Where is Your Galilee?

In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.  Acts 1:1-3

Have you ever wondered what Jesus did for the 40 days after he was raised from the dead? Where did he go? What did he do? With whom did he spend his time? And what about the disciples? What were they doing for those 40 days?

We do not know much about the time Jesus spent on earth after the Resurrection. We know that he appeared to his disciples occasionally, that he performed one more miracle that involved Peter and an overflowing catch of fish, that he redeemed Peter’s three-time denial with his three-time question, Do you love me, that he appeared to at least 500 disciples at one time and that he breathed out the Holy Spirit on his apostles and sent them forth into the world before he ascended to sit at the right hand of his Father.

The only other thing we know is that Jesus proved to the disciples in many ways that he was actually alive and he told them about the Kingdom of God.

I don’t know about you, but I cannot help but wonder what that involved, proving that he was actually alive. Maybe that was the eating and the drinking and the intermittent conversations he had with them.

But that means that during the in-between times, when Jesus was not appearing to them or eating with them, the disciples had some of their own work to do in the 40 days following the Resurrection. After all, they will be commissioned and sent out to preach the Good News about Jesus to the ends of the earth. And this time they will go without Jesus. They will have his Holy Spirit, but they will not have the comforting presence of Jesus upon which to rely or hide behind. This time it will be them speaking, it will be them teaching, it will be them stirring up the crowds.

In other words, the disciples will pick up where Jesus left off.

And isn’t that pretty much what we’re all supposed to do if we are followers of Jesus, redeemed by his blood, given new life by his death? Aren’t we supposed to pick up where Jesus left off? Aren’t we supposed to take our lives, our talents, our gifts, our abilities, our dreams and head out into the world and share Jesus?

That will look different for each of us, just like it did for the original disciples, but it is what we’re supposed to do.

a view of my Galilee

one view of my Galilee

Part of the Good  News about Jesus is that he knows us because he created us. Together with God and the Holy Spirit, he formed us in the likeness of himself and formed us in our mothers’ wombs. He doesn’t expect all of us to do the same things, go to the same places or represent him in the same ways.

But he does expect each of us to preach the gospel, to proclaim him, and to use words if we need to. But it is our lives with which we are meant to spread the gospel. How we live. How we treat others. How we speak. How we respond to difficulties and challenges. How we respond to people.

And you know what is really cool about today?

We are only on the second day of the 40 days that follow the Resurrection. If Jesus is beckoning you to follow him, if he is calling you to do big and amazing things (which is every one of us, by the way), then this is a perfect time to prepare to launch out into the world. The perfect time to go and do.

We just finished our journey to Jerusalem with Jesus. Now, we are heading to our Galilees, to work and to wait for him to meet us there. Like Peter and the disciples, we are called to believe, to trust and to meet him in our Galilee. Our Galilee is the place where miracles happen in our daily lives and our work {think nets bursting with fish after nary a fish nibbled all night long} and where we can find relief from the times we’ve denied him with our dreams or our attitudes or our lives {think answering the question, Do you love me? three times}.

Whether we realize it or not, the journey to Jerusalem has prepared us for our trip to Galilee. There are 40 days ahead. What will your 40 days bring to the kingdom? Feel free to share your Galilee journey and big dreams in the comments. Let’s walk the road together for a while.

Without a Doubt

 26Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  John 20:26-31 

It is Monday, the day after Easter, the day after Jesus rose from the dead, and, honestly, I’m feeling a little bleary eyed and restless. It is as if I do not know what to do with myself, you know? Yesterday was clearly about celebration and praising God and basking in the glow of the resurrected Christ. 

But today?

I suppose I want to bask in that glow a little bit longer and as I’ve reflected on that through the day, it struck me. That is why Jesus ministered for only three of his 33 years on this earth; it’s about walking by faith, not by sight. And he needed to be available to everyone, not just to those who were in his immediate physical presence.

By his death, not only do I get forgiveness and grace and mercy and a new life, but I get Jesus. I get direct access to the Son of God who has always loved me, even from the beginning of time, but whom I could not know personally until the rescue plan was put into action and we all were once and for all reconciled to God.

And yet I find myself wanting to linger in the moment of Jesus’ resurrection and to marvel at his appearing to the ones he loved: Mary Magdalene, John, Peter, Thomas, the other disciples. Because I wonder at the fact that he was out and about in his dazzling white, white-like-lightening form, eating and visiting and walking with his disciples.

