A day of waiting. The day before the resurrection. Except Jesus’ friends didn’t know they were waiting. They didn’t know resurrection was just around the corner. They only knew devastation. Grief. Bewilderment. They had given their lives to follow the Messiah and now He was dead. Logic shouted that they had been wrong. Jesus wasn’t God. How could God allow Himself to be stripped naked and suffer an excruciating, shameful death? Would they be next? Would they all be crucified for following Jesus?
Everything they knew, everything they believed was called into question. How were they so deceived? And what next, if they lived? Go back to fishing? They had seen miracles. How could the greatest teacher, who had spoken with authority over disease and spirits, over nature itself, the man who had called Lazarus from the grave, how could He submit Himself to those petty, jealous leaders? How had He succumbed to such an ignoble end?
Rumors trickle in about Judas, the betrayer. Dead by his own hand? How could he betray the Master? Why is Peter so uncharacteristically quiet? Did Judas know something we didn’t? Are there more betrayers among us?
Uncertainty warred in every heart. Last week they were being cheered, following behind Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Did Jesus know those same crowds would soon be shouting for His execution? He was the Messiah! He was, wasn’t He?
We thought Jesus would lead us to victory over these Roman dogs. They are unholy pagans, yet they never miss an opportunity to humiliate us. Arrogant elitists, we have suffered under their derision our entire lives. Jesus was supposed to be our Savior. Wasn’t He?
Today we face grief and uncertainty in the midst of this pandemic. We’ve been waiting indoors, but for what? What will life look like next month? Next year? Rumors of a new normal trickle in. No more handshakes as a standard greeting. Business and educational models permanently altered. A society standing six feet apart in small groups of bandana-covered faces.
Until very recently, we lived in a perpetually chaotic and fast-forward society. In rare moments of reflection, we noticed that perhaps our social relationships were beginning to suffer from our relentless pace of life. Fragmented families, shallow friendships, an unhealthy focus on productivity and wealth acquisition. A concentration on image versus substance. A growing divide between economic classes. Racial and social justice issues increased while many of us were too busy to pay attention.
Now we’re home. We’re noticing that our survival strategies may not be sustainable. We’re facing previously ignored problems within our own homes and families. Before, when we got too uncomfortable, we went to work, or shopping, or got busy on a more manageable project. But now, we can’t escape so easily. Now, the same issue crops up ten times in the same day.
We’re coming to the end of ourselves. It’s a good place to be. Because, at the end of ourselves, we notice that we’re not alone. God is there.
God was there with Jesus’ friends on that Saturday. In their bewilderment and uncertainty, in their devastation and grief, God was there.
God is here with us today. We don’t know what resurrection is awaiting us. I suspect it is a merciful reset on a society that was plunging headlong into an unsustainable divide. But no matter what we are feeling today, no matter what ugliness we are beginning to notice in our own souls, we can be confident that God is with us.
Tomorrow, a lot of churches will be preaching about Jesus’ substitutionary atonement on the cross. A cosmic trade, if you will, of our sinfulness for Jesus’ perfection. I personally believe Jesus’ submission was so much more important than a concern for personal holiness. I believe God wanted Jesus’ entire life (not just His death) to be our model. What Jesus said and did was a reflection of His relationship with God. Throughout the book of John, Jesus repeats that He only does what the Father is doing. Jesus listens.
With a few notable exceptions, most of the time in which Jesus listened to His Father, He was not listening to an audible voice. Like us, Jesus poured out His heart into seemingly empty space. He prayed and listened in silence.
One of Jesus’ favorite names for Himself was “Son of Man.” Most of us would’ve capitalized on the “Son of God” half of the equation, but Jesus delighted in His full identification with all our struggles. Jesus had family tension (how many of our siblings called us crazy?), He had relationship problems, bickering employees, financial issues, etc. He wasn’t above it all, He was in it all. Just like us.
And just like us, Jesus had a loving God to turn to when He was exhausted and when uncertainties threatened. God is with us. The Emmanuel of Christmas is just as present at Easter. God is with us.