Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Holy Storm

It snowed this week in Maryland—March 25.  Snow doesn’t happen very often in late March where I live.

But every now and again, if the timing and intensity of precipitation is just right, you wake up, look out your window and say:  Holy Monday Batman!  J It’s snowing!  The snow started falling overnight, and even the roads were coated first thing this morning—creating travel difficulties. 

Snow in March—and even April!—is certainly not without precedent here in Maryland. We may remember this snowfall a year from now, but probably not.   Some people, who keep records about this sort of thing, will probably remind us about it the next time a storm happens late in the season.  But, overall, I doubt the memory of today’s snow will last.

This is Holy Week—when followers of Christ remember a series of events from the life of Jesus that had much more lasting impact than a March snowstorm!

From the moment Jesus and his band of followers enter Jerusalem on what we know as Palm Sunday, the atmosphere was primed for a “storm.”  The city was packed for Passover.  Rome allowed the Jewish people to practice their “quaint religion” but always kept a close eye on them through the Jewish leaders—who owed their continued “comfortable existence” to Rome.  The Roman governor of Jerusalem worried about the Jewish people getting out of hand during their festivals, and stood ready to crack down if necessary.  The Pax Romana must be kept at all costs!  (Ironic, isn’t it, how much the “peace of Rome” depends on the looming threat of using overwhelming violence to maintain it?)

In that day, Caesar was Lord; no one opposed the emperor without severe and violent consequences.  The cross was an instrument of terror that stood as a grim reminder of what happened when you dared to cross Rome, and thus it helped to enforce Rome’s absolute rule.  For the most part, the average person didn’t question Roman reality—it’s just how things were. Your life went smoother—and you tended to live longer—if you didn’t ask many questions and went along with the old saying: “When in [the Roman Empire] do as the Romans do.”  All that changed when Jesus came along.

When Jesus went to Jerusalem—the ancestral home of Israel’s greatest kings—he specifically went there to openly proclaim a God’s reality.  A new “kingdom,” was present and available now through Jesus.  It would be the fulfillment of all David’s Kingdom was meant to be—and then some.  In essence by his actions Jesus proclaims: 

No, Caesar is not Lord; I AM!

Jesus demonstrated God’s reality through the life he lived up to this point, by what he did during that Last Week, and ultimately by the death he died—and the “death” he defied. 

As he approached Jerusalem, Jesus knew God had called him to this; all that had transpired to this point prepared him for what was about to happen.  Jesus was fully human and struggled at times with accepting his destiny, but he was also fully divine and, in the end, he knew he could not waiver, no matter what opposition he encountered.   Too much was at stake for humanity.  He had to see this mission through to the end.  It was time for his solidarity with humanity to become complete—it was time for Jesus to die.

Like a team of meteorologists tracking a snowstorm, Jesus “forecasted” the future for his followers.  On several occasions, he tried to warn them about the approaching “storm”, but they largely ignored the warning and were caught flat-footed when it hit.  And the “storm” hit them hard!   They would eventually recover and rally to their risen leader’s cause, but that comes later.  Right now, the storm rages, the darkness rises.

Like a March snowstorm, what happened during Holy Week was a rare confluence of human events. Political and religious leaders in Jerusalem really didn’t trust each other, but as the old adage goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  They came together behind what they perceived as a common threat and were determined to find a way to eliminate Jesus. 

And on Good Friday, it seems like they have succeeded.  It looks like darkness and evil have defeated the light.  Roman reality once again reigns as the supreme reality.

But, as our lives can no doubt witness, sometimes the darkest night proceeds the brightest dawn.  We usually only recognize it with the benefit of hindsight.  On Friday evening, death seems to have the final word and all hope seems lost.   Unbeknownst to us, however, things are happening in God’s reality.   Important things.  No one knows exactly what happened on Holy Saturday, but most theologians agree it is a crucial part of the story. 

The mystery and silence of Holy Saturday set the stage for the joy and celebration of Easter Sunday. 

On Easter, an event happens that makes a March snowstorm look like an event as commonplace as the setting Sun.  Jesus becomes the first—and only—one for whom death, even a brutal death at the hands of Rome, does not have the final say. 

The resurrection proclaims once and for all that God’s reality as the most powerful reality that was, is, and ever will be, and proves unequivocally that Roman reality at its worst cannot overcome God’s reality at its best. 

Because that event happened, all other events before, during, and since are bathed in new light and “seen” in new ways.  Even the darkest situations are not beyond hope of restoration.  Death is no longer the end—it is a new beginning.  And that reality makes this present life all the more important to live to the full! 

Indeed the world was changed because the death and resurrection of Jesus happened.   This week, we remember:
  • ·      the “Hosannas!” that welcome Jesus to Jerusalem;
  • ·      the unbridled passion and anger he shows in the Temple;
  • ·      the agonizing prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane and the disciples lack of focus;
  • ·      the arrest, “trial”, mocking, and beating at the hands of the Jewish leaders and Romans;
  • ·      the betrayal, denial, and abandonment by all of his closest followers in his darkest hour; and
  • ·      the horrific death upon the Roman cross and burial in a “borrowed” tomb.

As the week progresses, and the shadows lengthen, we spiral down into despair and death.  When we go to bed on Good Friday the world seems drained of all its color and all hope seems lost.  We had hoped Jesus was the Messiah; we hitched our wagon to him and followed him.  Now what?!!  On Saturday, we are quiet and reflective, trying to figure out what comes next.  But then comes that wonderful moment when we go to visit the tomb early on Sunday and find it empty.  Seized by fear, we can’t believe our eyes!

At first we are still stuck in Roman reality, and we think the most obvious answer is impossible, but eventually the brightness of God’s reality dawns in our hearts.  We realize that even after the worst the humanity can serve up—God’s reality still reigns supreme.  Jesus has risen, just as he said he would, and is going ahead of us to the Galilee.  It is our job to run after him, proclaiming to everyone we meet along the way:

Christ is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!

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