One Gospel account says it was eight days from the day he rose from the grave until he came into another locked room appearing before his disciples that this time included Thomas. Thomas who did not believe other 10 disciples that Jesus was alive and had appeared to them. Thomas who said he needed to see Jesus with his own eyes and put his own hands in the holes where Jesus’ hands and feet and side were pierced.

Eight days.

Did that feel like an eternity to Thomas?

What did he do to fill the time?

Did his doubt grow deeper as the days passed?

Did he go out and look for Jesus or did he just sit and wait and wonder?

unless you venture forth, you don't get to see the view

unless you venture forth, you won’t get to see the view

Did he begin to grow restless or wonder if he’d missed out on something amazing?

Did he come to regret whatever it was he was doing while the rest of the disciples were gathered together in mourning and fear?

I have no idea what Thomas must have thought or wondered or felt. But I do know that he finally got his moment of truth and he believed.

And I also know that Jesus told me that day that I was blessed: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

Yes, I count myself blessed.

And yet, even so, I linger in the room where Jesus appeared and long for my opportunity to see him, to put my hands in the holes of his hand, his feet, his side. No, not exactly like Thomas did, but in the form of a definitive indication of what comes next in my life, in the form of a clear sign of my purpose. One that is as clear and obvious as putting my hands in the nail holes.

And that is the real reason that I don’t know what to do with myself today. I’m stalling. And I’m afraid. Yesterday I was content to celebrate Easter and to be in the presence of the risen Lord.

And today?

Well, today it is about heading out and doing, and that’s a pretty scary thing because there are so many things I don’t know and cannot see. Even so, it is about stepping out in spite of the fear. It is about stepping out and trusting God.

Because, without a doubt, that is really what faith is all about. Trusting him. Following him. Believing in him.

And I am blessed because I am one who has not seen and yet believe. I trust Jesus to lead me where I am going. Because that’s what it’s about for me. It’s about participating with Jesus. After all, he made himself available to me so that I can walk with him through each day. Each crazy, chaotic, creative day that is gifted to me so that I can bring him glory. So that I can live out the gospel and invite others to join me on that journey.

So, what are you doing today? Care to join me for a walk?

Sunday: Oh, Glorious Day!

1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. 4Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples went back to their homes.
11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
24Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
 26Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  John 20:1-31

Unlike our Easter Sunday celebrations, the first Easter morning, the first Resurrection Sunday, was not filled with praises 0r hallelujahs or musical crescendos. In fact, it started out with trepidation, continued confusion, residual fear and weeping. The disciples were still locked away and not venturing too far from one another.

Yes, the tomb is empty, but the implication of what that means has not yet settled on these weary disciples. Instead of joy, it inspires suspicion: someone has moved the body of their Lord. From there, it becomes a question of where Jesus’ body has gone and who moved it. Mary Magdalene is the first to discover the stone rolled away and immediately fetches Peter and John.

But Peter and John do nothing more than confirm that the tomb is empty. They do not leave celebrating and shouting hallelujah, but rather they return to their homes and lock their doors and continue hiding from the Jews. Mary doesn’t leave. She stays, she mourns, she weeps, she seeks him even though Peter and John have confirmed that the grave is empty.

And, lo, when she looks inside, it is not empty. There are two angels sitting where Jesus had lain and when they ask her why she is crying, she laments again that Jesus is gone and that she wants to find him. That she realized in this moment that these were angels doesn’t seem possible given her response. Imagine, meeting two of God’s angels in the place where Jesus had been. In so many stories of when angels appeared, folks were always filled with fear, even Mary, the mother of Jesus, when Gabriel appeared to her.

Mary Magdalene, however, is more focused on finding Jesus than on who these two angels are.

And all at once there he is, standing before her. Not the lifeless body that was anointed and wrapped in linens and laid in the tomb, but a living, breathing man standing there, perhaps near the entrance of the tomb. However in her grief and concern for the missing body of Jesus, she does not recognize him. Instead, ironically, she laments to him that her Lord is missing and she is trying to find out where he is.

And then, he speaks her name. He speaks her name and she knows him immediately. What an incredible moment.

If ever a moment were worthy of a hallelujah, this is it. But she simply responds, Teacher!

