The Easter story is an unexpected injection of hope in a world gone mad with power and violence.
Jesus found himself in the middle of much of it: on one hand he refused to be corralled by the politics of a militant empire; on the other hand he criticized the selfish actions of the religious elite.
He was a troublemaker and he threatened their peace and safety.
So they killed him.
. . . . . . .
Back in the early 70s I was a long haired teenager interested primarily in history, drums, music, girls, and being impressive (not necessarily in that order).
When the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar exploded on the scene I recall fellow students bringing their albums to school to sign or share with each other. Of course I wasn’t interested in participating because – you know how church kids are – I assumed non-christians talking about Jesus must be sacrilegious.
It wasn’t until I was a very mature adult that I curiously gave it a listen and fell in love with the entire album. In fact I now return to it each year as a way to reflect during the weeks of Lent.
What I connect with most are the expressive voices and angled emotions of the characters:
The politicians and priests are motivated by power and fear;
The crowds love Jesus but are relentlessly self-seeking;
Judas is passionate and fearful, but angry;
Mary is awkward, but in love;
Jesus is divine but human.
They are complicated and conflicted just like you and I often are.
Midway through the musical, crowds of people are shouting their praise for Jesus with an up tempo style of music that reminds me of Christians singing triumphantly in church. As the song Poor Jerusalem unfolds, Simon Peter inserts his voice to proclaim Jesus’ popularity. He sings that the people in the streets will do whatever Jesus asks and predicts that if he leads them against Rome he will receive endless power and glory.
Then the tempo slows almost to a whisper as Jesus looks inside human frailty:
Neither you, Simon, nor the fifty thousand
Nor the Romans, nor the Jews
Nor Judas, nor the twelve, nor the Priests, nor the Scribes
Nor doomed Jerusalem itself
Understand what power is
Understand what glory is
Understand at all
Understand at all
People are no different today. We have a very limited understanding of what power and glory really are; we still believe that popularity, accomplishment, and wealth define power and glory.
But how many stories are there of people scratching their way to the top only to find themselves looking for more?
Just watch any politician making a speech at a public rally or political convention and observe the rhythm as they pause for cheers and applause. But of course fame and power are fleeting and more often than not the cheering fades to criticism or loss of power. Or worse, irrelevance.
Many years ago I read an eye-opening article about Hugh Hefner, owner of the Playboy entertainment empire. It was written at one of the anniversaries of the magazine and unveiled the life of the man behind the scenes. Basically it was a sad snapshot of an empty, elderly man who had become bored and unable to live the lifestyle he had always preached.
One of the sadnesses I see in the current president is his continual striving for attention and adulation. At the same time there are consistent reports that he is alone, having cloaked himself in his own protective world without any friends who care about him personally.
But it’s not just ‘out there’. Many people who enter church ministry do so out of a psychological need for recognition and acceptance, yet 70% of pastors claim that they are lonely and have no close friends they can share with.
Loneliness, abandonment, loss of purpose, feelings of worthlessness are rampant. Often they are traps of our own making but just as often are a result of someone else’s treatment of us. Either way, it’s emotional violence if you think about it.
Read the story
Read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ last days again this year but with an eye to the emotional loneliness and rejection of the characters, even as they were doing what was in their hearts to do.
In Luke’s account, Jesus speaks darkly of what he will face in the near future. In Luke 18 he refers to himself in the third-person as the Son of Man who, “… will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him.”
Notice that the first two of the five descriptors represent emotional abuse and even the third one (spitting) is primarily emotional. Often we focus on the physical torture Jesus endured and that is significant, but I am convinced that the true suffering of the Crucifixion wasn’t blood as much as it was emotional abandonment.
The crowds dispersed and became silent. Judas’ betrayal was awful but predictable. The angst and loneliness Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane resulted in bloody sweat beading on his skin. His disciples ran away and hid in fear. What about the emotional toll on Jesus when Simon Peter, his most ardent apostle, denied three consecutive times that he even knew who Jesus was? The loneliness of the world played out on the cross as he felt forsaken by God himself.
Which is worse: betrayal or denial? One is a knife in the back; the other makes you non-existent.
But there is more.
Those same disciples who abandoned him came to realize that the Resurrection didn’t just represent the end of death as they understood it, but it represented a new way of living through death.
And the Resurrection didn’t represent the end of emotional pain as they understood it, but it represented a new way of living through pain.
There is a decorative Cross here on my desk. It has been in our home for years but it didn’t find a place on my desk until a couple years ago when I recognized another detail – there is a relief of a new plant growing up from the foot of the Cross.
After death comes life.
For us, I’m not speaking about a literal death, but a figurative one. We find new life by facing, experiencing, walking with Jesus through the things that are painful. Please understand that sometimes we need professional help through those hard times and I absolutely recommend doing that. But honestly, in most situations we just need a hand.
When my wife passed away it took me a few months to acknowledge that I had actually experienced trauma and there were precious few people who I could share that with. Most people were wonderful but occasionally somebody would think they could help me. What I found was that they couldn’t help because they were trying too hard to heal something they couldn’t understand.
But in my case those best equipped to help me were the few who had actually experienced similar loss themselves. They understood there was little they could say or do but their deep presence was fresh air to my soul.
Because they had already been there, they were Jesus to me.
Now here I am – on the other side of pain – scarred but healed. And I have a little bit of fresh air to share that I didn’t have before.
And here you are – on the other side of some pain – scarred but healed. And you have some fresh air to share.
Because you’ve been there, you can be Jesus to someone.
And it was necessary for Jesus to be like us . . . so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God, a Priest who would be both merciful to us and faithful to God in dealing with the sins of the people. For since he himself has now been through suffering and temptation, he knows what it is like when we suffer and are tempted, and he is wonderfully able to help us. – Hebrews 2:17-18 TLB