[The meditation below is adapted from the last chapter of my book, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint]
Holy Week is not necessarily a “happy week.” The truth is, many of us are disillusioned. Prayers tossed skyward have been met with no reply. Our eyes have scanned the horizon for an immaterial rescue. Celebrating with the church calendar can be an embittering exercise for those disenchanted with the church or with its Lord.
Such disillusionment is actually quite fitting for Holy Week. On Good Friday, we recall those hours when the Lord of the church tossed his own unacknowledged prayers skyward and found the same horizons empty of deliverance. Sharp disappointment is embedded within the Gospel passion narratives. It is perhaps most personalized in St. Luke’s account of a conversation along the Emmaus road.
The Evangelist does not tell us why they are heading there… just how they are heading there. Demoralized and deflated, the two disciples are trudging along a rocky road leading away from Jerusalem.
Away from Jerusalem.
Away from the noise of mobs demanding blood. Away from the sight of cruciform posts with dangling bodies. This may well be the most cynical conversation in the New Testament.
“What are you two talking about?”
An interruption. The traveler had been edging closer to them as they walked. These travelers are in no mood for an eavesdropper. “They stood still, looing sad” (Lk 24:17). One of the disciples, Cleopas, decides to speak. It is not a very chatty response: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know what has happened?”
“Fill me in.”
They tell the man about Jesus of Nazareth. He had been an impressive fellow, doing and saying stuff like no one else. Died not more than three days ago. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”
We had hoped.
“I might add something,” the disciple volunteered, “something odd. Some women we know were making wild claims just before we left town, claims about seeing angels and not being able to find his body. Not sure what that’s all about.”
Missing corpse? Yeah, whatever. We had hoped.
“Where are you two headed?”
“Mind if I join you?”
This new conversation partner changes the tone. For someone who has not been following the news in Jerusalem, he has much to say. The mourning disciples realize they do not want to bid him farewell. They are thankful for his interruption. He sticks around for supper. Then they see him. They see him.
We hope. Faintly, at times. But we hope.
The disillusionment of that first Holy Week was met with the abrupt explosion of Resurrection. To prepare for Easter, let’s be ready to have our cynical conversations interrupted by a man once dead. And if a dead man imposes himself on our disillusioned dialogue, you know something is happening. When the Messiah vacates his tomb, something is stirring. Something new and wild. Something against the establishment. Death’s establishment. At the voice of the resurrected Lord, the cosmic superstructure of evil detects a virus in the system. A wrench has been tossed into sin’s machinery. The foundations start to pop with fissures. It’s time to plug up the leak, to contain the fire, to reseal any open tombs. Time for chaos to panic. Time for Satan to go berserk. Resurrection is God shaking his clenched fist in death’s face. Resurrection is God whispering death threats in death’s ears.
The open tomb of Jesus is a hole in the system that cannot be patched, defying the persistence of all that makes us cynical. The re-creating King has climbed up out of his grave. Keep an eye on that horizon. He is out there, loose, at large, roaming free—and returning at dawn.