Darkest Before the Dawn

he is risenThe pinnacle of our church year is Easter Sunday when after Lenten days of fasting we can shout, “Alleluia, He is Risen” and truly celebrate the joy of Jesus’ great sacrifice.  For those of us today, though, it’s all hind sight.  We already knew what was coming, we read the end of the book. Think for a moment what it was like for the disciples and the rest of those who Jesus loved (namely the women) between the last supper and that fate filled Sunday morning.  How dark, sad and lonely must their thoughts have been.  They weren’t waiting with bated breath outside the tomb for Jesus resurrection, no, they were hiding in secret, in a room, afraid for their lives.

I’ve always wondered about those dark three days, when their faith was put to the ultimate test. Did they suffer the doubt and shame of not saving their friend, or was it anger that he wouldn’t save himself, or perhaps grief that what they had believed for three years was a pipe dream, a fairy tale?  When it came right down to it did they really believe that he accomplished what he came for?  All those months of witnessing miracles and spell binding sermons and now this?  It must have been torture for them, this dark night of the soul, especially since they actually lived with Jesus every day and believed completely that he was the Son of God.  But what about the rest of us?  We have the easy part, we get to celebrate the resurrection year after year. And why I must extend this great challenge: how are we any better than those men hiding in a secret room?

While I don’t want to take away the power of the resurrection, I am amazed at how many are stuck in the darkness.  He is risen, the veil of the sanctuary torn, the dead raised, and the gates of hell broken, all as our heritage tells us and yet more than 2000 years later we still live in fear.  We, who know the end of the story and filled with His grace still persist in living lives where judgement reigns in the forefront rather than love, and condemnation rather than celebration.  Remember these words from Matthew when he spoke to his disciples: “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

He is with us.  I truly believe that if everyone really believed those words, we would embrace everyone with love, because He is with us in every action.  That which you do to the least of them, you do to me, Jesus said that, not me.  You can’t make disciples of nations by condemning them…that is the darkness of the room talking, not one who has brought us into the light of His new day.

Agony

agony

I’ve been working on a dramatic piece called “Stations” about Jesus’ final walk to Golgotha for a while now, and it’s had many incarnations.  Lately, though, I keep coming back to the agony Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane before the culmination of his great act of sacrifice.  How deep was the agony he felt that it would cause him to sweat blood, to panic so deeply, that even after all his miracles and raising Lazarus from the dead, he asked his Father to release him at the last-minute?  So, as I often do, I prayed to God for some insight into those few hours underneath the tree…and this is what came to mind.  Music is part of my process, and this piece in particular from Eric Whitacre peeled away much of what I was afraid to see, invoking such grief and deep emotion that I was almost too embarrassed to write this post.  So I add it as a context, while you read that hopefully it will add a dimension to my words.

I see a solitary figure under a tree, with sleeping men laying a short distance away.  His loneliness is palpable and He prays out to His Father for assistance and comfort.  An angel appears and quietly sits beside him, and I draw closer.  The solemnity of the angels’ presence is palpable, his tone somber as he speaks to Jesus.  What transpires between them is an understanding of what is about to happen in the next few days, that agony has begun.  The angel shows Jesus the sinfulness of humanity throughout the ages and his fury grows blinding hot, more than he ever did at the scribes and pharisees, or any other behavior we have witnessed thus far.  In his rage, he turns away and tells the angel that perhaps humanity is beyond saving.  The thought of sacrificing himself for such an abomination is unbearable to him.  The angel than takes his hand and shows him the victims of that sin…the beauty of God’s creation destroyed in the darkest and most heinous fashion and then racked in anger and despair he begs his Father to release him from drinking from this cup.

I try to empathize with Jesus, and though I haven’t seen all that the angel has shown him, I hope I have seen enough evil in my life to maybe create a speck of understanding.  Who would die for them?  The angel then turns to me and brings Jesus attention to where I am standing.  Up until this point I am an unknown presence, a simple voyeur watching a play.  As I am drawn in, fear wells up inside, I am exposed…in all my fallibility it is me that Jesus sees now in his deepest agony.  The angel points to me and says…”It is for her that you must bear this burden, so that she might live.”  Jesus turns to me and immediately the anguish in his face dissipates for a moment and he sees me, purely, flaws and all.  I am no longer an insignificant one of millions who is graced because of something that happened 2000 years ago.  I am removed from that safety of history and stand right before him, weak and pathetic.  Than angel wants me to be the reason that he follows through with what will be the most painful, demoralizing and fearful moments of his life.  Completely shocked and appalled and before I can run away to avoid the guilt of being the reason for his pain he turns to heaven and says “Father, let your will be done.”  He turns to me resolved and with such eyes of love that I fall on the ground weeping.  I scream at him, “Don’t make me the reason, I am not worth going through what you about to go through.”  I fall with the weight of this realization clear in my heart to the ground…the phrase “He died for my sins” blaring into my head, and I am unable in that raw moment to safely intellectualized anything.  My soul in broken, I see that now.

Jesus pulls me up, and the moment I look into his eyes, my burden is lifted and the weight of my sins are gone.  In an instant, I know that it wasn’t only just my face that he saw but every face seen singularly,  yet all at once.  His appearance becomes a bit heavier and darker and I understand the transference of my sins and all whose eyes he gazed upon has begun.  The aura of his purity is blackened…I know now that it will be easy for him to be handed over for crucifixion.  The blackness of our sin becomes like a cloak…hiding his true nature by reflecting back to those that gaze upon him their own sinfulness.  Magnified by a millennium of sin I see now how they can hate him.  Every Good Friday service, at the part in the story when the crowd screams “crucify him!”,  I am certain I would have stood up to the crowd and fought for him.  Now, seeing him with the weight of that darkness, I don’t think I could.  It is so easy to hate the sin worn by others, when we can’t see it in ourselves.

My once broken soul has been made whole by his sacrifice, the cloak of my sin is gone.  The light of his grace can shine unfettered and bring healing to the world.  It can shine through me if I choose to be his instrument of love and peace.  And as often as I may fail, this visit to the garden will inspire me to keep trying…every day until I die.