guest post by Katie, serving for 2015 as a short-term missionary with the ReachBudapest team
Over the course of this most recent Lent and Easter season, I read through a Lenten devotional by NT Wright, called “Lent for Everyone.” It was really a quite impactful devotional—I often ended up reading what I had read that morning aloud to my roommates as we began our days, simply to share in the richness of thought it contained. This was also the first time I had so intentionally and so fully walked through Jesus’ story during the season of Lent and by the time I arrived at Easter weekend, both in the physical world and in Matthew, I felt the movements of Jesus’ life on earth in a new way. I held a fuller picture of Jesus’ work on earth, a better understanding of what it meant when he said at the beginning of his ministry that “the Kingdom of God has drawn near”. He was declaring that God himself had come down into the muck and mire of his creation, and was bringing this Kingdom with him. I realized that this
very holiday was the culmination of that movement—that Easter weekend was the weekend when Jesus brought heaven and earth together in a way it never had been before, and that out of that connection, something new was being formed. Out of the messy collision of this communion God was and is working, even still today, to bring transformation, redemption, newness, with Jesus as the King.
Through this experience I was struck by how this transformation seems to work, that this culminating point in the Christian narrative is one that I often still act out on a micro level over and over again in the day-to-day every day of life. As a Christian, and specifically as a Christian engaged in full time ministry, I am often living through little Good Fridays, Holy Saturdays, and then Easter Sundays, in a rhythm that ebbs and flows with the movements of pain and joy, loneliness and community, work and rest that are inevitable in such a line of work. In this rhythm, I am confronted with the paradox of the Christian life: it was finished
once and for all 2000 years ago, yes, but I look around and realize that it also isn’t yet. Because while all is ultimately now set right, somehow simultaneously nothing is right. I live through moments where life is full of sorrow or confusion or hurt, as though Jesus has just died and even hope is hiding from me. I live through moments when the world is numb and the work is hard, and seems as though Jesus had just stayed dead in the ground. And then, of course, there are the moments when joy and hope and life break through, and it is as though Jesus has risen again. And then the cycle repeats itself.
Now it is true that through in each of these emotional moments of life, Jesus is actually still risen, it is true that what Jesus heaved as he took his final breath holds as always true even when I feel like it isn’t…it is
, truly, finished. But, in a strange way, in order to declare this it is as though I have to trudge through the experience of this ultimate event over and over again. Though frustrating sometimes, I find deep beauty in this process. In going through it, I am shown that the work of Jesus wasn’t a musty, stagnant, solid thing meant to stay bound, caged in time 2000 years ago. This event was meant to be active and moving and alive. It was meant to be fluid, it was meant to transcend time. It was meant to be lived and relived by the world, and by us, over and over and over—yesterday, today, and then tomorrow again, each time re-declaring its truth to a world that often wants nothing to do with it. In this way, Jesus meets the pain of this world here, now, today, and responds to it directly, right here, right now, today. This constant re-realizing of the Easter story is not something to fear, nor is it something to push away as lack of faith. I think it is redemption in motion.
Alongside this recent reflection, I was reminded of the “Grand Inquisitor” chapter of The Brothers Karamazov
by Dostoevsky. It is in this chapter that Alexei says nothing in defense of his religion, even after his brother Ivan (the most intellectual of the four brothers) exerts himself completely setting up what he views as the ultimate argument for his unbelief in God. Instead, Alexei answers Ivan’s questioning and argument in the same way Ivan’s Christ responds to the Inquisitor’s attacks, giving his brother nothing but a loving, comforting kiss. When I first read this chapter of the book I remember being amazed at how frustratingly Biblical this answer is. This response somehow echoes of the God who answered Job’s cries for rescue from suffering, not with an explanation or immediate relief, but instead with a long exhortation saying nothing more than he is God and Job is not. It likewise echoes of the Messiah who, though the Jews hoped he would ride into their world in triumph and on a war horse, instead rode in on a donkey and his triumph was in his death (and resurrection). Both of these answers to the very real question of pain were, to say the least, underwhelming. Like the kiss with which Alexei bestows on the problem of pain, on his brother’s pain, these answers seem to ignore the question completely.
But the beauty in these answers is that perhaps, by ignoring the question, they more fully address it. The answer takes onto itself the painful reality that has birthed the question because it does not try to explain, argue, or fight away this reality. In this way the answer, if that is what it is, is able to instead hold the weight of the question. The answer seems to show, though it gives no direct resolution, that answerer knows what is causing the asker to ask, and in acknowledging this addresses the root of the question.
If we stop and think about it, what other answer could we want than this? God, in response to Job’s suffering offered himself. And God himself, in the person of Jesus, offered himself as the answer to the oppression and slavery his people felt by taking on himself the full weight of the oppression, the very root of the oppression—sin. What fuller answer could have been given? He didn't explain or argue away the question, he didn’t explain or argue about why he came to die instead of fight. He only said that this is the way it had to be, and accepted the question as valid enough to die for. And in doing this, he removed the threat of even death itself from his people. From the whole world should it choose him.
And so, in the moments when I live through the Good Fridays, Holy Saturdays, and Easter Sundays of life here in Budapest, I see the call to live like Christ in this sense. It presented itself recently when a friend shared with me about hurt and pain present in her life right now. My first instinct was to try to convince her of the hope and truth of Christ and Christianity (though it is true), to explain away or fix her hurt. But I thankfully resisted this urge, and instead listened to her and prayed for her. I am thankful because, though I wanted to fight against it, I was witnessing a Good Friday moment—a moment when I caught a glimpse of the hopelessness and helplessness that weighed on the cross that Christ carried. In the Good Fridays and Holy Saturdays, I learn from Christ to resist the knee-jerk urge respond to the pain of this world by trying to fix it, trying to present it with answer to justify or argue against it or argue it away or into submission. I learn from Christ, rather, to carry it, to be in it, and allow his Spirit to move instead of me. I share in the sufferings of Christ this way, remaining as a faithfully present witness to this pain. And though I may pray without ceasing for my friend, and though to this friend God may seem dead, I cling to the hope that this is just Good Friday. That though Jesus seems dead, as Tony Campolo famously declared, “Sunday is coming!” Choosing to shoulder her pain, I cling to the promise of Christ for her, that this is not the end, that the final Word hasn’t been spoken. In doing this I declare the truth of the death and resurrection of Christ here. Christ is here, moving in this world. His work was not nailed to the cross or even stuck under the boulder of the empty tomb of 2000 years ago. It is moving and active, carried by his Spirit, in Budapest, right now, today.