Several years ago, my father-in-law experienced a significant health scare. Though he is well now, I remember that time as being a veritable roller coaster of emotions. Initially, doctors thought healing my father-law would be simple…relief…but that relief became alarm very quickly as surgeons were consulted. Confusion then set in, as one department said, “Sure! We can fix this!” and the other said, “No, we really can’t.” But we weren’t done yet. For just as it seemed we had a tenuous path forward, a surgeon said the most terrifying phrase of all–this could potentially lead to death. The bottom dropped. And still, the ride continued, because the next morning what had been the…worst…prognosis…was suddenly spun around once more, as the partnering physician said, “Actually, I do this everyday. It’s going to be a piece of cake.”
I remember sitting in the surgical waiting room, trying to keep my brain busy as we sat on tenterhooks awaiting news. And then, suddenly, the door a door was thrown open, and the surgeon gleefully pranced inside (the man literally had a spring in his step) proclaiming the surgery a triumphant success. Thank God! Hallelujah! Where’s the wine?
Just a few short hours later, I was with my father-in-law in the ICU room as a nurse checked his cognitive function. As she asked him why he was in the hospital, my father-in-law, never missing a beat, pulled out his trademark humor and said: “I had br-a-a-a-in surgery.” Laughing, I knew we were going to be okay.
Life can feel like a roller coaster sometimes, can’t it? Things are chugging along smoothly, then the bottom drops out. We’re struggling up a hill that seems as if it will go on forever, but then all of a sudden, we’ve reached the summit and the whole world stretches before us. There are sudden turns, jarring moments of flailing upside down, but also smooth straightaways where we can sit back, smile, and enjoy the breeze.
This, in a nutshell, is Holy Week. We begin at Palm Sunday with joyous crowds, loud hosannas, and hope for tomorrow, only to be tempered a bit by the solemnity of Maundy Thursday as Jesus offers a new cup. Friday is an absolute horror show, as the crowds suddenly turn on the one they were exalting to shout, “Crucify him!” And then Saturday dawns, dark, somber, joyless with the disciples asking from their closed room, “How did this happen?” Of course, we know how it happened, as God spoke it from the very beginning of the story.
Luke 2 might seem an odd place to land when contemplating the Easter story…but the events of Holy Week are encapsulated for us in the words of Simeon as he beholds the Messiah.
Simeon tells Mary and Joseph that their child will bring salvation….but even more fantastical, it will be a salvation for ALL people–not just the Jews. Hallelujah, right? We are cresting the hilltop–but wait–Simeon isn’t finished yet. Looking straight at Mary he says:
What?! How did we go from salvation to sword so quickly? Ask Peter…he knows (John 18:10) Simeon makes it clear that along the path to salvation will be both joy and sorrow–and that Mary, this new mother still reeling from all that has happened and been revealed these past nine months, will find her heart broken open by this infant she cradles in her arms.
I wonder how Mary responded. Did she look at Joseph and murmur, “This dude is loco.” Or did she feel an inkling of fear shivering up her spine? Maybe she walked out of the Temple and decided it was time for a nap, as I can’t imagine she’d been getting much sleep and things often appear worse when you’re tired.
Regardless, Simeon’s words echo throughout the Gospel story–that the work this child born under such remarkable circumstances was called to do will bring about such turmoil and upheaval, both within our innermost beings and out in the midst of a broken and volatile world. There will be highs, and there will be lows. We will be caught off guard–or perhaps snoozing, like the disciples. (Matthew 26:40-42) We will shout, and we will cry. We will be stunned into silence. But we will also stand in awe at the absolute marvel that God has wrought in bringing about our reconciliation to him.
As we enter into this Holy Week, let us do so remembering that salvation is messy work. Be willing to experience all of the emotions this week brings–not skipping past the dips and turns and gravity-defying inversions. Instead, let’s walk with Jesus as he moves from palms to hyssop–as he listens to exaltations becoming jeers–as he asks for the cup to be taken from him, but affirms God’s will be done. Take the roller coaster ride of the salvation story this week–because when the cart finally pulls back into the station, we’ll be ready for the joy.
Blessings and Peace,