Holy week is the most important season for Christianity. So much is unpacked and delivered over these days in the lives of Jesus and the Disciples.
Celebration. Teaching. Looking to the future. Taking advantage of the present.
It can be hard to go through this week from a strictly “in the moment” perspective. We see it all in hindsight, with books and sermons and podcasts and musings of almost 2,000 years. Through all of the good and bad, we process these events through the lens of Easter Sunday.
This year, why not pause a little longer and try to feel Good Friday like the Disciples did? The emotions might seem scary to delve into, but aren’t the world around us and our own lives full of those already?
A Distasteful Cover Up
Have you ever used ketchup or sweet and sour sauce or gravy (or something else) to cover up a flavor you would rather not taste for very long? I learned to eat broccoli by eating it in Chinese food, soaked with all kinds of yummy tasting stuff.
Easter is our holy week ketchup. When we run into something we do not understand or do not want to relate too closely too, we pour some Easter on it: “Don’t be afraid. Sunday is on it’s way!” It makes for great preaching but leaves us cheated of what we really need.
No one’s heart was ready for Good Friday. Jesus arrested. Tried in a rigged court. His body beaten. Passing from one government official to another. Condemned by His own people, the ones He ministered to for three years. A walk of shame carrying His cross through the city. Finally the death of Jesus outside of Jerusalem.
The Disciples fled and hid. They had little expectation of surviving the next few days, much less a joyful hope for the resurrection.
There were no sprinkles on their egg shells that day. No hymns of rejoicing. “He is dead. He is dead indeed.”
Yes, Sunday was on its way. Victory was coming. But it wasn’t there yet. All they could see and feel was darkness and loss.
Closer than We Know
As a global pandemic continues to rage, the countries of the world try to take action, and officials from the highest level of government to the smallest towns and villages work to keep life as normal as possible, we find ourselves just a few steps from where the Disciples sat behind locked doors.
Loss has found its way into lives in many ways. Losing a job or business owner shutting doors for good. Family, friends, coworkers, leaders, celebrities, all sorts who have lost their lives. Losing homes, cars, or other material things simply because we can’t afford them without work. Sleepless nights. Over-worked or under-worked days.
Futures are on hold or have a fog laying over them. Do I go plan for university in the Fall? Do I wait for my job to come back? Do we move in with family to save everyone some money? Do we trust in a vaccine? Can we even plan a short vacation to get a change of scenery?
And don’t forget about the headlines. Vaccines put on hold. Attacks and shootings. A container ship blocking trade goods from the other side of the world. The cost of gas and groceries going up.
Our hearts are already broken. The shadow is blocking the sun and its warmth. Depression and despair are knocking on the door.
What the Disciples Lost
Loss and the emotions it brings invade our lives constantly. We cannot avoid it. Our COVID-19 world is full of it and so was Jerusalem the day Jesus died.
As the Disciples went through Good Friday and Saturday they would have felt loss in several ways.
- Loss of a Friend/Brother. After three years of living together, these men must have considered each other friends at the least, but probably like brothers. The first loss would be personal, the hole in one’s life brought by death.
- Loss of a Teacher/Mentor/Leader. You could separate these, but they really come together. Jesus literally called them to Himself, to follow Him. They gave up lives, some comfortable and others scarce, to live as He lived.
- Loss of Purpose. When lose the One you left everything else to follow, what do you do next? A few would briefly return to fishing. Two were found walking out of town, headed into the unknown. When you are known as “His Disciples” by everyone you bump into, what are you when He’s gone?
- Loss of Expectations. Imagine following Jesus for three years, realizing He is the Messiah, and then walking through Jerusalem to a king’s welcome. This was it. It was time for the kingdom to be restored, Rome would be thrown out, and Israel would take it’s place as the center of the world. All of those expectations went out the window with Jesus’ arrest, and just kept flying further away until His death made them impossible.
- Loss of Personal Safety. Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem would have made Him appear untouchable. Instead, it put a giant target on Him. After His arrest, mockery of a trial, torture, and execution, the Disciples likely wondered if they were next. This would be a major factor in Peter’s denials and John’s singular appearance at the foot of the cross. Scripture tells us how fear led to locking the door where they were gathered (John 20:19).
- Loss of Faith. Good Friday was a constant trial of faith for the Disciples: “Why are these armed soldiers crashing our prayer time? How could Jesus be arrested? What do you mean He’s guilty? Who beat Him up? Why is He letting them mock Him and put that ‘crown’ on His head? Is this crowd crazy? What do you mean, ‘Give us Barabbas’? Crucify Him?!?” The Son of God, the Messiah, the “Anointed One,” the rightful King, was taken and killed. As Jews in Roman Palestine they were probably used to feeling like God was off the radar. But this would make them wonder if He had forgotten about the “chosen” people.
Here is where the sermon takes that old-fashioned turn, “But wait. There’s more! Hold on, because Easter is coming.”
Jesus told the Disciples to expect His resurrection, and even gave them instructions to meet Him outside of the city. They didn’t have to be in the dark about what was coming. Hiding behind locked doors does not draw a picture of hope or expectation, though, does it?
A common rebuke of Jesus to His followers was their “little faith”. But when Jesus appeared in that locked room He said, “Peace to you” (Luke 24:36).
Was this because they were so grounded in Him the events of the previous days had strengthened their relationship with God and His plan? Not likely.
Jesus did not offer a rebuke to straighten them out or get them to take action. Yes, they were afraid. They doubted what they saw and heard. But Jesus wasn’t calling them out for those. In the midst of their losses, with their hearts broken and minds spinning, Jesus’ first words were to find peace.
God doesn’t rebuke or condemn us for our feelings of loss.
I’ve had some doozies of my own and if you are at all like me, your losses make you feel worthless, lost, afraid to try, and unable to trust. You can’t receive anything good from anyone and you aren’t sure if you can offer anything yourself.
God wants us to draw close and find peace.
Jesus didn’t offer them power, fancy words, or miracles. He told the doubters to touch Him. He shared food with them. Before explaining what happened, Jesus called them to just be with Him.
A byproduct of being in God’s presence is receiving His peace. Though busyness is often a culprit to keep us out of the Presence, the brokenness of loss can feed a lie that we don’t deserve to be there or God doesn’t want us there.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus found two disciples on the road out of town, spoke with them, and so inspired them that they turned around and went back to Jerusalem. He walked out to the Sea to find more than half of them back at fishing, reminded them of how their journeys began, and restored Peter.
Allow the grief and loss of Good Friday to give you hope as you get wrecked through the losses of your own life. God will not condemn your pain. Your grief and doubt do not disqualify you. Christ sees it all and offers you peace. Don’t hesitate or step away. Draw close. Find peace.
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.”John 14:27a, CSB