Every year in the week leading up to Easter, I read the stories of Jesus’ crucifixion in the Gospels. After so many readings, I know how the story ends.
Even so, I find myself wishing for an interruption in the story. I’m like Peter in Matthew 16 who wants to deny that suffering will happen to Jesus. I want Pilate to stand up to the religious leaders. I mutter to myself about the folks eager to get Jesus crucified, and somehow I pray each time they find some hidden capacity for grace and love over fear.
Resurrection — yes, please! But this crucifixion part, I struggle to look full on in the face.
I wag my fingers at the disciples. I hope somehow history gets a do-over with Judas making another choice, or with Peter finally holding back from making promises his body won’t keep. Or that maybe this time instead of the three denials, Peter will fess up to knowing Jesus during one of them. Or even that somebody managed to stay awake and pray with Jesus.
But, maybe, in all that, what I’m hoping for each year as I read is a sanitized Gospel. The resurrection with no crucifixion. The disciples with their pious and faithful acts together.
In short, success without the mess.
I want to skip the broken parts. The shame. The darkness of the disciple’s betrayal. The flogging of our Savior. The jeers from the crowds. The hanging on the cross.
I turn my embarrassed eyes from the weakness; I want to pass over the moment where hatred and greed seems to win, and I get squeamish about the violence.
This very moment where all seems lost is not in fact weakness, but is symbolic of the very power of God. And I don’t fully comprehend it.
In a culture obsessed with success and image, the Cross challenges. The power of God revealed to us in the Cross looks initially like failure: God hanging upon a cross, executed as a threat to the Roman state.
And then there’s Jesus choice of companions: while he suffers, they scattered — afraid of being found guilty by association. Could he have chosen some better, more loyal folks?
But, in reality, perhaps this IS the hopeful part. Jesus didn’t demand perfection from the humans around him. Instead, he welcomed the would-be betrayers to the table.
As he picked up the bread, “This is my body broken for you.” And, as he picked up the wine, “This is my blood shed for you.”
Not a sanitized feast for the perfect, but a banquet for the beloved betrayers.
In a world that demands perfection (or at least the appearance of it), Jesus offers welcome. We’re loved as we are, not because of the images and brands we so carefully project. Jesus sees beneath our veneers, just as he saw Judas and just as he knew Peter.
And the table is for you and me, too. Imperfections, denials and all. Like Peter and Judas, he has our ticket, too. He knows the stories we’d like to pretend he didn’t. Still, he says, “Come and eat.”
I needed that table last night. Wrestling with identity and anxiety, I needed the tangible community of people and Jesus. And so before our small group met, I picked up some bread and juice.
Standing round the kitchen we passed bread and juice from person to person.
“This is my body broken for you.”
“This is my blood shed for you.”
Receiving the bread and juice from my husband nearly brought me to my knees. Hearing the words as he looked into my eyes, I remember — I am welcome. Still. Unconditionally.
We are ALL welcome.
Nobody gets to strip that from us, and all our rigorous striving didn’t earn us our places at the table. Our places are ever and always a gift, not a prize.
This radical grace and the power in weakness are foolishness to the outside eye as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 1. But, in them, Paul declares, is the very wisdom and might of God.
I still struggle with this idea. I still find myself dreading the recitation of the crucifixion on Good Friday. I want to avert my eyes and plug my ears until the celebration of Sunday morning.
The challenge is holding on to hope during the dark days before resurrection.
And looking round at the disciples, perhaps I am not alone here. We wonder how we could have failed. Looking at events before us, we ask how Jesus could possibly fulfill what he said, and even if he does, are we still the kind of people he’d want to use? Our baggage feels unsightly, and the flaws make us fragile and at times dangerous. Could God really still use us?
Coming back to the table, Jesus says, “yes.” The God who welcomed us enthusiastically yesterday will not change His mind about us tomorrow.
You and I, in our smallness and in our quirks, are exactly the people God wants. Not because we’re so spectacular, so full of hard-earned merits, or so smart with our “right” beliefs, but because that’s how God works. He fills in our chips and cracks, and those mended scars are precisely the places where His light shines to others (even while they’re often the places we’d most like to cover and hide).
God so often works not through the brilliant easy victories we proclaim, but through the failures, humiliations and defeats we’d prefer to hide. Perhaps it’s the scars we survived, the dark nights we shivered waiting for dawn to break, that proclaim hope and love the loudest.
Because Jesus resurrected, because I awoke this morning, because you survived, because someone held our hands, because we breathe — there’s hope for us all as we stare down our fears.