Pastor’s Perspective – April 2020
Did anyone see this coming?
We could never have imagined what has happened. In the past month our lives have ben completely transformed. We have gone from an air of inevitable success to an atmosphere of crushing defeat. One moment our lives and our dreams seemed certain before us, and now we are hiding from the outside world. Devastated. Lost. Alone.
These words seem so modern and relevant. They describe the experience of so many Americans and people from around the world. But if you read them again, you will discover that they could also be written by the disciples in the aftermath of the Crucifixion of Jesus.
The men and women who had followed Jesus had dreams and visions. Each of them believed in Jesus. They believed that following Him would bring them success and blessing. Weeks before His death at the hands of the Israeli leadership and the Kingdom of Rome, they had been walking with Him; blissful in their now ridiculous debate concerning who would rule beside King Jesus.
They had righteous and powerful collaborators and wealthy and well-connected patrons. They knew, of course, that their time with Jesus came with a price tag. They had left behind businesses and personal concerns, but it seemed a small price to pay for the chance to be a part of history. To walk with the King. To be a part of His inner circle and see what God was doing in and through Jesus of Nazareth. Who wouldn’t have given all they had to watch the lame walk, the blind see, and the dead rise?
All of their dreams seemed so close to fruition when they arrived in Jerusalem for the confrontation with Rome. The crowds rose in thunderous applause. Rome and the leaders of the Governing Council of Jerusalem seemed toothless as they strode like giants toward the Temple of God. Then Jesus lost it. He smashed the icons and trashed the businesses that supported the work of the Temple. He undercut his base of support and offended those who were more than willing to tacitly support Jesus (as long as it did not impact their lives or businesses). All seemed lost.
In the matter of hours, Jesus went from the powerful, historic figure that commanded the wind and the waves, to a weeping man of sorrows.
The air in their camp had grown darker. Rebellion began to stir in the hearts of those who had once devoted themselves to the vision of the Messianic heir to the throne of Israel. Within days the feeling of dread was replaced by the assurance of death.
Jesus was arrested, convicted, and crucified. He was dead and now buried.
Those who had followed Him were now in hiding. The Upper Room that once hosted their last Passover, was now their prison. Instead of striding toward freedom they had fallen backward into bondage and oppression. For the first time since leaving their nets behind them, they dreamed of returning to the boats and fishing for something more certain than human beings. Fish were smelly and elusive, but they didn’t track you down and nail you to a tree.
Like the disciples, many of us feel that something terrible has occurred. We are experiencing a profound loss. A death.
Most of us never contemplated a disaster of this magnitude. People who were sure in their health are now concerned for their well-being. People who were sure in their professions and finances, are now worried about their futures. People who were looking forward to graduations, weddings, and reunions are now concerned that the celebrations that they had long prepared for might be cancelled or ignored.
The future that we had assumed now seems lost. And we wait. Trapped inside our place of safety and respite. Waiting for the darkness of death to descend. Once again waiting for death to pass over us.
Every year we tell the story. Every year as I renew my faith and intellectually walk with Jesus through the last week of His earthly life, I imagine that I am faced with the decisions of the disciples. I embrace their temptations, their fears, their aspirations. Their griefs.
I have long since dismissed trying to embrace the work of Jesus. In a distant time I could imagine myself carrying the Cross or saving the people. My vision of self was not only younger but also more self-assured and dare I say it… cocky. As young people we always carry a bit more bravado. We all imagine ourselves as the lead in the show or hitting the game winning home run. As I get older I find my fantasies diminishing. The vision of hitting the buzzer beating shot has now been reduced to a fantasy of watching the game winner from the bench in pull-away sweatpants.
My hope in myself is irreparably injured. Another ignoble death.
It took me 5o years for my confidence to erode. I have been told that this represents an enormous amount of endurance (not something that I believe was intended as a compliment). I am stubborn and head-strong, and due to those ‘gifts’ it has taken me decades to embrace the story as it was meant to be experienced. Not as an onlooker, or as the hero, but as the frightened and timid disciple. Not as a leader, but as the lost.
My trust and resilience is in large part due to my fortune. I was fortunate enough to live and thrive in a loving community in a time of advanced economic and societal growth. No one could have had more confidence in their possibilities that one who was born into my circumstances. How could I embrace the cross when everything I saw was Easter lilies and chocolate eggs?
I am of the opinion that the young who survive this moment will not have the good fortune that I inherited. Perhaps we will return to our lofty position and place of privilege, but they will not feel the sense of inevitable progress. Their armor has been pierced. It will change their way of walking.
It is fascinating to consider that the last time the West suffered this type of psychological blow was after World War I. While most of the theological writings focused on the inhumanity of the war itself, perhaps we missed the influence of the Spanish Flu epidemic. World War I began with the dream of courage and importance. We would be heroic. We were inevitable. It ended with the loss of the dream and the reality that even the brave could be cut down. Even the strongest and best of us could be lost.
But only the lost can be found. Only the dead can be raised. Only the drowning can be saved. Only the sick can be healed. Only the blind can receive sight. The strong are not in need of salvation. The living never consider resurrection. Those who dance in the light never consider the plight of those who huddle in the darkness. We can never be ready for the salvation that God has given to us in Jesus Christ, until we walk through some dangerous and dark valleys.
I am looking forward to Easter this year. It will be an Easter like none before. It will not be recognized with egg hunts or matching outfits for the kids. It will not be celebrated with a communal breakfast or a rousing worship service. This year we will all celebrate it as the early disciples did.
We will be home. Alone. In the dark. Afraid of the in breaking of death itself.
Then we will understand. Then we will get a sense of what resurrection might feel like. How it might impact and resound in our lives. Then we will understand what it means to run to through the graveyard only to find the stone that had been rolled away. Maybe then we will all feel that which has, to this time, only been heard.
To those in the darkness God has brought a great light. The dead are risen. Salvation has come. Yes, even to us. Yes, even to me.
He has risen! He has risen, indeed!