It is now March, and although looking out the window towards my Canadian landscape the earth is still majestically sprinkled with snow, the sounds of life are silently hushed although a bird’s voice just emerged in glorious song, and the weather is a balmy -13C (lest you think I am complaining just two days ago it was -24C so this is quite the improvement!), spring is proverbially right around the corner. As we say good bye to our skates, our skis, and our snowboards, we say hello to the earth beneath our fingernails as we begin planting soft flowers and succulent vegetables, and we say hello to wildlife including the Canadian Geese at Tyndale which enjoy attacking unsuspecting students.
Although fall is my favourite time of the year, spring comes in a close second for me. There is something brilliant about the spring time. For one, it signals the end of another year at university or seminary and for some a time of transition from academia into professional life. For others spring marks the beginning of the busy wedding season full of new life and a profession of love. Not least of all, when talking about the Seasons of Life spring is often seen as the prime of one’s existence. A time when everything is new, when hope is beginning to bud, and when future aspirations begin to emerge. It is a time of not knowing and yet being content in that not knowing. It is a time of rejoicing as the ice begins to crack and we can see the lake again.
For Christians, spring is also the beginning of something far greater than simply the beauty of the earth. Spring is also a time for us to remember the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ who for humanity and for our salvation came down to this earth in order that we would have the ultimate example of someone to follow. Through His gruesome death on the cross, Jesus displayed to us an ultimate example of self-giving love culminating in the act of rejecting His deity for a short time in order to feel the full effects of humanity. It is for this very reason that the writer of Hebrews reminds us that we don’t have a high priest who is indifferent to our daily strains and struggles, but instead we have a leader who has fully come into us and was tempted by the same taxing temptations that we go through daily and yet He conquered each one without sin.
The season of Easter in most Christian traditions is similar to the season of Advent for both Advent and Easter are a time of awaiting, a time of not knowing, a time of suspense. We are not Lent people, we are Easter people. We know the end of the story. We know that as Rob Bell would say, “love wins”. Yet, this Lent I would encourage you to strip yourself of those notions. To do away with the fact that you know what comes next in the story. Read the Scriptures this year as if you were one of the first disciples. Although you know the Hebrew Scriptures, your emotions are telling you differently.
You have just met Jesus. He has become one of your closest buds. You have enjoyed sharing many meals with Him, going on fishing trips with Him, and occasionally drinking a beer with Him (okay, I just threw that in to see if you were still paying attention!). Jesus is your closest confidant. You feel you can tell Him anything and that He would never judge you. He’s been so good with your kids and every time you’re about to lose it on your wife, talking to Him seems to make everything okay again. Your trust in Him has grown over the three short years that you’ve known Him and just like many people who have a best friend would relate, although it’s only been three years, you feel like you’ve known Him for an eternity. You can’t really remember what your life was like before you two met and became buds. You do everything together.
Just last week, you were in Jerusalem with Him. Everyone was hailing Him as a King. He was riding on a donkey and people were putting palm branches in front of Him. You don’t think you have ever felt so proud of your best friend. Then suddenly, as if without warning, things change. Looking back, you can see where and how the tide started to turn, but in the moment you are at a loss.
You’re both Jewish. You’ve just settled down for the most important celebration of the year – the Passover. You’re recounting the ways God was faithful to the Israelites when they fled Egypt. You know that if He hadn’t been you wouldn’t be here today. You’ve done the customary fast from leaven bread, you’ve washed up, and now you are sharing your meal together. But this meal is different. Passover is always a sombre time for you, but even in the sombreness, there is a sense of rejoicing. Yet, today feels differently. As if a heavy cloud is hanging over all of you and you simply can’t name it. Jesus looks more tired than usual. He looks weary, as if something is on His mind. But you know guys, they don’t talk about feelings, usually. So you decide to just let it go.
Then Jesus does something strange. He takes a towel and puts it around His waist. He starts washing each of your feet. You can’t understand. This is the role of a servant. Of someone who is not a member of the family, but Jesus is your friend and He’s also your mentor and teacher. Why is He doing this? You try to resist, but He continues anyway. He says something about being a servant. You don’t understand. Just last week people were hailing Him as royalty. Princes and Kings don’t do stuff like this. Only peasants and surfs do.
Finally, the meal continues on. Jesus takes bread and wine. Two common household items that generally don’t have any significance, and He looks up into heaven and blesses them. Then He passes them around. There’s nothing unusual about this. This is what generally happens at a meal. But what happens next is something very strange. He says that the bread is His body and the wine is His blood. Wait a minute. Does this not sound like cannibalism?
