There were no aisles in this grocery market, only throngs of people moving in every direction. Brightly lit stalls offered every conceivable food, plus a few Marcia had never imagined. Unable to read the package labels or prices, she bought noodles and a chocolate pastry for dessert. Tomorrow was Easter, and she was looking forward to a quiet dinner before her favorite holiday.
But when Marcia served dinner, she realized her mistake. The pastry was filled with black bean paste, not chocolate. Since arriving in Japan three weeks earlier with her husband on a temporary job assignment, she had made many similar mistakes. This was why she was so excited about Easter morning. Marcia had learned that a Christian home church met in a nearby apartment. How wonderful it would be to worship with fellow believers, to do something she recognized. So, on Easter morning, she put on her best pastel dress and packed a basket with some favorite candies shipped from America.
From the outside, the building looked like any other. But once inside, Marcia paused to remove her shoes and studied the differences. The apartment was partitioned by sliding doors of white paper and wood. There was no art on the walls. Marcia noticed the lack of color, until she stepped into the main room. All the other women were dressed in bright red, every shade from cherry to garnet. And no one wanted the candy—oddly, they preferred soup at that hour. Thankfully, one of the women present spoke English. They wore red, she explained, to honor the sacrifice of Jesus’ blood and His triumph over death. Red was a color highly esteemed in their culture, one that symbolized happiness and respect.
Jesus came to fulfill the law, but in a most unexpected way.
The other women were equally puzzled by Marcia. Why did she wear soft, quiet colors on this important morning? And why serve candy for breakfast? Marcia had no explanations; it was all part of a traditional Easter back home. She felt awkward—until a woman grasped her hand to pray. When those believers in that tiny home church held hands and prayed in this strange yet beautiful language, Marcia knew she was both far from home and surrounded by family. For the first time in weeks, she felt joy.
Marcia experienced being an outsider in her own faith. What she didn’t realize was that in Japan, anyone who believes in Jesus is an outsider. Roughly one percent of the population is Christian. Although a secular version of Christmas is a major holiday in Japan, Easter is not celebrated. It isn’t a holiday that translates easily into a non-Christian culture. There’s too much red at the center of it.
To share a tradition with someone else feels very much like sharing the holiday, but there is a difference. Traditions can exclude people; love never does. Jesus came for the outsider, for sinners who couldn’t achieve the Pharisees’ “righteousness.” He came for the sick and the weak and the wounded. And to do this, Jesus broke with His own Jewish traditions many times. He ate with the worst of sinners and had harsh words for the most religious of men. He allowed women to approach Him freely and offered healing to those with damaged bodies and souls. Jesus didn’t even choose the best and brightest men to be His disciples. He came to fulfill the law, but in a most unexpected way.
After a brutal crucifixion, the Son of God rose from death inside a dark tomb. Accompanied by two angels, Jesus neatly folded His grave clothes and stepped out into the gentle dawn. His first order of business was to take a walk. He wanted to see His friends; He had some good news for them. That morning challenged everything humankind believed about sin and salvation, life and death. Jesus created space between what’s expected and what God is willing to do.
Like Marcia, some of us are overwhelmed and frightened right now by a new situation or a new season of life. We do not have the comfort of the familiar. We may feel like an outsider. But the miracle of Easter is that nothing can keep the Lord from coming to us. No matter where you are or what you are facing, because God is your Father, love will always find you.