Scripture tells us that after revealing his plan to her, Mary went to tell the other disciples. But I find it hard to believe that she didn’t first bask in the miracle before her. Jesus stands before her, raised from the dead. This man that cast out seven demons from her. This man that saw in her what nobody else ever saw in her. This man that loved her with the overflowing, unconditional, redeeming love of heaven is standing in front of her, alive. Two days ago, she saw him crucified on a cross. Today, she stands talking to him in the garden by the empty tomb.

Imagine the absolute joy that must have filled her heart and her soul. Imagine the urge to touch him, to hug him, to fall to her knees and worship him, the risen Lord. Imagine the elation at standing in the presence of the resurrected Christ. Surely she must have floated, feet barely touching the dusty roads of Jerusalem as she ran to where the disciples remained hidden away. Imagine her excited exclamations as she shared the good news: I have seen the Lord!

That night, in the locked home of one of the disciples Jesus appears and bids them, Peace be with you. He shows them his hands, his feet, his side; yes, it really is Jesus, their friend, their Savior, their Lord. Can you imagine what they must have been thinking, what they must have been feeling in that moment?

Did they fall off their chairs? Did they mob him in a group hug? Did they whoop and holler and shout? Did they just sit and stare, mouths open in amazement at the sight of him? Or did they fall to their knees and worship God? Did they wonder how he appeared before them, how he got in their locked room?

Because I do. I wonder at it all. I wonder about it all.

Who is this resurrected Jesus? Does he look like the man with whom they traveled for three years? Does he look the same, sound the same, feel the same? We know they can touch him, because eight days later, Thomas puts his hands in the holes of Jesus’ hands and in his side. Did they recognize him? Because we know that Mary didn’t, at least not right away.

Who is this resurrected Jesus? Surely, he is no longer both man and God. Surely now, he is only God. He is the risen Lord, the resurrected Savior, the one true and eternal Son of God. He breathes out the Holy Spirit on them and he instructs them; he sends them out and sends them on to Galilee.

all things made new

all things made new

But I am still wondering at this miracle of God. This miracle that is God, that is the man Jesus raised from the dead.

There is so much more to learn as the disciples go forth from this place to preach the Good News and I look forward to all there is to learn from those moments. But right now, today, on this first Easter morning, I am content to sit and stare up at this risen Jesus. I am content to sit and bask in this amazing miracle. I am content to let the joy that comes from being in his resurrected presence flow over me and through me, to sit dazzled by the sight of him, to watch him in wonder and to wonder.

To wonder, who is this God we serve?

To wonder, who is this God who endured all hell and humiliation and death and now is risen?

To wonder, who is this God who loves me like this?

Just like the grave could not contain him and death could not defeat him, words cannot describe him.

To understand him requires a heart to which he can speak. A heart that he can fill with his truth and his love and himself. Only then can one begin to understand who this God is. Only then can these events come to be more than just a story, but to be life itself. New life. Redeemed life. Resurrected life.

Because like Jesus, I am resurrected today. The death and decay of this world’s worries and despair and hopelessness cannot contain me nor defeat me. I live in hope. I live in faith. I live in love. I live in Jesus.

And because of that, I cannot help but shout out, Hallelujah. He lives. Hallelujah.

Saturday: The In-Between

dawn: the in between

dawn: the in between

It is the Sabbath.

Jesus has been laid in the tomb, the stone has been rolled in place to seal Jesus inside and a guard has been posted to make sure the disciples do not come under cover of darkness to steal the body.

This is all that we know about what happens on the Sabbath. We do not know where the disciples went once Jesus died except that they went into hiding. Perhaps they gathered together in the upper room. Perhaps they gathered together in the garden. Perhaps they scattered with some headed back to Galilee and their homes.

The Sabbath, the day after the crucifixion, is the in-between, a period of grieving, mourning, fear and hiding.

The day of in between.

The day in between his death and his resurrection.

The day in between despair and hope.

The day in between fear and boldness.

The day in between doubt and conviction.

The day in between deep sadness and euphoric celebration.

The day in between darkness and eternal light.

The day in between the Enemy’s victory and the Enemy’s defeat.

The day in between the grave and eternal life.

The day in between hiding and going forth.

The day in between whispering his name and proclaiming his name.

The day in between losing everything and gaining everything.

The day in between giving up and pressing on.

The day in between.

Yesterday, he died. Tomorrow, he will be raised from the dead.

But today, today is the limbo of in between. One of the most difficult places we find ourselves.

Today, in the in between, the disciples wait and wonder.