As you continue dining, Jesus’s pained expression grows more and more heavy. Finally, you nudge Him on the shoulder because you can’t take it any more. “Man, what’s up?” You say. “something got you down?”. His eyes almost fill with tears and His voice quavers as He relates “someone around this table is going to betray Me today.”
You don’t get this. Everyone around this table is friends. In fact, these are your 12 closest friends and you know that they’ve always got each other’s backs. Sure, you’ve all made mistakes. Had a few quibbles here and there. Sometimes had a full blown argument. But you’ve always apologized to each other and no remorse or bitterness has sprung up. After taking 10, you always remember that you’re all best friends, make amends, and forget entirely about the situation. So how could Jesus be saying that someone in this tight knit circle of friends would betray another from this table. You don’t understand it.
Everyone begins to look at one another. Pointing fingers, accusation in their voices. “Surely not I, Lord.” “You must be thinking of someone else.” You try to console Him, but He refuses to be comforted. He just looks glum. Suddenly the mood becomes even more grave.
“Lord, who is it?” “Who’s this man who is going to do such a thing?” Someone finally pipes up. Jesus looks around the table, His eyes briefly falling on Judas before He looks down. Judas and Him exchange a glance as if they know something no one else knows. “The one who is going to dip His bread at the same time as I do.” Jesus mumbles. Sure enough, Judas dips his bread in with Jesus’s.
At that moment, Judas’s eyes grow wild. Is it fear? Anger? Remorse? Or? He slips out without a word… Jesus calling over His shoulder as He leaves, “Whatever you are going to do, do it quickly.” None of you know exactly what He means by that.
You all finish the meal quickly, somewhat uncomfortable with what just happened. No one says a word. As you exit the room, you sing a song. A customary Psalm you all grew up with and generally love. But this time the words seem hollow. Even the song doesn’t seem to lift anyone’s spirits. You sing it mechanically, simply having memorized the words although the words do not hold any special meaning to you now that you have just gone through this crazy evening.
Finally, Jesus walks with you to the Garden of Gethsemane. He wants to be alone, He says. You’re all tired. Physically and emotionally. You’re running on empty. There’s nothing left to give. You collapse on the cold ground and your eyelids close, meanwhile your friend is going through the most agonizing moments of His life.
You’re suddenly awoken by the sound of quickened footsteps, shouting, and the light of torches. As you begin waking up, you see Judas… he’s still with you guys… oh wait, no, he’s with the guards. He gives Jesus a kiss on the check. A customary greeting, but then before you know it, Jesus is seized. Was isn’t the guy fighting back? Why isn’t He kicking, screaming, punching, hitting? Why isn’t He yelling to get your attention? You want to help Him, but you freeze. You aren’t sure what to do. Finally Simon Peter, lunges at one of the servants and cuts of His ear. Blood starts pouring out of His head. Jesus, just restores His ear. As if He doesn’t care that these people are after His life.
Jesus is dragged away. The next few days will hold many trials, beatings, and eventually His death. But none of that matters right now. Your leader, your best friend has been taken from you and you feel so helpless and so alone. You feel like you’ve failed Him. What kind of friend are you?
Not only that but you feel confused by Judas’s actions. He was one of the guys. He was your bud. How could He do something like this?! You begin to question everything you’ve ever known. Jesus had spoken to you about His death before. You knew it was inevitable. But not now. Not here.
And so the period of waiting begins… you don’t know the end of the story. You don’t know what comes next. You want to believe that this is all a bad dream, but whenever you pinch yourself you scream in pain. Where is God now? My God, My God, why have you forsake us?
The period of Lent in the Christian tradition is a time to recall and live with these emotions. It’s a time of uncertainty and wrestling with doubt. It’s also a time of immense sadness. The forty days leading up to Easter remind us to intentionally pause and reflect on the life of the Christ. It’s a time to sacrifice, but also to show mercy. It’s a time to engage more heavily with Spiritual disciplines, to fast, and to deny ourselves.
This Lent, I want to journey with you into the life and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ. I want to walk with you through His passion and through journeying with you help you to discover the passionate love the Father still pursues us with. As the Scriptures say, “He is willing that none should perish but that all should reach repentance.”
Our journey together will take many days and it will not be an easy one. There may be times when you are tempted to give up. To quit. But I assure you that if you stay the course, Christ will magnify Himself to you in new ways and give you a new spirit. Not one of timidity, but of a sound mind. Are you up for the challenge? If so, please join me over these next few weeks as we traverse the plains of Israel together.
 From the Nicene Creed.