Doubt. Darkness. Despair.
I cry aloud to God, . . . my soul refuses to be comforted.
Let us imagine ourselves with the disciples on that Saturday after the crucifixion. We are hiding together in a home, engaged in sober, sombre conversation.
Perhaps our descendants, the disciples of the future, will call this a day of waiting. But we are not waiting. For us, there is nothing to wait for. All we know is what was lost yesterday as Jesus died on the cross. For us, it’s all over. This is a day of doubt, despair, disillusionment, devastation.
Certain details of the killing yesterday are hard to shake. Jesus, carrying his cross on the road to Golgotha, surrounded by women who were weeping for him. Jesus telling them, ‘Don’t weep for me. Weep for yourselves and your children.’ What did he mean? Was he telling them that the violence spilling out on him was only a trickle of the reservoir that waited behind the scenes to flood the whole region?
Then there was Peter . . . so full of bluster at dinner on Thursday, such a coward later that night, and invisible all of yesterday. And Judas – to think we trusted him as our treasurer! At least the women stayed true . . . the women, and John, who was entrusted with Mary’s care as her surrogate son. None of us can imagine what yesterday must have been like for Mary. She has carried so much in her heart for so long, and now this.
Then there was that strange darkness, as if the whole world were being uncreated, and there was that strange rumour about the veil in the temple being torn from top to bottom. Was that an image for God in agony, like a man tearing his clothes in fury over the injustice that was happening? Or was it a rejection of the priesthood for their complicity in the crime – a way of saying that God was done with the priests and the temple, that God would welcome people into the Holiest Place without their assistance? Or maybe it could mean that God is on the loose – that God is through with being contained in a stone structure and behind a thick curtain and wants to run free through the world like the wind. That’s a nice sentiment, but not likely from today’s vantage point. Today it best symbolises that no place is holy any more. If a murder like this can take place in the so-called Holy City, supported by the so-called holy priesthood, then holiness is nothing but a sham. It’s a torn curtain, and behind it only emptiness lies.
On top of it all, we have to come to terms with the fact that Jesus seemed to know all this was coming. True, at the last minute, just before the betrayal and arrest, he prayed that the cup might pass from him. But he had been telling us that something terrible was coming – telling us since back in Caesarea Philippi, when Peter confessed him as the liberating King and the true Leader, telling us in many ways, even in his parables.
He loved life. Yet he did not cling to it. He loved life. Yet he was not controlled by the fear of death. In the garden on Thursday night it seemed as if, to him, the fear of death was more dangerous than death itself, so he needed to deal with the fear once and for all. But look where that got him. Maybe it would have been better for him to flee back to Galilee. Lots of other people are living in communes out in the desert, waiting for Jerusalem and all it represents to crumble under its own weight. Maybe that was what we should have done. But it’s too late now.
That one Roman soldier was impressed by him, but the others – all they cared about was seeing who would win a dead man’s garment with a roll of the dice. True to form – playing games and obsessed with clothes and money to the very end!
Then came that moment when one of the rebels who was being crucified with Jesus started mocking him. When the other rebel spoke up to defend Jesus, Jesus said those kind words to him about being with him in paradise. Even then he had compassion for someone else. Even in death he was kind to a neighbour. And finally there was that haunting moment when he spoke of forgiveness . . . for those who were crucifying him, and for us all.
Normal, sane people would have said, ‘God, damn them to hell for ever for what they have done!’ But not Jesus. ‘They don’t understand what they’re doing,’ he said.
What did our leaders think they were doing? Protecting law and order? Preserving the status quo? Conserving what little peace and security we have left? Silencing a heretic or blasphemer? Shutting down a rabble-rouser and his burgeoning movement?
Right up to the last minute we dared hope that God would send in some angels, stop the whole charade and let everyone see how wrong they were and how right Jesus was. But no last-minute rescue came. Only death came. Bloody, sweaty, filthy, ugly death. Just before he died, it seemed that even he had lost faith. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ he cried. Maybe some shred of hope remained, though, because his last words were, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’
Now. Now, he is dead. Does that mean this uprising is dead too? We feel a chill as we realise that possibility. What do we do now? Do we leave, go back home, pick up our lives where we left them before all this started for us? Do we try to carry on the teaching of a . . . dead, defeated, failed and discredited leader? Do we turn cynical, disillusioned, dark, bitter? Fishing and tax collecting will seem meaningless compared to the memories of these last three years. But that’s all we have left . . . fishing, tax collecting, and memories. The adventure of Jesus is dead and done.
Maybe we have all been fools. Maybe Pontius Pilate was right when he told Jesus that truth didn’t matter, only power matters – the power of swords and spears, chariots and crosses, whips and nails. Or maybe the Sadducees and their rich friends in Jerusalem are right: life is short, and then you die, so amass all the money you can, by any means you can. And while you can, eat the best food and drink the best wine, because that’s all there is.
Wine. That brings us back to Thursday night, there around the table. ‘Remember me. Remember me. I will not eat of this until . . .’ Until?
Did Jesus really believe that death wasn’t the last word? Did he really believe that there was any hope of . . .
That’s too much to believe today. Today we sink in our doubt. Today we drown in our despair. Today we are pulled down, down, down in our pain and disappointment. Today we allow ourselves to question everything about the story we have been told.
Creation? Maybe God made this world, or maybe it’s all a cruel, meaningless joke.
Crisis? Maybe violence and hate are just the way of the world. Maybe they’re not an intrusion or anomaly; maybe they’re the way things are and will always, always be.
Calling? Forget about being blessed to be a blessing. Today we lie low and nurse our wounds. It is a dangerous world out there. We would be wise to stay inside and lock all doors.
Captivity? Who cares if Moses succeeded in getting our ancestors out of slavery in Egypt? Jesus failed, and there’s no Moses for us now. We’re still captives, worse off than we were before that crazy Galilean came and raised our hopes.
Conquest? If the most violent win and the non-violent are killed, what kind of world is it?
Conversation? Today it seems that the sceptics and doubters were right. There’s nothing to say except, ‘Vanity of vanities. All is vanity!’ Today’s lament feels like the only sure truth in all the sacred Scriptures!
Christ? What Christ? He lies in a grave, cold and dead, and with him all our hopes for a better way to be alive. Let the women prepare to embalm his corpse, if they can find it. Probably the Romans tore it to pieces and fed the fragments to the dogs.
Meditate & Contemplate
1. What one thought or idea from today’s lesson especially intrigued, provoked, disturbed, challenged, encouraged, warmed, warned, helped or surprised you?
2. Share a story about a time when you felt deep despair or disillusionment.
3. How do you respond to this opportunity to express your doubts so freely and honestly?
4. For children: What was a really sad or scary time in your life?
5. Activate: Today, take some time to allow yourself to feel emptiness, doubt, disappointment and fear, and don’t try to explain them away. But keep open to the possibility that God is bigger than your biggest fear, disillusionment or sorrow.
6. Meditate: Hear Jesus crying, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ And allow the parts of your own heart that feel forsaken to find a voice with Jesus.