Good Friday: Sacred Chaos

16So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.
So they took Jesus, 17and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,
“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
So the soldiers did these things, 25but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
28After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,”and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
31Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.  John 19:16-42

It is finished.

They have crucified my King and he hangs lifeless on the cross and the darkness deepens around me.

Though I stand with his disciples, his mother, and other followers, I am alone, alone in my despair, alone in my grief, alone in my fear.

In this moment, they have won.

In this moment, they have stopped him and saved themselves from his convicting, piercing words.

In this moment, they have pierced his hands, his feet, his side.

In this moment, they have convicted him although there is no guilt, no sin in him.

The darkness settles thicker on my heart as the earth pours its darkness out upon the cross and the crowd and the world around us.

As Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus anoint his body, wrap him in linens and lay him in the tomb, I am struck by the eerie similarity of this image to the night of his birth, when he was anointed with life through Mary, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in the manger and my heart breaks a little more.

As the rain pours down and the crowd disperses each to his own home, I find my way back to the Garden of Gethsemane, the most sacred place I can think of going so that I can reflect on this journey with Jesus.

I sit in the spot where he prayed so often, pouring out his heart to his Father and feel connected to him once again. I fall to my knees and hold my heart out to Jesus, pouring out my gratitude, my adoration, my love. My limited, too-often-conditional, extremely fragile, all-too-human love. But it is all that I have, as fallible as it is.

And that’s when it happens, the uncontrollable, wracking sobs that shake all of me.

He is gone. It is finished. He will not walk these roads again, he will not teach in the synagog again, he will not break bread with his disciples again.

It’s Friday, and though Sunday is coming, in this moment in Jerusalem, that doesn’t mean the same as it does today.

In this moment there is only brokenness, darkness, deep, piercing sadness and loneliness. My body shakes violently as the sobs continue and I long with an aching in my heart for just one more moment with Jesus on this side of heaven. I yearn for one more moment in his presence so I can hear his voice and listen to his words, so I can see his smile and hear his laugh and watch his love.

His love.

That is why I sit here alone in the garden. Because of his love. His extravagant, sacrificial, unconditional, amazing, all-encompassing love.

And my heart seeks that love more than ever right now. But I realize that I don’t have to seek it because it is being poured out over me, it is being wrapped around me, it is being freely given and freely received.

My time in the garden is drawing to an end and my life of chaos and little girls and making meals stands on the threshold, waiting. But even so, I bring the garden, I bring this journey, I bring Jesus’ extravagant love with me into my daily living. I bring the sacred into my ordinary, the holy into my chaos.

That is what this Good Friday is about for me. It is about bringing Jesus into each moment, this Jesus with whom I have walked to Jerusalem, this Jesus that loves me with a love that I cannot begin to understand, explain or describe.

But it is mine and it has been freely given and freely received and I will celebrate it as I live out the moments, the story, of my day today.

Because it’s Friday, but Sunday is coming.

There Is No Darkness in His Light

{this post is part of Five-Minute Friday at Lisa-Jo Baker}

How it works: Write on one word for five minutes. No editing. Then link up your post with the rest of the brave writers on Five-Minute Friday and encourage them by reading and commenting on what they’ve shared. {All the details for how to play along are here.}

Today’s word: Glue

{Go} 

In my tiny one-bedroom apartment in the heart of Boston, I fall onto my bed, sobbing and feeling untethered to anything that can anchor me to my life. It is Good Friday. I have been to the Tenebrae Service {Good Friday service} at Park Street Church and although it has moved me to tears in other times, that is not what brings me to tears now.

I sit in my darkened bedroom, the glow from the city lights casting shadows on the brick wall across from where I lean against my pillows, and I wonder where God is in all of this. I wonder what Jesus thinks of me right now, in this very moment. And I cry harder.

sometimes it is the darkness that reveals the Light

sometimes it is the darkness that reveals the Light

In the living room, he sits, frustrated and not understanding what has caused me to come so unglued. What has caused me to push him away and to fall into wracking sobs that allow me no speech except for the unspoken, garbled prayers to Jesus, to my Savior.

Please, Jesus, please, come and comfort me. Forgive me. Please, oh please, let me know that you are here and that you still love me.

In the living room, he paces and sighs, not coming in to comfort me because I’ve asked him to go. To leave me be. To let me be alone. To be alone with Jesus, if he’ll have me.

