Devastation! – July 5, 2020
Zechariah 13:7, Matthew 26:30-56
July 5, 2020
In our extended look at Holy Week, we’ve thought about Jesus teaching in the temple, including his harsh words to the Pharisees! We’ve thought about the plots against his life, his Last Supper with his disciples, his betrayal, his denial, and his abandonment. Then last week, we talked about his trial, the trial before Pontius Pilate – that amazing power struggle between those two men.
This week, I thought it would be good to think about Jesus’ disciples. I would like us to think about what they were feeling, especially as this week ended. As I always say, we the readers always have the best perspective on these stories. We know more than the people in the stories knew. We can try to put ourselves in their shoes, (their sandals) but we can only be marginally successful doing so, because we know the story! We cannot see the full depth of their despair, because we know the end of the story. We know the hope! In this case, we cannot imagine the full depth of their devastation. And that’s the word for the day. That’s the title of this sermon. I’m doing one-word titles lately. The word for this one is “Devastation.”
As I began my thoughts for this message, the first thing that came to mind was an old song by Elton John. Maybe you remember these words. “But losing everything is like the sun going down on me.” Isn’t that true? When we “lose everything,” isn’t it like the sun going down? Well, these disciples were literally “losing everything.” The sun was going down on them! Their entire world of those last three years was slipping away. Now, they were about to lose their master, and along with him, all hope for the future! Do you remember the two travelers on the road to Emmaus, on what was actually the first Easter day? What did they say to the “incognito” Jesus – about Jesus? Do you remember? “But we had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel.” That hope was now gone!
So, try to imagine how these disciples felt! Their hopes and their dreams were destroyed, as their master died on that cross. Everything that looked so good for the future, was gone! They must have thought, “This can’t be happening!” Everything ended, with a finality of death itself! “You don’t come back from death!” Or so they thought…
This was devastating to them! That’s a good word for this! A couple of weeks ago, I called your attention to a song in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. Well, another of those songs came back to me this week. It was sung by Peter, called, “Could we start again, please?” Actually, it was a duet sung by Peter and Mary Magdalene.
After the arrest of Jesus, they sing these words:
“I’ve been very hopeful, so far.
Now, for the first time, I think we’re going wrong
Hurry up and tell me, this is just a dream
Oh, could we start again, please?”
Maybe you’ve been in a situation where something that was important to you seemed to be ending. And perhaps things came “crashing down” unexpectedly. Maybe your life was changing dramatically, and it would never be the same. Maybe you’ve known times of hopelessness. Maybe you have known devastation. And those two words go together, don’t they? When we are devastated by some kind of loss, hopelessness often goes right along with it. Because the word “Hope” is about the future, and when that future is lost, we lose our hope, don’t we?
I think of the stories from the days of 1963 and 64, when the hopes and dreams of so many died along with President Kennedy. That was more than the death of one man! Whoever actually committed that crime – that unsolved, unprosecuted crime – the “crime of the century” – whoever did that, did more than just kill one man! Along with him, they killed a lot of people’s hopes and dreams for the future! Do you see how that is?
Some have said that the same is happening in the present world. Someone sent me these words this week. “We’re living in such a time, a time when hopes and dreams are dying, and the future is so uncertain. This is not how we thought life would ever go! People are dying without family around them. They’re being buried without the gathering of people celebrating their lives. Business are closing. Weddings are being postponed. And travel is being cancelled.” And I would add, that, “we did the best we could with graduations! Yet, young people who spent 12 years in school didn’t get much of a sendoff into the world, did they? Not to mention, they had no Senior Proms, final exams, or graduation parties.”
In all of today’s crises, it’s been said that the world is changing. And some have said the changes are good. And I think in some ways they are. But, there will also be – and already is – a lot of grief over the loss, the loss of important things that we’re “used to!” And that grief is real! And I would caution those who are espousing the “greatness” of the “new world,” to recognize, and acknowledge that grief in people.
I think a lot of what’s happening in our world today echoes the feelings of the disciples at the end of Holy week. In today’s reading, Jesus had left the relative security of the Upper Room, and he had led his disciples out to the Garden of Gethsemane. And a lot was about to happen very quickly! At some point, I might give some attention to Jesus, and his prayers of anguish that night. But for now, I want us to think about the disciples! Because it’s here, in Gethsemane, where he told them they would all abandon him. Not at the table together in the Upper Room. It’s here! And it’s here where we have Peter’s words, “I would die before I would abandon you!” And they all agreed! And they were all about to be given that opportunity!
