Hearing the bad news coming out of Kenya these past few days has been a sobering reality about our world. I know that there is tragedy and evil like that pretty much every day of every week, but this one hit home because we have close friends who are missionaries in Kenya, and my son and I are preparing to join a team of 15 from Faith Church going to Kenya this summer.
I’ll admit, probably because of our unprecedented access to every part of the globe, I can get jaded about the bad news. How many times can you get totally upset over a mass shooting before you start to get numb? We call it growing a thick skin.
Some people, rightly though, say that we shouldn’t be surprised by the evil and tragedy out there in the world today. They say that it is a fallen world, and that bad news is part and parcel of a fallen world. I tend to agree, but, man, can that come across callous.
I am paying closer attention to the news in Kenya, and I’m feeling it more emotionally because it is personal. Thankfully my friends in Kenya live in a different part of the country and are safe. But so many in Kenya are struggling today, so many are experiencing profound loss with this very bad news.
And that feels completely contradictory to the task I have in this blog post. My aim is to introduce an Easter sermon.
I would much rather be introducing an Easter sermon after hearing wonderful news about how Christians in the world did something incredible because of the hope they have in Jesus. Instead today we are hearing about Christians who were killed for being Christians.
I suspect that my consternation over this introduction is at least in part stemming from my vantage point of Christianity as the largest of the world religions. But the original Easter story happened to a group of people that were the furthest thing a world religion.
Let me explain with a new word I learned this week: Triduum. Ever heard that before? It refers to the three days leading up to a feast, in this case Easter. The Holy Triduum, or the three days leading up to Easter are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. As I was preparing for worship this week, it struck me how awful those three days must have been for those first followers of Jesus, and of course for Jesus too.
On Palm Sunday they are marching triumphantly into the city. The crowds declare him King. These are bold moves. You don’t walk through the current king’s front door proclaiming that you are the new king, and you certainly don’t do it without a massive army. Jesus came not riding on a warhorse, but on a peaceful donkey.
Who knows? Maybe the Romans were laughing their heads off at that scene. They probably didn’t feel threatened at all. If they wanted to, they could have stopped the events of Palm Sunday immediately and ruthlessly. Physically speaking they had no reason to be threatened by this supposed Jewish King.
Turns out it wasn’t the Romans, but the Jewish leaders who felt threatened. They had been dogging Jesus for months and now things came to a head. The joy and victory of Palm Sunday turned to a betrayal and arrest on the first day of the Triduum, Maundy Thursday. Jesus’ disciple Peter whips out a sword to fight, thinking this is the moment. You gotta love Peter’s passion, making the first strike, cutting off a dude’s ear. But when Jesus heals the guy, putting the ear back, you have to think that Peter was shell-shocked.
Hours later he denies Jesus three times. All of Jesus’ 11 remaining inner circle run away, except John. If Jesus was arrested, they were probably thinking, there could easily be a bounty on their heads too.
Jesus passes the night in a dungeon, and now we’re at day two of the Triduum, Good Friday. He has been and still is being beaten repeatedly. He is brought to trial on trumped up charges, and the politicians get involved. They really don’t know what to do with him as he hasn’t actually done anything wrong, but the pesky Jewish leaders are calling for his death. So the Roman leader Pilate gives Jesus another beating and sends him to be killed.
And they crucify him.
John alone, of all the disciples, and some of the women, are the only ones at the foot of the cross. And Jesus dies. Imagine that. Three years of ministry. In the toilet. One of the Jewish establishment guys who is a secret follower of Jesus takes his body and buries it in a tomb. He is given an honorable burial, but it sure seems like waste. Could this one who was supposedly king material just be another in long line of failed upstart Jewish freedom fighters?
That takes us to the final day of the Triduum, Holy Saturday. A day of waiting, confusion. He had told them he would rise after three days. I wonder what those disciples were thinking. Did they have any idea what “rise after three days meant?” I also wonder if they were ticked off at Peter. I wonder if they even knew he had denied Jesus. Did Peter tell them? He wasn’t one to keep quiet. I can hear them arguing, debating wondering what in the world they should do next. Clearly they decided to stay in the city, maybe just because it was Passover and that’s what you did. Maybe they actually weren’t decided on what they should do. Maybe they were too torn apart to know how to think.
Their world was broken. The events of those three days had ripped it to shreds. Our world can feel very broken like that. Events of the past days leave us confused and frustrated, just like the disciples.
What do we do?
Is there no good news?
The Triduum will eventually finish. And there will be a new day. If you’re not part of church, we’d love for you to be our guest at Faith Church on that new day, this Sunday, Easter, as we search for some good news.