Holy Week is over. Yesterday, I cleaned my local Walgreen’s out of all their remaining Russell Stover coconut nests. On clearance, mind you, at .39 a piece. And in the post sugar rush, I’m reflecting back on the holiday and my own spiritual journey through it.
Our church reenacts Jesus story of relentless love every year. I sat in on the dress rehearsal watching my girls participate in the Easter Drama last Wednesday. Truth is, I needed my attention to be redirected away from home renovations. As is our custom, at all the most inopportune times, we’ve been burning the midnight oil for days now painting and re-carpeting our house. Honestly, I was so tired during the show, at one point, I dozed off in the middle of the Last Supper. I woke up just as Jesus and his besties were entering the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus scoping out a quiet place to pray. Knowing He needed to connect with his Father to garner strength to face the cross, he asked his buds, “Will you be with me in this?” (That’s my paraphrase.) Not that they could really do anything to change anything but even Jesus wanted to know that some other fleshy, warm blooded ally was sitting vigil too. None of us want to suffer alone. I get that.
Most church-going people know what happened next. In all of the artistic renderings of the scene, Jesus leans against a rock lamenting. The dread and fear register off the charts such that Jesus physically sweats blood. It’s a thing, really. The medical term that describes the symptom is hematohidrosis. It happens when individuals suffer from an extreme level of stress that causes their blood vessels to dilate and rupture seeping into the sweat glands. Meanwhile, his buddies are painted into the background peacefully sawing logs.
Next comes Good Friday–at least that’s what everybody calls it, though frankly, I can’t identify anything about death by crucifixion that’s remotely Good. When you fast forward 72 hours, it all turns out great for us but jumping ahead to the happy ending before sitting long and deep in the events of Maundy Thursday and Holy Friday feels dismissive to Jesus suffering, disrespectful to His agony and devaluing to His personal cost.
This year, I found myself rehearsing the Gethsemane scene on loop. It’s like I heard Jesus saying to me,
“Hey, Hope, would you sit with me in my suffering?”
“Will you reflect on why I suffered?”
“Could I reveal to you my personal love?”
He didn’t demand or threaten.
He didn’t guilt trip.
It was just that still small voice inviting me to watch and pray.
So, I decided to do what I always do when I need an up-close and personal meeting with God, I go to the beach.
Maybe one of the reasons I never felt truly at home in Dallas is because I couldn’t meet up with Jesus at Lake Michigan.
Sunday afternoon was sweet. Sweatshirt weather.
I walked south into the cool breeze, barely beyond the reach of the gently lapping waves, wondering what it would have felt like to walk in Jesus sandals.
There was the betrayal–Judas.
Getting “ditched”, as Starla calls it– Peter.
The false accusations– the Pharisees and Saducees.
The injustice– Herod and Pilate.
The humiliation– the soldiers.
Mocking– the crowd.
And the physical pain…. Hands and feet nailed to a cross.
I got my finger slammed in the car door once. It wasn’t nearly as bad as childbirth but it kept me up all night from the throbbing.
And not being able to breathe.
Closest thing I’ve felt to being winded is when I get panic attacks or go jogging.
And even though He technically could’ve changed the situation, the mysterious paradox of the Christian faith is that he also couldn’t.
It’s like having to deliver a stillborn baby or facing chemotherapy treatments for cancer.
There’s no other way than through it.
After what seemed like walking halfway to Grand Haven from Hoffmaster Park, I told Jesus,
“I’m so grateful for what you’ve done for me– but I know it’s not grateful enough.”
“I really love you– but honestly, I don’t love you the way you deserve to be loved.”
Truth is, I’m caught in the now and the not yet. It’s as if I’m peering at his reflection in a poor mirror; but someday I’m going to see him in his completeness, face-to-face. Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as God sees into my heart right now. (A loose paraphrase of 1 Cor. 13:12)
And here was His gentle response, right there on the beach.
“Thank you for being with me today, for sitting in my story and holding it with care.”
You know, we call God, in all of His Trinitarian forms, our Father, our Brother, our Bridegroom. Point is, when we’re His, He’s family. We’re family. And oftentimes we take family for granted. I throw up my popcorn prayers to God like He’s the penny pony at Meijer—put in a cent and get a ride. Honestly, more than I’d like to admit, my default is to connect by asking Him for a bunch of things or telling him a bunch of things or expecting Him to help me with a bunch of things while totally missing the blessed relational reciprocity that comes from listening to and learning from His story too.
This Easter Sunday, I listened.
And I heard it from the shore birds flying overhead, “My love is high.”
And as I squinted toward the horizon where sky and water meet, He whispered, “My love is wide.”
As far ahead as my eye could see, it was only sand and clusters of beach grass hemmed in between water and still mostly naked trees. I picked up a dried out stalk and wrote it on the beach, “My love is long.”
And the waves, something like a belly laugh, from the bottom of the sea sang the song of the “deep, deep love of Jesus”.
Sometimes, there’s not a conclusion to a story. There’s just sitting quiet in a holy moment and whispering “Thanks be to God.”