by Frederick Harrison
I’ve been gnawing on the Luke 7:17-35 passage over the last month. Especially verse 22.
John is in Herod’s dungeon wondering when Jesus will depose Herod and establish a Godly kingship on earth. He remembers the Isaiah 61 prophecy but doesn’t get the bigger picture.
John has in mind unfortunates like himself, jailed because those in authority don’t like what he is saying. “Brood of vipers!” indeed. We’ll throw him in the pit until he pays us a little more respect.
Jesus has another sort of prison and prisoners in mind – those prisoners of sin and death, from all times and places. Which includes John and us. But he has to go to the cross to accomplish that and, as John the Apostle so aptly puts it, his time has not yet come at this point in the gospel narrative.
But come it does. And those who were expecting a coronation got a crucifixion instead. Good Friday thrusts a sword through the heart of Mary and many. It’s not supposed to end like this.
As Frederick Buechner puts it “the miracle of Good Friday was that there were no miracles”. God doesn’t pull a sleight of hand. No last minute rescue by angels. No coming down off the cross lke the mockers had requested. Just “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Then silence. And the immanence of death.
And a little later, a spear thrust in the side – just to make sure the death sentence had been carried out. Blood and water – clot and serum – confirm the worst.
Jesus’ reference to Jonah’s “three days” has come into play in a manner no one could have guessed.
It’s not supposed to end like this. How often have we said or thought that when our expectations of God lie shattered on the ground. When our loved one surrenders their final breath to cancer. When a phone call delivers the most devastating news one can hear. When all hope is gone in an instant.
But the dawn of the third day comes – and with it resurrection. God is alive! – and so are we, more alive than we can imagine. And to our open mouth looked of astonishment and joy He says “Peace my child. With God all things are possible. I’m bigger than you can imagine.”
I think of Jesse Jackson, tears rolling down his face, standing in a crowd of people celebrating Obama’s victory. He was the last person Martin Luther King Jr. had spoken to that fateful April 4, 1968, just after 6 PM. King, standing on the balcony of the motel, had asked Jesse, standing below in
the parking lot, to join him for dinner – and added, jokingly, for Jesse not to wear blue jeans.
Then the crack of a high powered rifle. Then Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young cradling King as he lay dying. Young sobbing “Oh my God, my God, it’s all over” and Abernathy rebuking him “No it’s not over. Don’t you ever say that!”. Then the journey to the hospital and the inevitable pronouncement of death at 7:05 PM.
Even if King had survived, his brain had been starved for oxygen and his spine fractured. There was no way back or out. King was dead. His concluding words of his last sermon “I’ve seen the promised land” now took on prophetic import!
And here, 40 years later, it seemed as though they were being fulfilled. Barack Obama is not the Promised One, nor is his presidency the coming of the Promised Land, however much people might like to think they are. Yet still God has made a way out of no way and Ralph Abernathy’s “No, it’s not
over.” has been proven right.
African Americans and White Americans have together taken a big, bold step towards King’s dream, which is nothing less than Jesus aspirations for us all. I wonder how many thought of Psalm 126 that evening. The Kingdom has not come, but this’ll do until it does; hope
for the journey ahead. Water at a well.
Meanwhile, Jesus, having accomplished all things for our salvation and seated at the right hand of the Father looks at His church and asks “Are you the ones who come after me or do I look for another?” then answers His own question “No, there is no other. No Plan B. You’re it. Now get to work – and remember – I am with you always.”
Yes we can – through Christ who strengthens us. Let’s begin…
Frederick Harrison works at Crux Books in Toronto and is a member of the Wine Before Breakfast community.