My friend "Susa" from Navigators recently started a "group journal." She passes it from person to person and everyone gets to write an entry with their thoughts at the time. She handed me the journal over the Easter weekend, so my thoughts kind of turned in that direction. I thought I'd share what I wrote with you guys.
The End of the Story
"The first thing I read in just about any novel is the last few pages." From the reaction I get when I tell people this, you'd think I just said "I club baby seals for fun" or something. Apparently peeking ahead violates some cardinal rule of fiction reading. I'm not sure exactly when it started, but somewhere along the line I read a book with a crappy ending and decided that I would no longer invest time and emotional energy in a book without first making sure it was worth it.
Over the past few weeks, as Easter season has come and gone, I've been thinking more of the first Easter, and it struck me this year that what I do with novels I also do with the Easter story. The only way I could sit through Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ was knowing that the agonies of that awful Friday weren't the end, that their purpose was fulfilled in Resurrection Sunday.
The people who followed Jesus during that first Easter, though, didn't really know what would happen. Jesus did know, He knew that both the horrible crucifixion and the glorious Resurrection were His destiny, but even He struggled with the road He'd have to take. The more I've been thinking about what those days must have been like for those first Christ followers, men and women like Peter, John, and Mary, the more I've seen in them facets of my own experience and that of other Christians.
Friday: For those on the ground on that first Good Friday, it was anything but good. That Friday was the day they saw their dreams for themselves and their country die a bloody death before their eyes. I think of Mary especially, who must have felt every whip lash on her son's back and every nail shattering His hand as though it were happening to her. They had such prayers and hopes for Jesus. They were sure He was going to restore justice and peace to Israel, drive out the Roman oppressors. Instead, the Roman oppressors were slowly killing Him before their eyes. God had never felt so far away. Even Jesus cried out from the cross "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" On a smaller scale we can identify with that experience, the experience of pinning all our hopes on something, of being sure it would take place only to watch our hopes deflate. Maybe we even thought it was God's will, and now suddenly He seems so far away and we feel all alone.
Saturday: Jesus is dead and buried and now doubt, fear, and confusion have settled in. Everyone feels numb, some are angry with God, some doubt that He is good or maybe even that He is out there. No one quite knows what to do now; no one thought thins would end this way. Some, like Peter, are blaming themselves for failing Jesus. Maybe some even blame Jesus for not using His power to defend Himself. One thing is for sure: the hope they had felt just days before as they followed Jesus and heard Him preach is as dead and one as He is. Doubt is something many a Christian has wrestled with, even those of us who know the end of the story.
Sunday: Jesus conquers death itself and His followers realize that their hopes for Him weren't too big after all, they were too small. Instead of just saving the Jews from the Romans, Jesus saves the whole world from sin and death. And here's the most astounding thing: the victory of Easter Sunday is made possible only through the piercing agony of Friday and the deadening doubt of Saturday. Easter Sunday stands forever as a testament to God's ability to take the worst crap the world throws at us and turn it into something far more beautiful than we could ever have imagined. I see so many churches today going around telling people how life with Jesus is one big joyride, one wholesale experience of victory over everything that binds us. But trying to experience the victory of Easter Sunday without the agony and doubt of Friday and Saturday is a cheap and tawdry substitute, like settling for a cheap strand of plastic costume pearls instead of the real deal. Jesus' victory over sin and death cost Him everything He had to give, but the victory is all the sweeter for the cost.
For the record I still read the last few pages of a book before I tackle it. I don't think I'll ever break the habit. What I love most about Easter Sunday is that it not only shows me the end of the story for Jesus and His followers, it shows me the end of my story. Because of what Jesus went through for me, I have hope that the crap I encounter in my life will be temporary, that God can make something beautiful even out of that, and that one day I'll get to share Jesus' happy ending with Him.
P.S. I promise there are some funny posts in the works and I will bring them to you in the near future.