I get to visit the US several times a year, to San Francisco and points beyond, for meetings, for family visits, to preach and teach, and anything else I can make into such a trip. So this was not exceptional in any regard. I do remember my first visit to Australia, and that trip was exceptional.
The first time was 1995. Patty, my wife, was with me on the journey from Washington, DC. It was a cold January, so I didn’t mind going to a summer scene in the Southern Hemisphere. We crossed the date line and lost a day, guaranteed by the people who knew that we would get it back soon enough, on return. We stayed in a modest motel in Melbourne and then stayed with new friends in their modest home in Sydney. We had no real money to spend, and I wasn’t even sure if we should raise funds from any contacts we made during those ten days.
We handed out Gospel tracts on the streets, met up with Jewish and Gentile believers, and even conducted a visit or two with Jewish enquirers in their homes. Some churches were very welcoming and others were keen to conduct an inquiry into who we were and what we intended. I had no intention of anything beyond a survey of the country, as I had never been on such a mission before. Yes, we had opened a new branch in NYC in 1980 and again in Washington, DC in 1989, but this was a foreign place, and took 24 hours to get there.
That final day was eventful as we prayed with a Gentile woman to get saved, right on the streets in Sydney, under the statue of Queen Victoria. We considered that, along with many other factors to be God’s nod, an affirmation of His intention, and along with the almost Macedonian call of others in ministry, particularly Jewish ministry, we felt the mission to Jews conducted by Jews for Jesus would be welcomed in Australia.
The final day was 2 February 1995, when Patty and I walked along the beach early morning, then evangelized in the City, had a bit of final shopping for mementos, and we got to the airport in Sydney for the midafternoon flight. After the short 14-hour flight we landed in Los Angeles, at 7 a.m., literally before we left, on 2 February 1995. That date line thing, aha! Whoever established the end of the day by charting on maps in a somewhat vertical line the International Date Line, caused us to experience that day a second time. For Americans this is especially ironic, as six months before we took that trip, the movie “Ground Hog’s Day” starring Bill Murray had opened. That movie featured a newsman awakening every day for an undisclosed amount of months, on the same day, Ground Hog’s Day, which is 2 February. Irony indeed!
Over the years we have experienced similar situations. One time we missed our anniversary (1 January) because of the westward flying from the US; another time I missed Good Friday for the same reason. But this year, I ended my tour on Friday, flew on Saturday and arrived today, on Monday. What was 27 March? Easter 2016. Maybe that’s why the flight was so light on passengers. But wait, I missed Easter.
Not that I grew up knowing anything about Easter. I was raised an Orthodox Jew in the middle of the US, in Kansas City. And the holiday looked like a spring festival with pastel flowers, eggs, chocolate bunnies, and not much else. I didn’t know the story of Yeshua; I hadn’t heard about a cross, an empty tomb, or anything associated with the religious aspect of the holiday. As Jews we had an egg in our Passover celebration, and a lamb shank bone, but nothing painted, and certainly nothing as silly as chocolate bunnies.
The stories of Passover and Easter actually dovetail. Passover marks the annual retelling of the story of the Jewish people in our exodus from Egypt, after being enslaved for 400 years. Moses led us out, after a year of ten plagues hit the Egyptian people, and finally we were allowed to leave. The Red Sea split and we began a 40-year wilderness adventure, the likes of which no Survivor show can depict.
Easter, according to the story, is the culmination of hopes held, then hopes dashed and finally restored. It’s the story of a Jewish carpenter named Yeshua (some call him Jesus) who saw the slavery of the Jewish people to Rome and to a greater evil, sin. He celebrated Passover with his followers, then was captured, tried, and sentenced to death within 12 hours. His crucifixion is a well-known icon of art throughout the world. His burial was legend, with a Roman seal and armed guards to guarantee no one would disturb the scene. He rose from the grave, and was seen alive (and they ate with him) by upwards of 500 Jewish people. That resurrection is the real historical event, which is celebrated on Easter. No eggs, no chocolate, no bunnies. (BTW, bunnies don’t lay eggs)
So this year I didn’t get to celebrate Easter on the day.
And maybe by default many Kmart shoppers didn’t get to celebrate it either.
And maybe you didn’t even know what it was about. But now you do. And now if you want, you may celebrate it as well. Don’t let another year go by with your missing out on the celebration. It’s the hope of every man. It’s the hope of the Jewish people. It’s the hope of all people. Jesus is the real story. Let 2016 be the first year you get to celebrate Easter. Not with eggs or bunnies. But in memory of this Jewish carpenter who died a horrible death and whom God raised from the dead. He conquered death. He conquered sin. Faith is the victory. Let’s celebrate. He is risen; He is risen indeed!