Easter Blessings

This has been a frustrating season. My expectations for how this all was supposed to go have been torpedoed and left to sink. Where I have desired peace, I have found busyness, where I have sought quiet, I have found noise. Not music--noise. I have come to my favorite time of year distracted, harried, and unable to tune out the self-conscious voice in my head that seems to shout whenever someone else is saying something I know in my soul I need to hear. 

Lent never used to be so important to me; for most of my life, I saw it as merely a curiosity at best. As I understood it, it was a time to give up something enjoyable but trivial, to talk about what you've given up and wait for the silly, faux-impressed "oooooohh"s from your friends. Now, I look forward to it. I look for the hardness of a thing given up, and I keep it for myself. I don't talk about what I am leaving behind for Lent--I don't want praise from others, and I certainly don't want to trivialize the practice of retreat from custom for the sake of drawing nearer to God. So I give up, and this year I found in the strangest way that I am selfish for Lent.

I had high hopes for this Lenten season. I had my plans and my expectations, and as I mentioned before, we see how far those went. I hoped that in the giving up, I would be reminded of my need for God, and in recognizing that need, I would draw nearer, feel closer, and have more clarity on my seemingly endless, restless questions. What I have learned is that when you leave a void in something, it creates a vacuum--and something else will inevitably be sucked in to fill the void, usually whatever is closest at hand. So far from drawing closer to God, it has felt as though the emptiness has created a magnet, making whatever I walk by stick to me and thwarting my imagined pious serenity. Far from sensing the coming of the Kingdom, I have felt as if life has been a constant game of whack-a-mole, with each round more frenzied and frustrated than the last. The result has been that rather than giving something away to be filled by the Spirit, I have simply felt empty, regardless of what I threw into the void.

Maundy Thursday I listened to the story of the Last Supper from John's Gospel and wondered how I could ever relate adequately to what I was hearing--when I could not make good use of a few weeks specifically meant to be set aside for growing in discipleship, how could I ever claim to have laid my life down, as the disciples did at Jesus' calling? 

Yet as I find a few quiet moments on Good Friday, remembering the larger context of their story, I find hope--cautious hope, but hope nonetheless. I must preface this with two thoughts: first, I do not want to haughtily suggest that there is any inherent virtue in finding a commonality with Jesus' best friends--our commonalities are the weaknesses for which Jesus reproached them. Second, I also do not want to suggest that sharing their weaknesses increases the likelihood of sharing in their redemption and glory. And yet there is the stubborn hope. The disciples had expectations. They wanted to see God's glory, and they knew Jesus would be the man to show it to them. They acknowledged him as King, the Anointed One, and spoke of following him to death. They had a picture in their mind of how that might look, and I find no reason to doubt that they meant every word. But the King they imagined Jesus to be looked more like Shakespeare's Henry V at Agincourt, and the death they envisioned dying at his side a glorious, rather than humble, shameful thing. 

So it must have been frustrating to see Jesus handing himself over to the authorities without raising an objection. It certainly seems frustrating enough that Peter felt it appropriate to draw his sword and relieve one of Jesus' captors of an ear--which again drew a rebuke from Jesus. Still, there was hope it could be as they thought it was. Jesus might be flogged, but as long as they were shrewd, the thing might be salvaged. Maybe that was what Peter was thinking in denying Jesus--it was no good to have him and Jesus both imprisoned; then he could do nothing to intervene. But that was the point the whole time, and all the disciples missed it. There was not going to be any intervention, no gallows rescue. And along with Jesus, all the disciples' expectations were nailed to a Roman cross--a common place for hopes and expectations to die. 

I have known such a feeling before, if only in the smallest of ways--the feeling of watching the death of the last shred of your hopes that something, somehow would be as you thought it was or should be. I've felt the march into the unknown, the numbness of confusion at how things could turn out as they have. I have felt the alienness of each moment when all the signposts of what you thought was reality have disappeared behind you in the distance. I have no idea if that is what the disciples felt on Friday and Saturday. How does one properly mourn in that situation? To lose something is one thing, but to lose the source of your hopes and expectations--then reality itself becomes unmoored, and with it the ability to even measure the relative goodness or badness of anything. Perhaps that's the reason for the numbness. 

But then something strange happened to the disciples. In the middle of their confusion, their pain, and their readjustment to the awful new reality, their hopes were created anew--not merely revived, but completely transformed at learning of Jesus' resurrection, and doubly so in seeing Him. Everything they had hoped for in Jesus with the expectation that the world was going to be forever changed was confirmed in a way so incomprehensible to them that even when Jesus had explicitly told them about it, they could not conceive it. They had to experience it to understand what it meant. But in the experience of Jesus' resurrection, not only were their hopes confirmed, all of their experiences with Jesus, even their whole conception of history and humanity suddenly fell into place and had cohesive meaning. What once had been nothing more than broken bottles became a mosaic. 

I'm not there yet. There is still much that doesn't make sense, and many ways in which my experience of reality is bound up in Saturday. But I know that Sunday's coming--there's that stubborn hope again. I was selfish for Lent, but the Easter Triduum is teaching me that my foolish hopes and expectations must die as well. Maybe I did learn something new in Lent--maybe in a strange way I do feel closer to God--but it's in spite of my 'best' efforts, rather than because of them. And maybe that makes all the frustration of this past season make sense. Maybe those broken pieces are beginning to come together to form something beautiful, and just in time to catch the Sunday morning sunrise.