Can you imagine being seated at a table with your closest friends, celebrating an ancient tradition, knowing all the while that this is the last time you will ever see them again? Or, can you imagine being one of those friends, seated at a table with someone whom you love as a member of your own family and suddenly hearing him say that one of the people sitting at that table would betray him and that this would be the last time you ever saw him? Imagine, then, the despair that Jesus’ disciples must have felt as they sat and listened to him say those very words. The man they’d spent the last three years of their lives with; them man to whom they’d devoted themselves was going to die and they would be left alone. The anxiety of that separation must have been overwhelming, and I think I’ve felt something similar to it.
During the years I was fighting so hard not to be who I was, there was a very real and constant feeling of separation. I felt separated from my family and friends. I felt separated from the people I worked with. Most dramatically, though, I felt separated from God. The best way I know how to describe it is to say that it almost felt like ending a friendship. God was still there, I knew that much; but, we didn’t talk anymore. We didn’t have any relationship at all. The things I knew about him seemed distant and somewhat unreal. I wondered if I’d ever really known him at all. During the worst of those times I wondered if he was even real. I grieved a relationship that no longer existed. I asked a lot of questions that I never thought I’d hear myself ask.
As I continued to ask those questions, something very interesting happened. The turmoil that had been building inside me for years began to resolve. It was almost as if a pressure valve was opened — the way my great-grandmother would remove her pressure cooker from the heat and lift the pressure regulator with a fork to let the steam escape. I began to feel less confused and tormented. All of those thoughts and feelings I’d been having for years began to change. My understanding of myself, of the people around me, and of God began to change. I began to realize that the God I’d grown up knowing was really only someone else’s version of him. I’d never really known him on my own. The way I’d known him all my life wasn’t wrong, but it also wasn’t personal.
As bad as Thursday’s Passover Supper was, Friday must have been terrible for the disciples. The few who hung around watched Jesus be mocked by the same people who had cheered him less than a week earlier. They listened to him be accused of crimes he never committed. Worse still, they saw him brutally beaten and then hang on a cross for hours while he slowly suffocated under his own weight. Everything they knew about their lives, their ministry, and their world crumbled around them in the matter of one day. Despite the fact that Jesus had told them time and again, like most of us, they missed the rest of the story. On the other side of Easter, the disciples came to a new understanding of Jesus. The person they thought they knew was only part of who he really was. Their mourning turned to rejoicing; their doubt turned to belief; their admiration for a man turned to worship for a King!
We have the benefit of knowing the beautiful part of the story without living through the ugly part of it. But, that’s not always true in our own lives. Sometimes — I dare say most of the time — we have to live through pain and heartache to find joy. I know I did…well, I know I am! This is all so recent to me that I’m not really sure I completely understand it yet; but, what I do know is that my understanding of God has changed dramatically. I am coming to know him personally now. The most comforting thing to know is that God hasn’t changed…I have!
Through conversations I’ve been having with a new friend I’ve been thinking about this a lot the last couple of weeks. Until I started thinking about it I didn’t realize that as recently as last year many of those doubts and fears still held sway in my life. Things were not going as planned. Everything I thought I knew seemed to be wrong. The questions mounted in my heart and mind. When I finally dared to allow myself to ask them is when things started to change. I began to realize God was just as real as he’d ever been to me…no, he was more real because I finally understood him for myself.
We are on the other side of Easter, friends! We can know God. My goodness…even as I write those words I’m amazed at them…we can KNOW God! Dare to doubt — he can handle it. Allow yourself to ask questions — he can answer them. Give yourself the liberty of knowing that God never changes, but the way we understand him can…for the better!
A Blessed Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday to you all!!