One Dark Night

Your hero is dead. He was branded a traitor and killed mercilessly and cruelly. You watched as your own neighbors called for his death, shouting for the most painful execution available. Your oppressors efficiently carried out their duty, performing their grim ritual with blind reflex honed by multiple executions per month of would-be revolutionaries. Those zealots had taken up arms, had opposed the regime with righteous indignation and blood, and had paid with the same currency. The darkness overhead seems unbearable, even more oppressive than the grim eyes of the soldiers as they patrol the streets during the annual festival, prepared for another doomed coup d’etat. ¬†You look into the eyes of your friends, once so full of hope and life, and see reflected in them your own creeping doubt and fear. Every sound, every gust of wind might be the authorities coming to take you away from your friends, your family, your own life. You look up to heaven and ask, “Why?”

At least, that’s what it would probably feel like to be a refugee in a war-torn country… or one of Jesus’ disciples on Good Friday. I can’t imagine living through the hell of war in a civilian area. As an American, the idea of fighting a war on our home turf is something out of history books and legends. Yet, so many today are living it, with nowhere to run.

Jesus’ disciples probably felt much the same the day Jesus died. Their friend, teacher, and king had been ignominiously executed between two criminals whose crimes were bad enough to draw Roman attention. This man whom they knew had done no wrong, whose revolution had been one of grace, peace, and radical love. We downplay this love. Jesus’ love for others wasn’t a wimpy, fickle love. His humility and acknowledgement of the dignity of human beings was profound, and changed lives. His love challenged authority, challenged hypocrisy, and leveled the playing field of faith. His love healed the broken, sought the lost, and strengthened the weak. His disciples felt this, and it transformed them… eventually.

Jesus’ death rattled them. Suddenly they were unsure, afraid, unable to move from their hiding place. The darkness overwhelmed and consumed their hearts, snatching victory and leaving only despair. I wonder what their prayers sounded like Friday night and Saturday? Did they pray? Did they shout in anger? Did they weep in despair? Did they recite Psalms calling for God’s judgment in harshest terms for those that had maligned and killed their teacher? Was there one that understood? Was there one who sat in the silence and heard the faintest whisper of Spirit saying, “Just wait and see…”?

In our lives it seems like we are always feeling like we are on one side or the other of Easter. We are Easter people, living in a victory that is still breaking through to our reality. But some days, we are surrounded by pain, by death, by brokenness, by sin, and we wonder whether we will ever see the light of the sun rise again. These things can’t hold Jesus… and they can’t hold us forever, either. God saved the Israelites from Egypt, and has saved us from the bonds of sin and death. God is faithful.

One dark night… led to a brilliant sun rise.

Easter is coming.

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Attacking the Needy

I’ve been thinking about a couple of stories lately that seem somewhat relevant to current events. They are Old Testament stories, which are often exciting and full of danger, mystery, wonder, and God’s direct action! These, stories, though, are kind of sad, really. They show a darker side of humanity which should be examined every once in a while.

The first comes from Exodus 17:8-16. The Israelites have just escaped the chaos, suffering, and pain of their Egyptian slavery. They’ve recently received divine help through the gifts of manna, quail, and water to feed them and quench their thirst in the wilderness. This rag-tag group of former brick makers and builders are now having to forage and become tent dwellers in a wandering city. They’ve been blessed with supplies, but eventually they will run out or become scarce. Any identity they had with their job or place of living has been stripped away.

In their distress, one of the national powers of the region take an interest in them… but not to the Israelites’ benefit. You see, the nation of Amalek sees a people who look weak, easy to plunder and gear up for an attack. Suddenly, the rag-tag group of nomads has to pick up weapons and learn how to wage war. God comes to their aid, but the Amalekites would suffer for their actions later in the book of Samuel.

The next story comes from Numbers in chapter 20 verses 14-21. This time, the Israelites would like a slightly shorter, straighter road for their journey. They are bumped up against the borders of Edom (descendants of Esau) and request passage. The Israelites do not ask for supplies, or water, or anything but the ability to pass through safely. Edom refuses, threatening violence if the Israelites so much as cross the border.

Despite their poverty and relative weakness, two ancient kingdoms refused to show them mercy or kindness. It seems odd to see someone in need and to threaten violence, but it happens even today.

When you family sees someone in need, what is your first reaction? How does your family talk about the poor, the needy, the hurt, and oppressed? As a subject of King Jesus, what role do you think your family could play in caring for others?