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April 18, 2014

Don’t Tell Me Sunday’s Coming

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The Cross is confusing.

This is what I think as I leave our church’s Maundy Thursday service, the ending abrupt, the people unsure of what to do, when to leave, wondering if they should stand or kneel or stay and pray. Everyone shuffles off quietly, in clumps, embarrassed and unsure.

But don’t we want to be confused?

In a world of easily Googled answers, of the kind of information in our pockets that would have made us super heroes one hundred years ago, don’t we need a little bit of tension? In a world that has lost its wonder, don’t we crave things we don’t understand, things we have no explanation for?

Perhaps.

It’s hard to live in the confusion when we’ve been conditioned to seek answers instead of mystery. It’s painful to sit here, on Good Friday, and be present, when we know the end of the story. It’s easy—oh, so easy—to leapfrog over Friday to the triumph of Sunday.

But that isn’t the story that we live in. It isn’t the world we live in.

With hundreds of South Korean teenagers dead in waters that were supposed to bare them to a paradise vacation, with the ache of families being unable to put food on the table, with the empty clanging of our need for attention and approval (quick, post another Instagram picture of my dinner!), with the searing, pit-of-the-stomach feeling that the world isn’t as it should be, with the gnawing doubts that our faith might not sustain, that what we’ve believed might just be false, we find ourselves confused, hurting, wounded and wondering.

It’s no surprise we want to flip to the end, to find out if it will all work out, if our doubts were worth it, our groaned prayers answered, our tears wiped away. We want resolution now, because the now we live in bleeds and moans and drives us, literally, to distraction.

But here’s the thing—I won’t go to a movie if I know the ending. I won’t pick up a book if someone’s already told me the way the story wraps up. There’s nothing in it for me any more, no hope of being surprised, no sense to movement toward something unknown, no journey to go on. Instead it’s just an excruciating turning of pages, a lifeless waiting until the inevitable has happened. I hate spoilers.

Does that hold true for the larger stories of our culture, our world, the stories we know the ending to, the historical realities that get remade into big picture narratives? Sometimes, and depends—because in those cases I’m looking for something other than a retelling of a tale I already know, a hackneyed remake without imagination that doesn’t change what I know about the story in any way. Instead, I’ll engage in those stories when I know the storyteller wants something more for me, her audience, wants to show me a way that the spoilers get redeemed, remade into something that surprises or startles me awake.

And, really, I’m wanting to see the way the climax, not the ending, changes everything.

It’s the climax that moves us. We hold our breath when the ship hits the iceberg, watching wide-eyed as each person reacts differently, each from their own fears and hopes moving toward life or toward death. It’s the way that Lincoln looks, moments before giving that iconic speech, his face haggard, his life’s work gripped tightly in his hands, that makes us ask the question of what we’d do in the same situation—would we give in to the pressures around us or stand for what we believe to be right? It’s the climax that makes us turn toward ourselves, to make the story our own, to test the substance of our own hearts and choose, when faced with the story told from a slightly different angle, to live differently, more compassionately, more fully as the image-bearers we were made to be.

And that is the story that we’re living, too.

The story we’re living, whether we believe in God or not, is a story of history split in two by the events of Good Friday. In most of the world today, time is marked by the Cross, whether we know it or not. If you, without thinking, tell me that the year we’re living in is 2014, you are being shaped by the events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday. The whole of time pivoting on these crucial days, why, oh why would we rush through them? Why would we rush through Peter’s betrayal, when we find in it our own willingness to choose ourselves over Christ? Why would we rush through the pain of the thorns, when we feel in that agony the love of the One who chooses us in the midst of mind-boggling torture?

Perhaps we rush through it because we don’t want to see ourselves, to make that turn toward our own hearts, to recognize the doubts and fears and self-rejection lurking there. Perhaps we rush through because we’ve been conditioned to seek the quick answers, to plaster the story we already know over the story we’re actually living.

Because we are living a different story than we were last year. I know I am. I’m a year older, yes, and in that year I’ve lived through longing and fulfillment, questions and grief, a book written and a baby conceived. During this past year I’ve changed in ways I know, and in ways I don’t. I come to the story of Holy Week as one who has never walked through this story ever before. I may have the same bone structure, but I have new cells, new hair, and a new set of experiences that have shaped my soul into something new.

We have a great Storyteller, and that Storyteller isn’t apt to give us all the answers right away. I live through the narrative of Holy Week each year not because I’m simply reliving a story I already know, but because I’m seeing it from a different angle, living the climax differently, coming awake to new things within myself, seeing Christ anew, feeling the contours of my doubts and confusions in a new way, learning myself and my God more intimately, more truly, more immediately to where I am today. I know the end of the story, yes, and it is glorious, but here and now is where I need to be as God molds me, changes me, awakes me more fully.

So here’s my request, for myself and perhaps for you, this Good Friday, this dark day when we come to the Great Story anew, when we see the nails and feel the pain, when there is darkness over the land and mothers weep for their sons. When hope seems lost and my doubts grow large. Let me sit in this tension, let me feel the story again for the first time. No spoilers, please. Don’t tell me Sunday’s coming.

 

(Image Source: Jan Richardson Images, “According to the Burial Custom”, all rights reserved, www.janrichardson.com)

  • Suzanne Terry

    Oh, yes. This. I needed this. Thank you.

  • Lorraine Wheeler

    Thank you.

  • pastordt

    Thanks for this. NEEDED it.