During Holy Week, Jesus mourned over the destruction he saw coming to Jerusalem. His beautiful city wrecked. The Temple where Heaven met Earth taken apart stone by stone. People butchered.
The Daily Office took us to Jeremiah’s lament over Jerusalem being destroyed by Babylonians. “How lonely sits the city/that was full of people!/How like a widow she has become,/she who was great among the nations!/She who was a princess among the provinces/has become a slave./She weeps bitterly in the night,/with tears on her cheeks;/among all her lovers/she has none to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her;/they have become her enemies” ESV.
Imagine knowing that your beloved home will be destroyed in a matter of time. Imagine knowing it’s because you and your people couldn’t behave right. You didn’t know how to keep peace.
I think about the day the EF 4 tornado was aimed at our house, the terror I felt. The grief when we drove past Fairdale, a tiny town completely blown up by the winds, trees twisted as though a giant bulldozer mowed them down. There was no stopping that wind, no keeping those houses intact, and little comfort for the grief of your home smashed wide open.
It had to be a wide open grief for Jesus to know Jerusalem would be shattered, his people slaughtered. Not only did he know they would shout, “Crucify Him,” he probably saw their restlessness, the rebellion against Rome that was stirring, that would get them killed.
Jesus wished he could gather them like a hen gathering chicks. Imagine God as a hen, a most humble animal who does her best work sitting for days on end. And she squawks when you disturb her. And she comes running when you shake the feed pan. God as hen. God as a feminine bird who does her best work sitting.
Our pastor explained this passage by saying we are safe under the Hen that is God–feathers and wings sheltering us. He said we are chicks with each other, safe enough to take risks like trying to reconcile with people or letting go of control of others’ lives. He said God is with us. And the people we are sitting with are with us. But it is so scary to open yourself, to ask, “What have I done to offend you?” with someone who is furious but not saying why. But Jesus says that’s what we’re supposed to do. I have begun to think what a relief it might be to know just how I’ve offended someone instead of their going quiet, and ending the friendship or to let them know.
“O Lord Jesus Christ, who by thy death didst take away the sting of death: grant unto us thy servants so to follow in faith where thou hast led the way, that we may at length fall asleep peacefully in thee, and awake up after thy likeness; for thy tender mercies’ sake.” From Evening Prayer. Commonprayer.net
This past holy Saturday I kept thinking about Jesus’ beloved friends who were in the throes of stunned grief. He was dead and buried. They’d not heard him when he said he’d rise in three days, or didn’t believe him. There was no “It’s Friday but Sunday’s coming” like there is for us. When people close to me died, I was stunned numb, the sorrows that ripped me open came later, often walloping me upside the head because I didn’t know where those tears came from.
Jesus’ beloved people hid, wondering if the authorities would come for them. Jesus’ words “Take up your cross” came close, a terrifying possibility. Their friend Judas had betrayed all of them. I wonder if they deflected their pain by trying to figure out where the betrayal started. Were they fooled or did they know something was off. How could Jesus take such evil into his inner circle? I wonder if any of them missed their friend Judas.
Peter was broken hearted. Jesus had said the rooster would crow and Peter would deny him, Peter denied he’d do that, “Lord no” but Jesus was right. How did Peter keep from taking a knife to his own throat, with all that pain and shame shaking him? His friend. His teacher. The one with the words of eternal life butchered. Dead and gone. The grate shifted under him. His pride, his impetuosity, his so sure of himself attitude, slipping through the holes. All that was left was shame and pain and tears and his friends holding him, reminding him he was Peter, the rock, the stone that God called springs to bubble forth, springs of living water, but this was little comfort for this failure.
The earliest manuscripts end Mark’s story here. Jesus come back to life terrified the women. But he was no ghost but had a body that could eat and drink, that had wounds, and could pass through walls. He was the first one to be resurrected, and one day we will follow, because death is dead. Our pastor did call and response: Christ has died. Christ is risen. And we finished: Christ will come again. Even so come Lord Jesus.
When I was in college, it boiled down to this, to what I knew for sure: Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. So much else about theology faded into a mystery and an opportunity to trust that God would work it out in the end.
The early church longed for Christ’s return. He’d just been there and they hoped he’d climb into those clouds and come back. The end of the world was upon them with the Roman Empire run by madmen who considered themselves gods. The northern European tribes would invade.
I too am longing for Him to come back and save us from ourselves. Thy Kingdom come Lord. Not to be a Luddite, but there are technological developments that are scary as hell. We are splicing human genes into animals. When will the border be crossed and that animal becomes human? Artificial intelligence threatens to take jobs from people. The tech giants are talking about a guaranteed income for everyone because there will be no work. It’s not long when self driving semis will throw a whole class of people out of work.
We can destroy the world many times over using nuclear weapons. And anyone who has that capability is as dangerous as anyone else. And then there’s plastic that doesn’t have the sense to rot, that is choking our oceans, that is ubiquitous in our lives. And the roiling hatred we have for others who disagree with us.
But it could be another couple thousand years before He comes back, but oh I wish He’d come soon. I don’t want to die.
The story about Jesus walking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and their not recognizing him as he explained how the scriptures pointed to the fact Jesus would die–their grief gone to astonishment from their friends’ reports that he’d been risen–is one of my favorites.
I remember my cousin unable to react when he was told my brother had died after his wife had labored to give birth to their son for many hours. I wonder if the emotional wrenching the disciples felt was like this and might have made them blind to Jesus. I wish they’d taken notes. I wish we had those words to read. We so lean on knowing the word, on hearing good preaching, but it wasn’t the brilliant explication joining Jesus story to the old stories foretelling him that made them recognize Jesus These men recognized Jesus when he broke bread. That’s when they saw Him and He was gone. Something about the bread and wine gives us a chance to see Jesus, a chance for him to come inside, for us to change, to be like him, on a cellular level.
Their grief turned to joy. I want some of that joy.
I’ve been riding Morgen these last few weeks. She is my resurrection horse. Her name, Easter Morning, as much as anything convincing me to buy her. She pulls me back into my body and clears my head. I have to become a new creation, putting away my fear of her gifts, putting away my misperception–this horse could hurt me–when she has not. I drop into my body, into my thighs and calves and heels. I feel how my weight shifts. I focus on her, teaching her to stay with me, letting her relax and move out, throwing me high at the trot. I laugh when she kicks up her heels when I ask her to canter. “God of justice, God of mercy, bless all those who are surprised with pain this day from suffering caused by their own weakness or that of others. Let what we suffer teach us to be merciful; let our sins teach us to forgive. This we ask through the intercession of Jesus and all who died forgiving those who oppressed them. Amen” –From The Divine Hours, Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle and The New Companion to the Breviary.