It has been two years since I have served a church in a full time capacity as pastor. Two years since any official duties at Easter. A lot has changed for me in the last two years. A lot is still changing. I’ve changed too. For the better, I hope. I’ve gotten older, that’s for sure. Hopefully, wiser. Still foolish in many ways. It’s never one thing or another though, really, is it. The world has changed too. Scarier. Complete chaos by all news accounts. The Presidential campaign makes me feel like I’m in an episode of The Twilight Zone. (Imagine what they would do with that show now!)
This morning as I listen to the thunder and rain of a predicted weather front I wonder at the sounds. I notice a stark contrast between the chaotic force of the thunder overhead and the gentleness of the rain against the window. One sound is threatening. The other is reassuring. Both of the same weather pattern.
I think of the journey to Easter and all it holds within it. The triumphant cheering of Palm Sunday. The intimacy of a dinner party where Jesus’ feet are anointed in a most beautiful foreshadowing of his sacrifice to come. This beauty comes in the midst of the grumbling criticism by some at such an extravagant show of adoration. I think of the bittersweet tenderness of another dinner party where Jesus lifts up the cup of encouragement and reassurance to the motley crew he loved so dearly, all the while knowing of Judas’ brutal betrayal at hand. What a contrast of Jesus’ clear understanding of his purpose in life and Judas’ blind misunderstanding of his.
I think of Jesus in the garden, agonizing over what was to come. the calm beauty of the evening holding the stormy torment of his heart. Oh, some may say he was never afraid. Him, being God and all. But, if he was also fully human he would be terrified at what he knew was coming. We humans are created with a strong will to live. To willingly let go of it is counter to every instinct we have been given. So, yes, there was struggle and conflict in the garden.
I think of Jesus’ arrest. And Peter’s brash show of bravado in cutting off the ear of the perceived foe. This aggressive engagement of the moment stands in sharp contrast to his sleepy stupor just minutes before when he was asked to stay awake and stand watch. Although, he now stands fully awake and ready for battle, he only proves his continued unconsciousness to the message of Jesus. To love the neighbor before him. No matter what. And, although he is ready to maim, Jesus continues to heal, even the ear of one who reaches to him in harm.
I think of that fateful Friday afternoon. Jesus, stripped, beaten, humiliated and hung on a cross to die. He should’ve been terrified. Instead he is full of resolve. He should be filled with contempt and condemnation for the injustice done to him. Instead he assures forgiveness to a criminal. He should saved his own life. Instead, he gives it freely.
As the thunder outside subsides I’m struck by the deafening quiet it leaves behind. I think about the excruciating silence that held the followers of Jesus in the aftermath of his death. I remember the times I have experienced such grief in my own losses of loved ones. It is puzzling, yet comforting, to me how strong one’s presence remains in those first few hours of their departure.
I think about the light of the morning sun as it shines down on Mary that bright Easter morning, as she, embraced by the darkness of grief, makes her way to the tomb of Jesus. The warmth of the morning a stark contrast to the coldness of her heart. She thought she was approaching death, but she was met with the wonder of life. She thought this was the end, but it was really just the beginning.
Jesus’ death on the cross did not eradicate death. It puts death in it’s proper place. As the threshold to new beginnings. That is the paradox of Easter for me. Jesus said that in order to have life we must give our lives. I’m called to death every day. Death of my selfish desires. Death of my worries. Death of my negativity. I’m called to allow those things in me to die so that I can truly live the new beginnings of joy that have been prepared for me. This is the only way I can be a vessel of life to others. I can’t receive new life if I am clinging to the old. Jesus told Mary at the tomb not to hold on to him. This was a new beginning she would miss if she clung too tightly to the past. It’s counter intuitive, but it’s the only way through.
Jesus stands in the midst with us. All the chaos. All the noise. All the pain. When we look around us and see hatred, destruction, and death, what the cross of Christ assures us of is there is a Love that holds us, strengthens us, empowers us, enlivens us in the midst of all the thunder, all the chaos, all the uncertainty of life. What we see in the moment is not all that is going on. What we may feel in the moment, the fear, the anger, the shame, does not define who we really are. What we see as death in the moment is undergirded by Life that takes us through each and every moment. Because there is a Love that holds us through it all there can be peace in the midst of war, hope in the midst of despair, beauty in the midst of destruction, love in the midsts of hatred, and life in the midst of death.
Jesus embodied this Love. And, we are called to do the same. What was thought to be the end was really the new beginning.
Something to chew on…