Every year I try to write an Easter-themed devotional. (See some previous posts here.) Here are this year’s thoughts on the occasion of Holy Week. This will be emailed to our newsletter list in a few days, but as many on this blog and on our Facebook pages don’t get the newsletter, here’s your copy early. Enjoy – and let me know what you think in the comments.
It is the start of Holy Week. We Christians of whatever label take time this week to remember and celebrate events that are at the heart of our faith: A coronation march into an ancient city. A sham trial. A barbaric execution. An unexpected finale with earthquakes, empty tombs, and wild rumors. And finally, a dead man come to life. Euphoria, despair, confusion, victory – all in one short week.
This up and down cycle of Holy Week is a pretty good metaphor for life. Whether it is our own small lives or the grand drama of human history through the ages, we experience the same wild swings from giddy joy to awful despair, with a lot of waiting time sprinkled throughout. This is a picture of how God works in our histories, small and large, to bring us to an end that he sees and has ordained from the beginning.
We know how it ends before we begin
That last phrase is where we have to begin: The end has been planned from the beginning. As Jesus went through the cycle from the exuberance of the Triumphal Entry (Palm Sunday) to the sorrow of the Last Supper to the humiliation of his trial and the agony of the cross, he knew that that he was participating in a drama whose end had already been written. There was pain. There was shame. But there was no uncertainty. He knew how it would end.
John makes this clear in his introduction to the events of the Last Supper:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end… Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper… [John 13:1,3-4]
Jesus’ whole-hearted embrace of events that had been laid out for him from the beginning of time reminds me of Psalm 44:4 where we are told that God “decrees victories” for his people. What a great thought – we don’t have to earn our victories – God has decreed that we will win. If this was true of Jesus, and of the ancient people of Israel, it is also true of us in our day. Whatever today feels like, God has already decreed that there will be a victory. It almost feels like cheating – like starting your first game in the NCAA tournament knowing that strings have been pulled and you have been guaranteed the crown.
Not what we expect
But the victory that God has decreed is not like winning a tournament. It may in fact be a ‘win’ that looks and feels like a defeat. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem had all the marks of a popular revolution – a “Jewish Spring” with crowds in the street, and an implicit appeal to history (“Hosanna to the Son of David…”) – but it ran headlong into roadblocks thrown up by entrenched authorities, both religious and political. The “powers that be” would not be challenged so easily. Thus betrayal by a close associate, arrest in the dark of midnight, an illegal trial and a hurried execution.
None of this precluded the victory that God had decreed for Jesus – in fact, this chain of events was the path to victory. But no one could see that. God works in ways we can’t predict and often don’t expect. God’s victory, absolutely certain and final, does not look like anything we expect or can predict before it happens.
A whole new beginning
Jesus did try to prepare his people for the nature of the victory that would be coming: “They are going to kill me, yes. But on the third day I will rise from the dead.” He told them this a number of different times. And no one believed him; but how could they? They saw him killed. They saw him arrested, beaten, nailed to the cross. They heard his last groans, watched as his lifeless body was shut into the tomb. They saw a guard posted, a governor’s seal across the entrance. Jesus was as dead as a human being could be, certified by the full authority of the government. That was that. It was all over.
Except that it wasn’t. For there was something else at work here that trumped all of the usual calculations, a power for which political power, religious hubris and the limitations of the laws of biology and physics have no relevance. Human ‘winning’ is based on human rules, but God’s victory is based on his own rules. This is what this looks like, according to the Psalmist:
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”
Jesus could not lose, but he would not win according to human calculations. His victory was of a different order altogether, an act of power so unimaginable that its consequences are still beyond our comprehension. For this victory was not simply a reviving of one battered, dead body, though it was that. Nor was this victory only the first step in the defeat and banishment of all human death (see I Corinthians 15), as awesome as that would have been even if that were all that had been accomplished.
No, this is God’s triumph over all that is wrong, and all that is evil. It is his mighty restoration of everything that has been bent, broken or stained by human sin. It is resurrection and it is redemption.
It is victory!
This is why we do what we do at Care of Creation – because every tree planted, every flower tended, every puppy hugged, every child caressed is one more piece in this great victory. Caring for creation is one way we can participate in the victory that is Easter.
Why don’t you join us?