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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Meals

I like food. Most people who spend any amount of time around me know I like food. I like making food, eating food, sometimes sharing food (if people ask first or I offer.) Food is one of those great things that can bring people together in a way most other events or things can’t.

So I guess it’s no surprise just how much eating is in the Bible. Many of the big key moments of the biblical narrative happen at a meal or around food of some sort. Just to name a few:

* Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
* God announcing Isaac’s birth to Sarah
* The Exodus beginning with the Passover meal
* David beginning his flight from Saul, eating the bread of the presence
* David welcoming Ish-Bosheth
* Esther saving her people from treachery happened at a banquet
* Daniel and his friends choosing veggies over unclean foods in Babylon
* A majority of Jesus’ ministry (parties and feasts – no really, go check)
* Jesus’ final Passover meal before his crucifixion

I guess I like having people over because I figure something big’s gonna happen during the meal. There’s plenty of precedence, after all.

But seriously, two meals stood out to me when I was reading up on the Easter story (yes, it’s early, but I plan ahead) for a lesson this April. I was reading the story of the Road to Emmaus. This story centers on two followers of Jesus who are heading to Emmaus, presumably their home, after the Passover week. They are distressed and discussing what had happened to Jesus when Jesus himself starts walking alongside them. They don’t recognize him, of course, but Jesus begins asking questions and ends up explaining about himself starting with Moses and the prophets and how he had to die to fulfill what was written. The followers were impressed at his knowledge and invited them to their house, and Jesus broke the bread and blessed it. Suddenly, the two travelers recognized Jesus and he vanished. They ran back to Jerusalem and told the Eleven apostles what had happened.

One phrase I left out makes a world of difference, along with a detail I had never considered. One of the commentaries I read suggested that Cleopas’s (one traveler’s name) companion might have been his wife. Which would make sense if they were headed home after Passover. The phrase is: “and their eyes were opened.” We see this several times in the Bible as a way to say someone has received understanding. Here, the two travelers received understanding that their companion was Jesus, in the flesh!

There’s another couple who receives this phrase in their story: Adam and Eve. When they eat from the tree, Genesis says, “their eyes were opened.” Suddenly, they understood disobedience and shame. They wanted to cover themselves and hide. Their understanding was pain itself.

But now fast forward to this passage in Luke: a couple has their eyes opened to the new life Jesus talked about. They see Jesus and recognize him as the Messiah, the Savior, the King. They recognize that the fear, shame, pain, and death that came from that first meal has completely changed. At a table so far separated by time, a new recognition dawns and this couple understands Jesus’ mission and victory!

So when people like me say that meals are important for the family, the biblical narrative seems to support that. Big things happen during meals. Understanding between members is fostered, and knowledge and wisdom pass from generation to generation. Laughter is shared, pain is shared. A regular family meal is something that should not be ignored, no matter how fast life moves.

May your family meals be impactful, fun, and a place of love.