Life is full of the unexpected. One day we are moving through life with excitement and hope for the future, and the next day we find ourselves sitting in the face of loss and wondering what in the world just happened to us. This has been my reality this year, and that of many others around me also. What exactly do we do when life takes a wild turn in the opposite direction of our hopes and dreams? How does one live life in the aftermath of the unexpected?
Usually when I read the Easter story, my focus is on Jesus and the circumstances leading up to His victorious resurrection on Easter morning. However, this year, I am looking instead at how the people around Jesus responded when the inevitable journey toward loss unfolded. Jesus knew His ultimate purpose was to die for mankind, and shared it with His disciples at regular intervals. However, for the disciples, accepting this was a gradual awakening to an unwanted reality. When it became clear that Jesus’ words were coming true, the responses of His followers were diverse. How they navigated their loss provides insight to us as we face our own difficult situations.
First, there was Judas, the coward. When he saw that Jesus had a different agenda than he did, he decided to create an exit plan. He allied himself with the ones he saw as having power in the situation and tried to negotiate a way he could come out on top. He did not want to go where the road was leading, so he attempted a detour, only to later regret it. The lesson I see in Judas’ response is that trying to take situations into our own hands, to make our own path in order to avoid suffering, can just lead to more pain.
Then there was Peter, the fighter. How I see myself in him! As the road to Jesus’ suffering came into view, he responded with denial. No, it won’t happen! It can’t! I won’t let it! When armed men came for Jesus in the garden, Peter took matters into his own hands and launched an offense. He threw all that he had into it, but Jesus reminded him who had the ultimate power in the situation, no matter what things looked like. Peter’s little rebellion did nothing to change what had been ordained. What I learn through this is that all of my protest and human strength adds nothing to help God be more aware of or more powerful in my circumstances.
Contrasting these fight or flight responses, the Bible shows an alternative in Joseph of Arimathea, the courageous. Formerly a secret follower of Jesus, he boldly stepped up to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body. He may not have understood why Jesus had to die, but he knew what needed to be done at that moment, and he did it. He accepted Jesus’ death as a reality and took responsibility to ensure He received a proper burial. What I see in Joseph is a faithful acceptance of doing what needed to be done no matter how painful it may have been. It was not glamorous, but it was admirable. I wonder what went through his mind as he spent time preparing Jesus’ body. I imagine he wept for what had been, grieved over the brutality of Jesus’ broken body, and said goodbye as he placed the body in the tomb and closed the opening with a stone. Joseph’s example tells me that, even in face of the unknown and the unlovely, it is essential to do what we know is right.
Lastly, I read of the women who stayed close by while Jesus was crucified and later buried. They were clearly overwrought at their beloved Master suffering such undeserved cruelty. Still, they did not shy away but instead took their stand with the One who was unpopular. They were not afraid to be seen on the side of suffering. As they returned to the tomb to honor Jesus’ memory, they were the first to discover that He had been raised from the dead! By staying close to Jesus even when it looked like all hope was lost, they were in the right place to see Him display His glory. These women show me that it is important not to run, hide or give up, even when it looks like nothing good could possibly be happening.
If you find yourself in the midst loss today, I encourage you to take time to reflect on the Easter story and see what wisdom you may glean for your situation. Maybe you need to resist the temptation to create a shortcut through your suffering, for it will only prolong your pain. Or perhaps you, like Peter, need to lay down your weapons and realize that God fully knows the details of what is happening. It may be that, like Joseph, you need to lean in with courage to carry out the humble tasks in front of you as you try to make sense of what has happened. Or like the women, you may need to stand with Jesus and wait until you see Him show up and turn the situation around. Above all, may you know that your Savior knows firsthand what it is like to walk a road of suffering, and His power is available to sustain you as you await your own resurrection of hope.