God is dead.
That’s how it feels sometimes. On this night some two thousand years ago, God died. Mocked, beaten, killed. As the sun set over that hill in Jerusalem, God’s fragile body hung limp and lifeless against the knurled bark he was bound to. For those who knew him and followed him, who loved him, this was the end. The man they believed was their savior, their king, their only hope, was gone. Everything they knew for the last three years, everything they were so sure of, died on that tree. What could they do now? Where would they go? How could they follow him to heaven if he was dead? Maybe he was misleading them. Maybe he was just wrong, like so many others who claimed to have answers to life’s mysteries. Their sleep must have been fitful that night, if they got to sleep at all.
The morning arrives. No voice booming from above, no caverns of fire opening up from below. Just the regular morning busyness out in the street. Birds chirp, children play, men prepare for the day. The previous day’s events seem like a dream, like they couldn’t have happened. Like they didn’t happen. Except that for the last three years, every morning, the disciples knew there would be a plan for that day. Somewhere to go, something to do, someone to follow. Now there was no one. No direction, no guidance. No purpose. No hope.
The only consolation left to them was each other. No one else could understand the loss they felt. Eleven souls adrift in murky, uncertain seas. Being together was their only, but significant, comfort. Each one encouraged the others to be stronger than they felt themselves. Some cried. They told stories of the last three years. Some were funny and they forced a weak smile. Mostly though, they felt betrayed. He often talked about his death, but none of them imagined it like this. At least, not so soon. With so many promises unfulfilled. With no final instructions.
But the miracles which opened their minds and the words which scorched their hearts flashed in memory. They could all but dismiss what they experienced as genuine and true. But what could they do now? He was the source of it all. They were just observers. Witnesses. They couldn’t continue his work themselves. Unsure of their future and of their faith, the disciples discussed their options. They had to go on. What did they do before all of this started?
People say that the disciples’ return to fishing was a result of their lack of faith. Symbolic of their failure to continue as disciples. Upon experiencing loss, we tend to return to the familiar, seeking some kind of anchor to regain a semblance of bearing. I do not fault them for this. The alternative would have been to give up altogether. I can only imagine the amount of courage and strength it took to even leave the house. They were failures and fools in the eyes of the entire city. Their savior, crucified like a criminal. The combined pain of shame and purposelessness must have been crippling. It is the kind of pain that rends the most vital of men numb and bedridden. But they continued the best that they were able, with torn hearts and clouded minds.
There are periods when all earnest followers of Jesus are introduced to this situation. When God feels distant, silent, or dead. Personal tragedy, bad church experiences, failed relationships, loneliness. The world is filled with circumstances that make us feel like God has forgotten us. We remember how he had set fire to our lives in the past, but that past feels disconnected. Like it belongs to someone else. We feel hopeless and purposeless, like the disciples without Jesus. Unsure of our future and our faith.
How can we continue? We must, because the alternative is not an option. We cannot deny the muffled screams from the part of our souls that knows there is no going back. Our experiences with God, however muted, has changed us forever. We must do our jobs, serve at our churches, and seek out fellow lost souls. We must not stop. There are others who feel abandoned by God, others who are waiting for him to return. As long as there are others, it is possible to go on.
Those three days between Friday and Sunday must have felt like an eternity to the disciples, but it came. They did not know when it would come, or if it would come, but it came. They did their best to pray to a God who had died before their eyes. Those could only have been confused, angry prayers. No more than cries out to the darkness. But it was enough. These eleven broken men were redeemed and their impact continues to be felt two thousand years later.
As we go through stages in our lives between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we must remember what happened to those who experienced it first. God had to die in order to be raised. He leaves us in order to return to us in the most glorious of ways. At least, I hope so. Until then I guess.