my holy week prayer.
This morning, as I face myself in the light of Your Word, I tremble at the truth of my own sin and failings. And I rejoice ever more at Your great grace and the stark, broken beauty of Your sacrifice. The ultimate sacrifice. I wonder at myself and take the liberty to place myself in the pages of the gospels wondering what kind of follower I would have been then, as I followed Your road to our redemption. And I wonder at the kind of follower I am now and whether I really live as one redeemed.
I see myself standing next to those in the crowd standing outside Jerusalem. I hold my palm branch high and excitedly mimic the crowd yelling ‘Hosanna!’ We quickly lay our coats on the ground to show our devotion to You, hailing You as king. Do I hesitate wondering if I should lay down my very best cloak? Wondering instead if I should simply lay down my branch…wondering if anyone is watching my movements, judging me? Am I glancing at others, wondering why certain people are there, curious about their story, their journey? Do I glance at their cloaks or envy how nicely their children are standing at their side, not chasing each other with palm branches like mine! Do I hold my branch higher, hoping others see how devoted and moved I am? Is my mind centered on You alone…or is it still focused in on me? Am I focused on the King riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, craving His strength and mercy and truth? Am I moved to serve Him? Or am I more concerned about how He will see me as I stand and ‘worship’…how others around me are viewing me?
Later, as I follow at a distance into the temple, I hold my head proudly hoping everyone we pass recognizes that I belong to this Man! Me! I see the religious leaders, and they don’t look very happy at His entrance. And then He begins to turn over the tables of those trading in the temple courts! He is burning with a fierce anger, and I see this spectacle through His eyes. This business that is profiting in the temple…in this sacred, holy place. And a small ember begins to glow in me. But I catch again a glimpse of the indignant religious leaders and those fleeing before Him, madly grasping at their money rolling across the court stones. I falter. Will they see me as a fanatic? Perhaps we’ve taken this a step too far. We don’t want to be too different, after all. Didn’t He call us to be peace makers? Surely, I don’t need to stand in this place of uncomfortable confrontation. I can just let these people go about their business as I quietly go about my worshiping and following.
And as I glance in at the meal Jesus is partaking with His disciples. The mood is somber as He teaches them gently tonight by word and deed. I grow a bit uncomfortable with the intimacy of the scene. What does He mean by washing the feet of these men? This Man we are hailing as our coming King…He is acting more as a servant. I am confused as He blurs the image in my mind of Who is is ‘supposed’ to be. And His Words! Fear is stirring in my heart as I hear His serious words. The picture He is painting of the next few days isn’t the one of victory and reigning I’d concocted. I’m confused. If I am following this Man who is to save us, why does it all sound so dismal and hard?
After dinner, as I follow them on their walk, I begin to get drowsy. My confusion and sorrow at His words wearies me. I sit down at the base of a tree and close my eyes just to rest my mind and breathe. Suddenly I hear voices…angry voices and see the light of torches bobbing closer. I train my eyes in the murky darkness and see Jesus kneeling several feet away. His back straightens as resoluteness seems to come over Him. A deep breath shudders through Him. And He stands, turning to walk back to meet the angry crowd. The crowd coming for Him.
The scene before me is one of a nightmare. I put my trust in this Man! He stands firmly but offers no fight. In fact He rebukes one disciple who strikes a guard. I see part of the man’s flesh fall to the ground under the disciple’s sword. Jesus leans close and touches the man’s face where a gaping mass of flesh sits where his ear once was. The man falls to his knees, shock and amazement resting on his features. The other guards grab Jesus and they begin leading Him away. Why doesn’t He fight? The disciples flee in all directions as the guards march Jesus away. I sit trembling watching after Him. So does the guard, still on the ground, holding his ear with a bewildered expression. He begins to sob helplessly looking after Jesus and the angry, cruel mob. I begin to cry too. I’m so confused.
