Recapturing the wonder at Easter

One of the most striking elements in the accounts of Jesus’ early ministry in the first half of all four gospels is the reaction of onlookers, both the crowds and the disciples—they were ‘amazed’. The gospel writers use three different terms for this reaction, as if building into a crescendo of wonder and bewilderment. The first reaction is described using thaumazo, meaning to marvel at something spectacular, much as you might feel your breath taken away at an impressive view. The second, ekplesso, is connected to the verb ‘to strike’ someone physically, and has the sense of completely overwhelming someone with astonishment, to have almost a physical sense of the extraordinary nature of what has happened. Some ETs rendered it as ‘completely astounded’. The third word is existemi, and is a compound from istemi, meaning to establish something firmly or (reflexively) to stand. The sense here is of being completely knocked over, to have one’s preconceptions undone; one dictionary describes the sense as ‘to be so completely astonished as to almost fail to comprehend what one has experienced.’ It sometimes even has the sense of to be ‘beside oneself’, in the sense of being quite out of one’s mind. These are the reactions to Jesus’ ministry and teaching—but continue to mark the ministry and teaching of the apostles (Acts 2.7, 2.12, 7.31, 8.9, 8.11, 13.12).

But there are two things that are notable about this language. The first is that it is mostly attached to Jesus’ early ministry, and there is a gear shift from the spectacular to the sober as we move into the accounts of what we call Holy Week and Jesus’ Passion, the events leading to his crucifixion and resurrection. The second is the amount of focus that the gospels give to these events—almost half of John’s gospel, and a good quarter to a third of the synoptics. Even Luke, who gives less space proportionately to the final events in Jerusalem, actually shapes the middle third of his gospel around it, but signalling Jesus heading to Jerusalem from Luke 9.51. Although the language of ‘wonder’ and ‘amazement’ is mostly absent from these events, the gospels are surely building on that earlier foundation of astonishment, and that is confirmed by the bewildered reaction of the disciples to all the events in each gospel.

So how do we recapture this sense of wonder, of amazement, this Easter time? I was helped to do this by a short meditation written by Simon Ponsonby, on the staff of St Aldate’s, Oxford, which from a sermon was made into a simple audio-visual. Simon was kind enough to share with me a slightly revised transcript. I hope you enjoy it, and that as we enter this Holy Week it helps you reconnect with the wonder of all that Jesus has achieved for us in his cross, resurrection, ascension and sending of the Spirit.


Jesus is Amazing

Consider these things:
He reigned divine in unapproachable light and incomparable glory
He created all things and kept them going by his powerful word
He was endlessly worshipped and adored by myriad upon myriad of angels
He overflowed in restless love and created humans in his image to love on
He created a paradise and gave himself to man in garden of delights
He gave us free will so that we might love him back in freedom
He did not turn away when we turned away
He kept advancing toward us
He covered our shame
He excluded them from the garden and went forward with them
He never gave up on us, never rejected us, never stopped loving us

He revealed himself in creation and conscience, in words & wonders
He chased us through the corridors and contours of history
He chose his servant Israel to reveal his glory to the world
He graced us with sacrifice and law so we could stand before him
He prophesied & prepared and planned his particular coming in person
He is amazing

He wed himself to human flesh in virgin’s womb –
He took upon himself our very nature so he might give his nature to us
He dwelt among us, one of us, and drank the earthly cup to its lees
And aged thirty, he left obscurity, and began his public ministry
And he spoke as no man ever spoke before
And people who heard him were amazed and some afraid & some angry
And he called people to leave all and follow him …
And he said he was bringing the kingdom of God
And he showed us he was the king of the kingdom
And he showed us that his was a kind kingdom
And he showed us his was a powerful kingdom
And he gave us the keys of the kingdom

And he forgave the sins of the adulterous woman and cripple who walked
And he tenderly touched the leper and healed their skin and removed shame
And he bent double with compassion at the suffering he saw in others
And he raised the dead boy and gave him back to his mother
And he raised the dead girl and gave her back to her father
And he raised his dead friend, and gave him back to his sisters
And he opened the eyes of the blind and he opened ears of the deaf
And he opened the prisons of the tormented
And he opened the minds of the questioning
And he opened the way for us to God
Now that is amazing

And he fed 5000 hungry pilgrims with five small loaves and two fish
And he commanded the wind and waves to obey him and they did
And he ordered the shadows to depart from troubled souls and they did
And he taught us to pray to God as Father
And he called his disciples his friends
And he had a special heart for those on the margins
And he was homeless with no-where to lay his head

And he was transfigured and revealed in all his glory
And he wept at the tomb of his friend
And he made friends with tax collectors and sinners & betrayers
And he loved the Rich young ruler who loved his money more than God
And he turned over the tables in the Temple of those who would profit from worship or prohibit prayer
And he prayed for us to be protected and loved and know God’s glory
And he gave us bread and wine to join with him and eachother
He is amazing

And he intimidated the authorities – and he provoked his enemies
And wicked men and evil spirits conspired to kill him
And he faced down the fear and embraced his destiny
And welcomed the betrayer with a kiss, and still called him friend
And scheming men sat in judgment
And they condemned and spat, and beat and nailed, and killed him
And he died a willing ransom for our sins
And he who knew no sin became sin for us
And he entered god-forsakeness for our sake
And by his stripes we are healed

And he drenched the earth with his blood, not anyone elses
And he washed us whiter than snow
And his executors said “Truly, this man was the son of God”
And they laid him in a stone cold tomb
And he descended to the depths
And he set the captives free
And he shattered the bonds of death
And he had the last word as he pushed the stone away
And he cancelled the debt of sin
And he Satisfied the justice of God
And he Redeemed us from death & hell
And he reconciled us to God
And he disarmed the demonic
And he brought us home
Isn’t he amazing?

And ascended to heaven to sit beside the Father in our stead
And he sent us his Spirit’s power to be with us forever
And he asks for nothing from us but faith and love
And he sent us out to tell others of his love
And he is praying for us – right now
And he is coming back to be with us
And he will judge the living and the dead
And he will wipe away all our tears, and heal our wounded years and drive away our fears
And he will fully finally vanquish all evil
And he will make all things right

Meanwhile he’s still healing, still cleansing, still delivering, still inviting, still transforming – still for us.

And today 2 billion follow him – and many millions suffer for faith
And one day the whole earth will be covered with his glory
And he is called Jesus which means God  saves us
And he is The Lord – God over us
And he is Emmanuel, God who is here for us

Yes, he is amazing

Albert Einstein said“I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrase-mongers, however artful

I’m so conscious of that as I’ve written these thoughts—

How can we capture Niagara falls in a tea-cup? We can’t…

How can we convey the glory of God in Christ Jesus in words? We can’t…

We’re left with aching jaws in wonder, in amazement, and in wonderment.

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4 thoughts on “Recapturing the wonder at Easter”

  1. Amen to that.

    Reminded me of ‘The Jesus Library’ from the 1980s. Enumerating the sheer number of the separate ways in which Jesus is supreme (and – more than supreme – reorienting, so that what he brings is to a large extent not anything that we could have specified or requested on the basis of first principles: it’s his own, far better, agenda) is mindblowing.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this, which inspired me to do something along these lines in our Easter service yesterday. (I wrote it in blank verse, enabling me to memorise it – which also seemed to help people to connect with it.)


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