It is Holy or Black Saturday and I’m deep in a place of emotional and spiritual pain.
Last night, at Tenebrae, as I was leading the service, I saw again the shock of the disciples. I saw their need to flee, their betrayal, and the aloneness of Jesus when he faced his accusers. My tears began to flow.
That time of utter desolation for Jesus stands as final proof of undeserved love. But I bet Jesus’s closest followers did not see love. Instead they, too, felt totally betrayed by the one they had loved.
Why? Because there was no king, no kingdom, no toppling of power of the hated Roman oppressors, no reversal promised by Mary’s Magnificat, no James and John at Jesus on the right and left sides of the royal seat. There was death. Just death. Loss. Dreams gone. Confusion. Anger. Sadness. Emptiness.
Jesus was betrayed. Unquestionably. And Jesus also betrayed. Harsh words, but true, I believe. The betrayal went both ways.
This week, I had to make an extraordinarily painful decision that I’m more than sure left someone feeling totally betrayed. Possibly devastated. Certainly angry. Probably seeking revenge, for that is the normal, human response to such experience.
I’ve hardly slept. My prayer all week has been, “Please, isn’t there some other way?” I think that falls somewhere close to “let this cup pass from me.” Ultimately, I did what was right for the health of my church community. But it hurt, and that hurt will be long-lasting on all sides.
Jesus betrayed his disciples because it was necessary for the ultimate good for all of humanity. Being crowned the temporal “King of the Jews” as a political title might indeed have brought some momentary relief from oppression. However, it wouldn’t have lasted long. In that political climate, he would have been assassinated quickly, another power would have risen in his place, and his name quickly forgotten.
So he took the high road, the lonely road, the road of abandonment. Not only was he abandoned, but he also abandoned himself, in the sense of giving all, for the ultimate end.
What was that end? “The veil in the Temple was torn in half.” That barrier, that curtain, that wall that kept everyone except a select few at a distance from the Mercy Seat and the very Holy Presence of God, was ripped open and access was given to all.
And that brings me to my morning musings. As have most churches, the church I serve has special worship planned for tomorrow. Glorious music, all-church brunch, Easter Egg hunt for the children, and the joyous celebration of Holy Communion as we break bread together and commemorate Jesus’s first meal with the disciples after the Resurrection.
As I was heading out to take care of some needed errands, my way was stopped by a group of horse-back riders and a covered wagon on one of the two main streets in town. I finally realized they were from one of the local cowboy churches, presumably inviting people to Easter worship by causing a fairly large traffic jam in our small town.
Passing by the middle school, I saw a fully packed parking lot. That’s because another church holds its massive Easter egg hunt on this day. I admit I have never been able to wrap my arms around an Easter, i.e., resurrection, egg hunt on a day of sorrow and darkness, but that is my story, not theirs. This particular events includes spectacular door prizes for anyone who comes–things like bikes and high-end electronics will be distributed. The crowds fill that space every year. Presumably the hope is that they’ll come to church the next day. The church I serve sent out a mailing, made sure the website is up to date, sent out multiple e-news reminders, entered the information on the Conference website just in case someone might go there looking for a service.
All of us doing all we can to get them in the door.
All this to invite them into a religious observance that, at its core, involves the nearly impossible act of forgiveness to those who have betrayed us. Something just about no one wants to do, and not one single person does easily.
Not exactly a popular message. Far better to couch Christianity in terms of “God wants you to have your best life now! God wants to fulfill your every need! God thinks everything you do is just hunky-dory!”
Who wants to hear, “You really want the riches of the realm of heaven? Then walk in the way, the life and the truth of Jesus, lay down your lives for your enemies, forgive the unforgivable, and, above all, say, ‘Thy will be done.’”
And the crowds will walk away, saying, “Too hard. Not interested. I’ll go find a different god who doesn’t ask so much.”
But this way, the way of Jesus, is the way that leads to life, and life abundant. That’s resurrection. That is Easter. Each time we let the betrayals go, we have our own Easter morning.
Thanks be to God.