This coming Sunday marks the beginning of the events leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Holy Week runs the gamut of emotions from high celebration on Palm Sunday, to loss and bewilderment on Good Friday, to amazement on the day of resurrection. If I were one of the disciples watching this drama unfold, I am sure I would have felt completely overwhelmed and utterly confused. Here is Jesus, friend and teacher, who everyone hoped would develop a strong military campaign for reclaiming the nation of Israel, in which he would overpower the Romans and take back the inheritance rightfully belonging to the twelve tribes.
But what happened to him instead? Jesus is captured, beaten, and killed. Pilate acknowledged him as the King of the Jews, but in a mocking, taunting sort of way. Not with the pomp and commanding magnificence usually associated with a king. No one wanted to claim as theirs the bloody mass on the cross anyway. A person convicted of blasphemy and hanging between two thieves did not qualify as trustworthy leader material.
It looks like God’s mission failed. He’d sent the Messiah, the one promised to the Jews for their rescue. But this Messiah had only managed to get in trouble with the Jewish Law and was now dying a criminal’s death.
Where was a disciple to look for fulfilled hopes of restoration? Following Jesus might have been a waste of time. Peter returns to fishing. John takes Mary home. Darkness falls.
The cross was actually the best place to look for those dreams of restoration. Friday afternoon with its agony and suffering ushered in a new order. Redemption came as a vulnerable gift, not as a royal decree imposed by force. Saturday’s silence filled with questions hung as mystifying as the torn curtain in the temple. God’s Son had died. The way was now clear to approach him. Maybe this is what those startling events of the past week were all about. Everyone could view the Holy of Holies now, not just a consecrated priest.
The images from Friday probably played through the minds of the disciples over and over again. The verse from the hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross captures what the disciples surely would have felt.
See, from His head, His hands, His feet. Sorrow and love flow mingled down. Did ever such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Sorrow and love. The two qualities of Christ’s crucifixion. It was the best of times for these disciples, knowing their Lord loved them enough to die for them. It was the worst of times, knowing the intense suffering sin caused, and then grieving the loss of him. No one would ever take Jesus’ place. The end had come.
But then Sunday morning arrives. Mary runs into town with the astonishing news of an empty grave. Angels had greeted her with the announcement, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples” (Mark 16:6-7).
Jesus is risen. He conquered death and the grave. Salvation is freely given. Men and women from every nation can receive the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus paid the price. The work is done.
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.