It’s Saturday. Friday’s horror is over for the disciples. But they’re struggling. Really struggling. They don’t know what to think, how to act or what to do next as the terrible reality of Jesus’ death begins to sink in. Yet what they do not comprehend – even though Jesus has told them – is that it’s not over. Indeed, it’s just about to begin. You probably can identify with them because you sometimes feel the same way. You’ve given yourself to Jesus, trusted him, tried to follow him and believe his resurrection means all those things that seem to be the end in your life – the death of a loved one, financial struggles, addiction, disease, horrible injustices and hopelessness – are not the end at all. But you still find yourself struggling with what to think, how to act or what to do next. That’s exactly when you need to cling to Saturday reality: regardless of what today seems like, Sunday’s still coming!
It’s easy to assume Jesus was unaffected by what happened on Good Friday because he was the Son of God, Savior of the World and Lord. But he was. Deeply and powerfully. He experienced the loneliness of rejection and betrayal by those he came to serve. He suffered when tortured, mocked, and nailed upon a cross. He died as difficult a death as a human being can experience. If you’re honest, it is all difficult to comprehend. Yet, even as you struggle to understand the cross, you know something took place that simply could not occur any other way. On the cross Jesus’ outstretched arms embraced the world – including you – in unconditional love. On the cross Jesus unleashed sacrificial love that was willing to go to any length to save humanity – including you – from sin, suffering, injustice and hopelessness. On the cross Jesus offered everyone – including you – the gift of transforming love that changes everything about everything forever. Indeed, the cross seems like the most unlikely way for God to save the world. Then. And now.
It’s hard to believe. And it makes no sense at all. Yet it happened. Just hours before his arrest that would lead to his crucifixion, the Savior of the world took off his clothes, picked up a basin, filled it with water and washed the feet of every one of his disciples – including the one who would betray him. He then uttered some startling words, “I have set for you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Jesus wasn’t merely referring to a ritual carried out in church. He was instructing those who love him how to live every day. Jesus’ words are a challenge. A huge challenge. Because your first instinct is to get God to help you with all the pains, hurts and struggles in your life. But Jesus says to you, “…you should do as I have done for you.” And you can. By loving like Jesus showed you. Starting right now.
Jesus knew on Wednesday what was awaiting him – betrayal, pain, humiliation, torture and death. He wasn’t looking forward to it, but he knew faithfulness to God demanded that he keep pressing forward. In today’s ‘church world’, however, it’s become far too easy to equate faithfulness with beauty, wealth, popularity, success, material goods and greatness. That’s why you need to understand in the depth of your soul that being a Jesus follower often challenges you to make difficult, often unpopular, choices. But God’s grace is present even in these most agonizing moments. Because every hard choice is an incredible opportunity to experience – maybe for the first time and maybe for the thousandth time – that the only way you can ever be truly faithful is to trust Jesus to take you by the hand, lead you step by step and help you keep moving ahead. So go ahead and do what your heart longs to do – take his hand.
My heart breaks. Once again, scores of people have been murdered and injured – this time in Brussels. Yet again we are confronted by hate that knows no limits in its willingness to unleash terror and death. And we are left dealing with the despair, fear and hopelessness that ripples around the globe and through the hearts of individuals.
I am struck by the date of the attack: Tuesday of Holy Week. On the one hand, we see terrorists who seek to control the world through the use of violence, terror and hatred, often using their faith as the mobilizing call to action. On the other hand, we remember Jesus who was preparing for his death on the cross where his arms would be painfully stretched wide open to embrace the entire world in his sacrificial love.
Sadly, though, too many Christians feel unable to impact the world at the very moment it needs Jesus’ love more than ever. We are paralyzed by self-doubt resulting from declining participation in the church, a culture that views Christianity as increasingly irrelevant and our own questions about whether our faith can actually make a difference.
Today’s horror is yet another powerful reminder that our world – and every human being in it – desperately needs the love of Jesus Christ. This is not some sort of doctrinal statement. It is simple reality. And, quite frankly, it’s time we proclaim it with all the passion we can muster. Not in some sort of politicized manner – whether that’s of the right or the left. But with the reality of God’s love that has gone all in for us in Jesus Christ.
But here’s the thing. We can’t share what we don’t have. And this is exactly why we have spent so much time talking about spiritual revival. Each one of us needs to experience Jesus’ unconditional love that loves us more than we can imagine regardless of what we think, say or do; his transformational love so passionate that he is unwilling to leave us the way we are; and his invitational love that offers an intimate relationship that draws us into his heart.
Today we mourn. Today we pray. Today we deal with the reality of terrorism. But, perhaps most importantly, today we remember that after the cross comes the resurrection.
May we live with this hope that is the most powerful reality in all creation.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.