“One of you will betray me”
“Peter, you will deny me three times before the cock crows”
“This is my body, which is broken for you”
“This is my blood, which is poured out for you”
“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”
“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love”
“You are my friends”
It is very easy for us to miss the complexity of emotions that hung in the air after the Passover meal. Jesus had spoken a lot that night. He’d said some of the most comforting words the disciples had ever heard him speak. He’d also said some of the most troubling. That night, the disciples were knotted with conflicting apprehensions and affections – betrayal and grace, fear and love, death and life. Though they could not have known what the next hours would hold, there must have been a simultaneous sense that this was the end, and yet this was also just the beginning.
Though my imagination is all I can offer to the scene, I imagine that if the disciples were anything like me, their hearts and minds were far more focused on the betrayal, death, and fear comments than they were on the love, life, and grace. I imagine that they were confused by the ease with which Jesus moved between predicting total disaster one minute, and then speaking words of comfort the next; the comfort probably wasn’t registering too well in the moment.
Then, as Jesus finished what we have come to call his ‘Farewell Discourse,’ he spoke a sentence that was to acknowledge the tense emotional polarity of the moment. It was a message that Jesus intended to hang in the air and ring in their ears over the coming hours. Twenty-four hours later, as the stone was rolled in front of the tomb, these words sounded bitterly naïve; seventy two hours later, the stone was rolled away and the disciples were just beginning to watch the power of these words unfold. Indeed, it is a word that still anticipates our lives to be a tangle of defeats and victories, triumphs and tragedies, joys and despairs.
Jesus untied the knots, saying, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”
We Christians sometimes unknowingly dream that following Jesus means our lives will be easy. We would love to believe that if we commit ourselves to the all-powerful Creator of the Universe, he will reward this commitment by not testing its strength. This line of thinking leaves us wounded and disillusioned when tragedy strikes or hardship befalls us. We moan, “How could a good God let this happen?!”
It isn’t that I’m not sympathetic, or that I haven’t wondered the same thing. However, we shouldn’t be surprised, nor should the foundations of our faith be shaken, when the fallenness of our world catches up with us. Jesus said as much. “In the world, you WILL have tribulation.”
You get laid off, but hadn’t saved up money.
The doctor calls with an unexpected diagnosis.
Someone you love dies in an accident.
Despite your best efforts, you’re floundering in your work.
A tornado sweeps through town.
Holy Week reminds us to see all the wonderful things in our lives with gratitude rather than entitlement. Holy Week also reminds us that God’s promise isn’t to keep us out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but to see us through it. He did not spare his own son from injustice, violence, exploitation, social scorn, or murder. In fact, it was not simply despite those awful things but through them that he defeated sin and death to offer us forgiveness and reconciliation.
Suffering and hardship may take many forms, but they will never discount the goodness of God, or His presence in your life. Rather, they are often the raw materials with which the Holy Spirit works in our lives and recreates us in his image. Your situation may feel hopeless, like the darkness is sneering that there’s no such thing as light. But take heart. While Friday’s cross insists that God is working in and through the depravity of humanity and the fallenness of the world, Sunday’s empty tomb declares that neither depravity, tragedy, disease, death nor failure will ever have the last word.
In the world you will have tribulation. Expect it. Lean into it and see what God wants to do with you in it. And ask for the grace to trust that you may take heart, for Jesus has overcome the world.
Tune in tomorrow on rootedministry.com to read Day 5 of Holy Week Meditations.