Here, in the garden, Jesus spoke to them as their master, one final time. And that’s what he told them. He told them they were all about to abandon him! And he was actually quoting scripture – which Jesus often did. He was quoting from the prophecy of Zechariah – the penultimate – the second to the last book of the Old Testament. “I will strike the shepherd, that the sheep of the flock may be scattered.” That was a passage about the cleansing of the people of Jerusalem. And I think maybe the disciples were familiar with that passage, or at least they had a sense of its meaning.
“Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered.
I will turn my hands against them.
And I will put them into the fire,
And refine them as one refines silver, and gold
Then they will call on my name,
And I will answer them,
I will say, “They are my people.”
And they will say, “The Lord is my God.”
The “refining” of silver or gold is always seen as a metaphor for a “trial by fire.” The people were to be “purified” as God’s people, but not without a lot of pain. The disciples probably knew what he was getting at. They probably sensed there would be such a time of trial, just ahead. But I don’t think they knew all that it meant. Because at that moment, they all swore with their very lives that they would never abandon him!
Shortly after that, the soldiers arrived. And yes, there was one attempt to fight, but it was Jesus himself who stopped that! I read today from Matthew 26, and this is one place where Matthew and Mark are nearly word for word. But Matthew adds one little detail – which I love! In his final words to his disciples, Jesus says, “Put away your sword! Do you not think I can appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more that twelve legions of angels? But this must be so, that the scriptures be fulfilled?” There was one last glimpse into the true power struggle that was happening that night!
So, this was going to happen! There was nothing they could do about it! They were about to lose everything, and the road they had been on with Jesus was about to end! The new path they were about to take was much harder! And not only was it unavoidable, but the master himself was telling them it had to happen! They were devastated. That was the reason they fled! They weren’t just scared! They were devastated!
I believe that was their state of mind from Thursday night, through Friday and Saturday, and into Easter morning. And actually, it didn’t end even then, at least not right away! Remember those travelers on the road to Emmaus. They had lost all hope, too. Even though there were some crazy stories they heard from earlier that day, stories of angels and visions, even though they had a glimmer of hope, still, it took days for all this to sink in. Even after Jesus appeared to them again, it took weeks, not days, and it took the intervention of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, until they finally got it!
Devastation can be that hard! And I think we all know that. Maybe we’ve had what we might call our “dark night of the soul.” I know I had mine, years ago. And it was hard! Maybe you’ve had yours, too. Maybe it’s now. Maybe it’s because of the changes in the present world. Maybe it’s something else, something only you know about, in that deep place in your heart.
Whatever it is, it’s like these men experienced. They knew it too. And like you, they could see no hope. But remember, we know the end of this story. We know the glory they couldn’t see! We know the victory that was right around the corner. And in whatever devastation might be ours, we can know the God who has that same “readers’ perspective.” God knows the end of the story – like we do, when we read these stories! He knows there is hope. He knows there is victory.
Like these disciples, it may take us some time to realize it. It may not be so much a moment of hope, as it is a road towards hope. And sometimes that’s a long road! The trick is to keep moving down that road. Sometimes it may seem to us like we’re walking in a dark room, just hoping to remember where the furniture was, but knowing there’s light on the other side of the door! Sometimes it may seem like driving down a road we think is right, but we haven’t seen a road sign in a while! The important thing is that we keep moving towards the hope that is ahead!
And don’t forget how comforting it can be when we have companionship on such a road! It’s a powerful thing when we know we’re not alone! So, welcome that company when you find it! And don’t miss an opportunity to be that companion on the road toward hope for someone else. And you don’t have to worry about knowing what to say, except, “I am with you.” And sometimes you walk with them in silence, because the “with them” is the most important thing!
And remember, you are never alone, either! When hope seems to be fading in your life, when there doesn’t seem to be anyone around, look not to the “feeling” of hopelessness, but instead, look to and rely on the promise in Jesus’ last words spoken on earth, that he will be with is, always.
Eternal God, we need your promises when it feels like we’re alone. Help us to have hope in knowing you. Help us to know your presence and to have your peace, no matter what the circumstances of our lives. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.