Rick Warren has spent a year living on after the death of his son Matthew, who took his own life five days after Easter, last year. This year, the holiday has taken on an even more significant meaning for the popular author and pastor of Southern California's Saddleback Church.
In a message he said would be one of his most personal, and would focus on recovering from loss, Warren walks us through the the death, burial, and the resurrection of Jesus, and shows a model for dealing with grief and loss.
"Friday was the day of suffering and pain and agony. Saturday was the day of doubt and confusion and misery. But Easter, that Sunday, was the day of hope and joy and victory," Warren said, outlining the message.
He points out that we will face these three days over and over and over in our lifetime. Suffering is guaranteed, he said.
"When you do, you'll find yourself asking, as I did, three fundamental questions: Number one, what do I do in my days of pain? Two, how do I get through my days of doubt and confusion? Three, how do I get to my days of victory," he asked.
"I'm going to teach you what Jesus did in his worst days so you will know what to do during your worst days," he continued.
"The day Matthew gave in to despair was the worst day of my life," Warren says. "During the past year, I've often been asked, 'How have you made it? How have you kept going in your pain?' and I've often replied, 'The answer is Easter.'"
The Easter story, Warren continues, is one that can inspire hope for those dealing with even the worst grief and devastation.
"It starts on Friday, on the day of pain," he said, and continued by describing the horror and pain of Jesus' crucifiction.
"Jesus experienced the ultimate pain," he said. "but not just physical pain."
He talked about how Jesus experienced all the pain any of us might come in contact with; emotional, psychological, betrayal, shame, etc. He also said Jesus experienced a spiritual pain no other has ever dealt with.
"You feel bad after you do one thing wrong," he said. "Could you imagine carrying the guilt for every sin ever committed?"
Warren points out that before Jesus' death, he prayed in Gethsemane. Warren suggest praying like Jesus, when we are immersed in pain. Like Jesus, your pray should do three things, affirm God's power, express your desire, and offer your trust.
He modeled this pray from Jesus' prayer in the book of Mark.
"Jesus fell face down on the ground and prayed that if possible, he would not have to suffer the pain ahead of him. He prayed 'Abba! Father! I know you can do all things. And I don't want to have to drink this cup of suffering. Nevertheless, I want your will, not mine, to be done.'" Mark 14:35-36
He advocated for turning to your friends the way Jesus did, too.
"Even the son of God needed friends in his darkest time," Warren said,
To get through the days of confusion, Warren says you also need to remember God's promises.
"Never forget in the dark, what God has told you in the light," he said.
Warren became a bit choked up when he talked about not being able to see God's plan in the darkness of confusion after tragedy. He said he even doubted God's plan at times while dealing with the Loss of Matthew.
He said what helped him through the confusion and uncertainty was the promise that Joy was coming, when the Lord's plan is fulfilled, that no one can tear away.
"Now in this book, the Bible, there are over 7,000 promises to you," he said.
"And if you don't know them, you can't claim them," he continued.
He said when you don't know the Word, you stress out and worry because you, "don't know what's covered in the owner's manual."
"The ways you get through the darkness of confusion and doubt, you hang on the the promises He made to you."
He pointed to Isaiah 61:3 as a great memory verse to help remember one of God's promises.
Warren then called David Mandani to the stage, who shared his testimony about suffering from schizophrenia and suicidal ideations, and how he recovered through God's love.
"It was God's Love and power that gave me the resilience that got me through my recovery," he said. "Easter shows that with God, no situation is hopeless."
After Mandani's words, Warren went on to explain the need we have for a savior.
"The only way you can get the to day of Joy, is with a Savior," he said. "You can't resurrect yourself."
To conclude his message he taught that through Jesus' suffering, and by sharing in it, we come to know the power of resurrection.
"You need to turn to Him, and if you trust Him, you will get to the day of Joy," he said.
He said that when the disciples saw Jesus after the resurrection, it was a "game changer" because it made them fearless.
"We are not afraid anymore," Warren said. "You can kill us, but we are coming back to life."
Warren said you get to that place by relying on the power of Jesus.
"That's why it's called salvation," he said.
'Jesus said, 'I AM the resurrection and the life! Whoever believes in me, even though they die, will live again. I give them eternal life for believing in me and they will never perish!'" John 11:25-26
Warren likened our attempts to understand Heaven and the promises of eternal life to an "ant trying to understand the internet." He said death, according to the Word of God, is not the end of the story.
"You see our minds are limited here on earth, we only see three dimensions, but there are many more," he said. "You don't have the brain capacity to understand heaven, and nor do I."
He said that one day all of this will be made clear, and then we will get to experience heavenly satisfaction and joy.
"The answer to getting into the day of Joy is not a principal, it's a person," Warren said. "It's Jesus."
The Easter sermon is available online at Saddleback Church's website.