The statement was so clear. In its innocence and yearning, my heart broke. Tears streamed. My soul echoed what I needed the toddler, my own son to say, but hadn’t yet said with my own lips. Proper reverence and all that.
There on Maundy Thursday, as the altar was stripped, as the clergy shed bright shining vestments for plain black cassocks, as the last traces of Jesus’ presence were escorted from the chancel and to the altar of repose, he spoke into the attentive silence of the congregation:
“I don’t want Jesus to die.”
Those sitting closer looked over. Some were, perhaps, annoyed. Others nodded their agreement, as if to say, “we don’t want him to die either.” One verbally agreed with him.
He turned, concerned to his mother and continued to process aloud, in real time, what the liturgy was re-enacting.
“Why mama? Why did Jesus have to die?” he asked over and over, louder and louder. Insistent. Worried.
How do you explain the economy of salvation to a three year old? Which equation do you choose? As a parent I feel wholly inadequate to this task. To say in simple words what the cross means.
And this is mostly because these days I’m not sure any more. I thought I’d gotten out of the rut of Holy Saturday, but I wonder today if that’s just a lie I’ve been telling myself. Today, though I want to, I’m not sure I can say what Jesus’ resurrection means to me, let alone how it might be the inspiring, world-changing hope that I want it to be.
And today it’s Easter. It’s Easter, but for so many of us, Good Friday is still with us. We are caught in death, denial, disbelief. We join Cleopas and his companion on the road, dejected, decimated, feeling deceived.
We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
We didn’t want him to die.
What a waste.
We have come face to face with our disappointments. Our disappointments with Jesus, with each other, with life’s circumstances. With ourselves.
And yet this morning, as I sat in a pew with my family, listening to a sermon that seemed preached very directly for me, the preacher put it this way:
“What if disappointment isn’t the final word? What if it’s only the beginning of a new discovery, of eyes wide open, eyes to see God’s spirit at work in the world.”
At these words, my heart started to warm.
Fr. Richard Rohr writes this words in Falling Upward:
“Any attempt to engineer or plan your own enlightenment is doomed to failure because it is ego driven.”
At the thought of these words, my heart sinks.
Such failure is precisely the trajectory of my life. For that is precisely the way in which I seek to live. To engineer and to plan my own enlightenment. To figure it all out, to sort out salvation by my own power.
I had hoped that he would be the one to redeem me.
I had hoped that he would be the one to redeem us.
And I had hoped that he’d do it as I had planned.
I want to have an answer for the hope that is within me. I want to live in greater hope. But I’m stuck with Cleopas and his companion on the road.
Cleopas and his companion are at the limits of their explanations. They are at the end of their hope. And that’s when Jesus reveals himself to them as he tells and re-tells the story. As he reveals himself in the breaking of the bread. As he declares finally, exhaustively and authoritatively that he has not been bound by his oppressors, let alone the grave.
And as they listen, as they eat, as they walk with Jesus, it is as if they are re-narrating Israel’s story from the very dawn of creation as he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
Then their eyes were opened.
Like Adam and Eve, their eyes were opened. But unlike our first parents, their eyes were opened to see and experience God in a new way. This eye opening did not guide them into hardship, but into revelation of God’s unfolding dream.
On the road, their opened eyes simultaneously echo and undo the story of the fall.
It is finished. It has been accomplished for days, weeks, years, centuries, two millennia, and yet to this day we struggle to come to grips with all that it means. We struggle to tell ourselves, let alone our children, what miracle God has done in Jesus. Our eyes and ears are not open.
Or perhaps they’ve been plugged by snake oil salesmen disguising themselves as ministers of the gospel. Jesus isn’t magic. And yet in him, something unbelievably powerful has been accomplished. The impossible has come to be. We can scarce believe it. We can’t put it into words.
And yet I need to. I need to put into words what’s happening here. What’s happened for me, for us, and for our salvation.
This morning, as the tears streamed down my face, tears I desperately needed to cry, I began to find a shred of faith. And another. And another. Faith on the other side of suspicion, evil and death. Faith on the other side of escapist fantasy. Faith on the other side of a reductionistic rationalism. Faith on the other side of a dominant notion that Jesus’ death and resurrection are mere fairytale that change nothing.
The pendulum continues to swing. This Easter, I find myself hoping and praying that God reveals himself on the road. I find myself hoping and praying that I might let go of my planned enlightenment. I find myself hoping and praying for simple good news on the other side of complexity. I find myself aching for more tears, for a heart burning within me, and the ability to once again put words to the faith I have in the risen Christ.
Above all, I pray for the words to respond to a three year old whose question still rocks me to the core.