The night pulses forward with a nightmarish quality. No answers come, and the crowd is not a friendly one. I sit by a stone wall, shaking in fear. What is happening? This following is not what I envisioned.
As morning dawns, I can’t get close to see what is happening. The crowd around me grows more and more agitated. I try to get through the gate to the governor’s headquarters but I can’t get through. I am jostled by the crowd outside the gate. I cannot hear what is happening inside the gate. I can tell by the noise of the crowd when Pilate appears. But I cannot hear his words. I give up and slump against the wall. Suddenly I hear the crowd yelling as if one voice. I am chilled to my core by their insistent, angry voice.
I am weary as I wait. I wander the dusty streets, wondering what will happen next. People bustle through the streets. Some doing the government’s business, some preparing for the Sabbath. Do they not realize that time should be standing still.
I follow the crowd and hold in my horrified breath as I see Him. He’s been beaten beyond recognition. Blood and dust stain His skin. Open wounds lay across His back. The bile rises in my throat. Only an unearthly strength is sustaining this bruised, battered, beaten Man as He shoulders the wood across His back. I hear wailing and sobs amidst the mocking jeers of the crowd. There are more of us here, still following Him. Are they as confused as I am? Are they afraid of this hostile crowd too? Do they want to blend in or run and hide?
Hope drains from me as He rises above the crowd on the beams of wood…this cross holding Him up. His cries of agony, the ring of the hammer…they reverberate through my head. I glance around at the clusters of people. A group of His followers weep and mourn, keening forward in their grief. Others stand and mock Him, yelling for Him to save Himself if He is the One to save us all. I silently repeat their plea. Off of the cross, Jesus! What is happening here? I’m so confused. I trusted You with my very life!
Dark settles over the region and it seems fitting. As the wind picks up, people slowly walk away, the excitement of the crowd dying down. Thunder rolls in the distance and I barely hear His words as I feel the change in the atmosphere. Something is happening.
It. Is. Finished.
He breathes His last labored breath, and His head hangs. A wail rises up collectively from His followers. I can’t watch anymore. I run away quickly, aimlessly. Tears blind me and I fall to a heap on the dusty ground. My hope is gone. I cannot see beyond my grief.
The next hours, growing into days, blur together. I spend the Sabbath quiet, miserable, confused. I want something, Someone to take this weight off of me. I cry and sleep fitfully, I seek solace in other followers. We say spiritual things to each other, but really we’re just all really lost.
The first of the week comes. As I step into the bright sunlight, something like hope stirs in my heart. But how can it still live there when all seems so hopeless?!
I see two women running through the street. They arrive breathlessly where the disciples are meeting. They frantically knock on the door, and disappear inside. Seconds later, I see a couple men exit running frantically down the street, dust flying underneath their feet. Without thinking I follow. They are going to His tomb!
The stone is rolled away. I see one of the disciples duck into the opening, returning seconds later, amazement etched upon his face. They talk and quickly return the way they’d come. I approach the entrance to the tomb, cringing with every step closer. What will I find?
I bend my head and peer into the inky shadows. As my eyes adjust, I quickly realize nothing is there…a few linens folded on the stone.
His words rush back to me and joy and belief war with unbelief and fear. What has happened; what does this mean?
And the rest of this story, my friends, is on that road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) …my road to Emmaus. Where He appears to me time and time again. Do I have the eyes to recognize Him? Despite my doubt and my wavering, despite my weak following, He comes to me and whispers sweet grace. This is why I came. I redeemed you in your imperfection, not because you’ve reached some spiritual ideal.
So as I worship in my modern day church and struggle to make it more about Him than it is about me…He reigns as the One risen who says precious words to hear: It is finished. And you are mine. My blood covered up all Your mess and I’m doing new things through you…through My church. I let this truth settle over me. He accepts and loves me through my broken humanness. This story is all about redemption and grace and a love far greater than the world has ever known.
It is finished…and our story is just beginning.