It’s late in the evening of Holy Saturday, 2012. I’ve been a follower of Jesus for most of my life, so this day, though holy, is often just a blip between the utter desolation of Jesus’ death and ecstatic joy of his resurrection. I surely miss out on this significant day because I know what’s coming. I’ve already celebrated the end of the Easter story and danced in the redemption of the coming days. But my dear friend and fellow blogger Stacey Gleddiesmith, as she reflects on the wisdom of Joan Chittister, reminds me that Holy Saturday is important because it is the day when all our dreams have died, but a day when we can grow in hope. (Read her fabulous post at http://thinkingworship.com) Challenged by Stacey and Joan, I let my imagination unfurl into a different time and place…
It’s year 33 and I am a young disciple of the newest Messiah figure, this one called Jesus, who is just a few years into what looks like a campaign for king. I have been wandering around the hot desert for months with a carpenter-turned-rabbi who, though he speaks with an authority I had never heard in the synagogue, makes some wildly outrageous (and provocative) claims about the kingdom of God. A kingdom he could almost literally conjure before my eyes through his riveting stories. (It’s like he’s actually been to this wondrous places before. I can almost smell the feast he describes floating on the back of the Galilean wind.) Jesus’ teaching stirs parts of my soul that have laid as fallow as my father’s field during the sabbath year. I left my family, my village, my security, to follow this man on a path toward an elusive hope, the hope that life might actually be more than the drudgery I’ve lived. When I left, my friends called me a fool, my mother wept and my father roughly turned his back.
As I followed Jesus, I discovered a man with a passionate spirit who both perplexes and comforts me with his daily teaching on a kingdom that has no end. A gentle radical who constructs images of a Godly kingdom (and I’ve lived the opposite) where children are praised for their faith and women are welcomed into the master’s circle. A kingdom where I can lay down the burden of my shame (and believe me, my soul’s more spotted than the cheapest bird you could by in the Temple courts) and instead take up a yoke so different from this law that I can never fulfill. Jesus tells me not to worry, because he has come to fulfill the law and the prophets, and when he says this, something in me…releases. My new master tells me that I will know the truth and it will free me. God, how I’ve hungered for truth, for freedom!
Throughout the months I was with him, Jesus talked a lot about his father, one so different from my own, a king who rushes to embrace the returning children who abandoned him to chase their own pleasures. Jesus proclaimed himself the light of the world, the bread of life, the way, the truth, the resurrection and the life. Even though I didn’t understand everything he said – his stories, his power to heal, his vision for a new kingdom of peace and love and justice, his shalom-filled welcome of the outcasts among us – these things slowly unwound the tight knots of pain and fear in my gut.
Something new was born in me as I followed my dusty rabbi. It’s hard to describe, but deep in me, where I used to feel shame burning holes in my soul, there was a mending. A burgeoning courage to live a new way. And the closest I’ve ever come assurance. By the end I was a believer in this new kingdom, a devotee of its good, loving king, and an avid disciple of Jesus, this prince among men.
But then Jesus was arrested. Convicted. Whipped. Crucified. Stripped. Punctured. Ridiculed. Abandoned.
I did that. Well, not all of it, just the last part. I abandoned Jesus, but to me that single crime is just as bad as all the rest put together. I didn’t stay to see the end, or even much of the middle. (What I know about Jesus’ death, I learned from passersby.) For all my new hope, the courage that was beginning to shine within me, the wisdom I’d learned at Jesus’ feet, I ran away shortly after I saw blood. And now I lay here in the dirt, in the exact spot where I collapsed last night, exhausted after my flight from Golgotha. I’m so endlessly tired from crying. Wrecked from the confusion about what happened. This crater of loss sucks me inside out. What kind of disciple was I to run away when things got hot?
But what kind of rabbi – what kind of prince – what kind of Messiah dies like that?
I lay under a withered fig tree along the side of a road that leads nowhere. This mouth that Jesus once filled with bread and fish and cool water is now gritty and putrified with dirt and shame. Jesus made me feel such hope. Following him made me feel so…vital, like I was living for the first time. Now I lay here an empty shell. This is worse than all those years of drudgery back home. This is nothingness.
I laid in the dirt for hours. Silent. Sullen. Hollow. Despondent. Fearful. It was so dark but I didn’t care if the sun never rose again. But then somewhere, deep in that pit that held me captive, I heard a whisper.
“I am the light of the world.”
“I am the resurrection and the life.”
“Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
Between each whisper I feel the thump of my heart, tacky and faint, but there. I’m still alive. I want to live, I realize. I want to live the life that Jesus sketched in the sand of my country. He said he was the resurrection. I never understood that. But, what if? Slowly, I push myself up on my elbows. With my hands gripping clumps of dirt, I look toward the horizon. I wait, wondering.
Where is the light of the world?
Where is the resurrection and the life?
As light slowly hems the eastern hills, a morsel of warmth dawns within me and begins to spread. Curious, I push to my feet. The sun is rising and I have this uncanny feeling that today will bring…I don’t know quite what. But something, something more than this roadside grave I’ve made for myself. Hoping he is who he said he is, I turn back to Jerusalem, and begin to run.