Can you feel it?
We have entered what for Christians are the holiest four days of the year.
Can you feel it? Do you discern the holiness of these annual observances? Is your soul ready for Good Friday? Is it ready for Easter?
These are not idle questions. Neither do they constitute some kind of test that you must pass to be considered a “real” disciple. I don’t mean to imply any sort of judgment if you don’t have a sense of the profound holiness of this time. We all go through periods of dryness, when the heavenly manna turns to dust on our tongues and even the body and blood of Christ cannot pull us out of our spiritual funk. Trust me—I go through these times as well.
It’s not always an internal malaise of the soul that causes the trouble, either. External factors can conspire to put us off our feed, spiritually speaking. Illness, grief, family conflict, trouble at work, or the state of the world around us can all distract our focus from thoughts of God and contemplation of the holy mysteries of our faith. Troubling incidents in our city, continuing turmoil in our country, and the broader global crises that seem to mount by the day can make us question the reality of the Easter story and wonder if God has fallen asleep at the switch (or even doubt that there has ever been a trustworthy God on duty at the switch at all).
When you think about it, though, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Holy Week is on one level a story of despair. Have you ever thought about how remarkable it is that Mark and Matthew include Jesus’s cry of dereliction (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) in their accounts of the passion? Even after two millennia for the story to become familiar, stale, and domesticated, that line still has the power to shock. Here we have a figure that Mark identifies in the very first verse of his gospel as the Son of God, whom church teaching and the encrustation of tradition have declared to be coequal with God, a member of the eternal triune Godhead, accusing God in the agony of his death throes of abandoning him. That’s despair in its purest form.
And that is why Easter always comes as a surprise. Even today, when we have hashed and rehashed the story millions of times until we think we have wrung every ounce of nuance out of it long ago, there is something unexpected about the tale of women going looking for a corpse but finding an empty tomb and a risen Lord instead. The same Jesus who died with a bitter sense of failure and rejection by the God he called by the intimate name of Abba was alive again, radiant, and indestructible. The despair, the pain, and the shame were all superseded by the gift of renewed life, of vindication, of assurance that God never had truly abandoned him but had been all along, as Paul would later describe it, “in Christ, reconciling the world to [God]self” (2 Cor 5:19, emphasis added).
As we approach this time of remembrance of Jesus’s suffering, death, and utterly surprising triumph over death in the resurrection, let us bring to God all the concerns that contribute to our spiritual desertification. Let us acknowledge all the ways personal and world events tempt us to give in to despair. Let us come in sorrow to the tomb of our friend, expecting to find nothing more than any reasonable person would expect to find at a cemetery. Let us come in the darkness of the early morning, half-convinced that the sun will never rise again and only half-caring if it does. Let us come without hope, so that the earthquake will shake us to our bones as the stone gets rolled away, so that the light of Christ will shine out all the more brilliantly, so that we will leave room for God to create hope within us anew. Hope and joy. Hope and joy and determination to live as children of light, as citizens and ambassadors of the reign of God.