find a pastor. The numbers didn’t add up.
Saturday Mourning Precedes Easter Morning
That other Easter morning the numbers didn’t add up either. The crowds of thousands had disappeared, and eleven disciples didn’t seem enough to launch a movement. Peter, their remaining leader, was cowering away, weeping bitterly in the night mourning a broken vow. It was a dark two nights, before the Easter sunrise.
But the numbers didn’t matter. Looking back, we’d known that. We know the rest of the story, and how a dozen, minus one, quickly turned into thousands and countless millions today.
But let’s not rush past the pre-dawn hours of Easter. Perhaps this year, you should wake up extra early, before the sunrise service, before the celebration of our risen Lord, to remember the long Saturday and those dark nights when Jesus lay in the grave.
In the grave, He was made lower than the angels—not because He couldn’t get up, but because that is part of death. He truly died for all. Saturday mourning had to come before Easter morning. He, the Son of God, suffered death as a human to become our High Priest. He suffered gravely to help us greatly (Hebrews 2).
So our journey is sure, even when we seem caught in the uncertainty and the doubt of when things haven’t worked out like expected and the numbers don’t add up. We’ll make it home, even if all seems hopelessly lost with no reserves to fill in.