I’m sure most of you are familiar with the TV show 24, in which a character named Jack Bauer fights off any number of enemies foreign and domestic. I never really watched the show, but I am fascinated by its real-time format; the viewer sees 24 hours of Jack’s life, one hour at a time. The Church has her own real-time show – it’s called Holy Week – and we are embarking on it now. From Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem to His glorious Resurrection, we will make that journey in time it took Christ to make it. We wave our palms at Him now, we will eat with Him at His Last Supper on Thursday; we will watch with Him, stand by Him as He is beaten and crucified; we will help Joseph of Arimathea seal His tomb, and descend with Him to Hell. Then, when all has been accomplished, we will witness the Light of Christ burning brighter than ever on Saturday night.
The story of Christ’s Passion, the story played out in real-time in Holy Week, is the story of humanity. It’s not a pretty story. Even if Jesus were not the Son of the living God, it would still be the story of a man falsely accused, betrayed, reviled, beaten, shamed, nailed to a cross and unjustly killed because what he said threatened an already compromised class of elites. Until Saturday night, there is no victory to mention, moral or otherwise, there’s not much to lighten the load; just the story of what happens when humanity is forced to face the truth about itself and the truth about God.
It’s not pretty, but it’s our story. Our story doesn’t contain much good news, so we have a tendency to ignore our story, to gloss over it. We lower the lights a little bit so we don’t have to see it clearly, we say things like “We must look at the story of the Passion through the lens of Easter,” through gauze and Vaseline like a Barbara Streisand movie. But there’s no way to pretty up the Passion, so we ignore it or take it in little bites.
But ignoring the story doesn’t make the story any less true. Ignoring the Passion or refusing to take part in it mitigates it not at all; on the contrary, attempting to soften the ugly story of the Passion only softens the Good News it contains. That humanity is capable of torturing and executing any random innocent man is a reality that will not disappear by averting our eyes from it; that humanity is capable of doing those things to the Son of God only makes that reality harder to bear. This is the bad news, if that’s news at all, that humanity is not only depraved but fallen; we chose and continue to choose to be separate from the God that made us good. When presented with Jesus on one hand and Barabbas on the other, we choose Barabbas most of the time.
Hearing that report on the state of the human condition is about as fun as poking a badger with a spoon, but it’s a needful reminder of what is so good about the Good News. Without the bad news, no one actually needs good news; and the Good News is this: that even as we choose to separate ourselves from God, even as we choose to time and again lesser things, even as we time and again choose Barabbas, Jesus says “Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.” The Good News is even as we choose the things that cause our downfall, God loves us enough to save us from those things; that even as we continually whittle away our souls, God chooses to make us whole.
That’s what salvation means, by the way. Salvare, to save, to preserve from harm, a salve; our hands have cream as a salve, our lips have balms to make them whole, our souls have a Person to save them, to make them whole. God chose to make us whole, to repair our sin-damaged souls, to piece us back together and keep us that way, against the pains of Hell.
We will work out that salvation in real-time over the next week, one hour at a time. It’s not a pretty story, but we will live the realities of the bad news because if the Good News of Easter becomes how many Cadbury Crème Eggs we got in our baskets, then humanity is still sad and empty, Barabbas chosen once again. Walk with us this week to the Cross; I promise, an hour weeping in the darkness makes the Light of Christ even brighter.