And in these lonely moments, deep and dark, I seek the Savior and his grace. I seek the mercy and unconditional love of his forgiveness and grace that will take my broken heart, and my brokenness, and piece it back together. Recreate it. Not mend it. Not glue it back together like a favorite vase or a cherished memento. But mend it in the only way it can be mended – eternally changed and fully hope-filled.

And that is when I see him. Not the man in the living room, but Jesus.

He comes into my small, messy bedroom in my small, messy apartment in my small, messy life. He sits down on the edge of my bed and there he looks upon me with the love of heaven. A love that is unknown on this side of eternity except in him.

The love I have sought in so many places, willing to pay so high a price for with this married man (one of many. oh, so many), Jesus offers me here and now, in this moment, in my wreck of a life that is filled with sobs and pain, for free.

For free.

Once {and} for All

27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
32 As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. 33And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. 36Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 37And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” 38Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 39And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.  Matthew 27:27-44

The Gospel stories recounting the final hours of Jesus’ life are as familiar to me as the Gospel stories of his birth. I have read them, I have heard them, I have listened to sermons about them and even have watched them in the Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ. But the thing about all of those experiences is that they are brief and therefore they do not require much of me. They do not tax my emotions or my heart more than I think I can bear.

Even as intense and visually visceral as The Passion of the Christ scenes were, even as much as they placed me into those moments with Jesus, I was still able to distance myself through the shared experience of a full theater and cathartic conversations after the film.

However, this journey with Jesus to Jerusalem removes those barriers. It is me and Jesus and I am immersed in the moments with him, not merely touched by them; I do not simply brush up against them, I experience them in all of their pain and horror and disgrace. Just as there is no escape for Jesus, because he willingly drinks this cup, I choose not to escape but to be a willing witness to these events so that I may be changed. Truly changed.

So, I crouch in the shadows with my fists clenched as tightly as my jaw and fight the urge to flee, to fight and to weep simultaneously. His flesh is bleeding and mutilated from the scourging, his face is grossly swollen from countless blows, and his pain is palpable even from this distance. But that is not the end of his suffering, of this bitter cup from which he so willingly drinks tonight.

Heaping more shame and humiliation upon his already hurting and vulnerable human heart, the soldiers call in the whole battalion, a number that likely equals almost 500 men, as they strip him of his clothes and his dignity and his deity. They mock him and spit on him and strike him. They twist a crown from thorns and press it onto his head, the nail-sized, razor-like thorns cutting into his tender flesh.

This man is not just an ordinary man. This man is not just another criminal. This is Jesus. This is God. He is the Savior who will sacrifice himself for each of these men as much as for the disciples he loves. But these men don’t know that. Maybe they never will. And none of that matters to Jesus, because his sacrifice is once for all.

drinking the bitter cup of crucifixion {Wood engraving Crucifixion of Jesus 1866 by Gustave Doré on Wikimedia Commons}

drinking the bitter cup of crucifixion
{Wood engraving Crucifixion of Jesus 1866 by Gustave Doré on Wikimedia Commons}

This is the what Jesus came to do, what he came to endure. He came to endure all of the anger, hatred and rejection from man and to bear all of the wrath of God. He came to be despised, he came to suffer and he came to be slain. The sacrificial lamb for the atonement of sin.

That is why, after they have beaten him, bloodied him, mocked him, humiliated him, and brought him as low as they can, when the guards offer him the wine mixed with gall, he tastes it and refuses it. He recognizes the narcotic mixture intended to dull the pain of the spikes that will be driven into his hands and into his feet.

He came to endure all of the pain, to bear the whole burden, to drink to the dregs this bitter cup of crucifixion.

And as he is raised up on the cross like the serpent on the pole, he faces the last and worst moment of his mission: the agonizing separation from the Father, his Father. Those elders, scribes and chief priests who have gathered at Golgatha continue to hurl insults at him. Random passersby deride him. Even the criminals who hang on either side of him mock and revile him. All to little consequence or effect at this point.

Because nothing will match the anguish he will experience when God the Father abandons him to death, forsaking his only Son for the sake of mankind. For the sake of me, and for the sake of you, and for the sake of those who came before us and those who will come after us. Once for all.

The shadow of the cross looms large before me as I huddle with Peter, James and John and others who have gathered here to watch and to weep and to wait. For the end is upon us but the minutes tick by slowly, each one bringing excruciation, fear, tears.

I lift my eyes to the cross and I cannot help but wonder, how is it, Jesus, that you would take my place?

How is it that you would die for me?