The morning headline struck me like shrapnel, “U.S. FACES HARDEST, SADDEST WEEK.” I took a second look at it, then a third. And droplets filled my eyes. Could I handle more sadness, more grief, more sights of body bags in our cities?
Then the eyes of my heart turned to Holy Week, when Christians follow the feet of Jesus through the last week of His life on earth. His steps led to a glorious triumph at the end, but the journey was one of agony, humiliation, and deep sorrow. His walk to the Cross on Friday was up a stony path through Jerusalem known as the “Via Dolorosa,” which is translated as “The Way of Sorrow.” The tears of sacrifice led to a death and then the most brilliant sunrise the world will ever know.
Perhaps we can find hope here. Our world leaders are assuring us that COVID-19 will peak and then it will pass. They point to the well-intended but trite “light at the end of the tunnel,” and try to lift our eyes past the current waves of dread and depression to see a horizon filled with promise. And we lift our heads, if ever so slightly, to catch a glimpse of that beacon in the distance.
The human spirit needs something to anticipate, to dream, to envision, to long for. In the absence of this aspiration, we fall into a despair that can kill the soul. The scriptures tell us that “faith, hope, and love abide, and the greatest of these is love.” But sometimes I wonder if it should be hope that is supreme. In my seven decades on earth, I’ve seen men and women survive without love. But I’ve never known one to make it without hope.
Yes, we need the promise of a sunrise, but we also have to face the darkness, if we’re to be honest with ourselves, and with God. Dr. Carl Jung urged us to face and assimilate our “shadow,” the unpleasant and rejected parts of ourselves. Jesus walked into the presence of evil and commanded the demons to name themselves. The One we call the Light of the World entered the pitch blackness of the sordid world and triumphed over it. The Cross is our towering symbol of that triumph. But it came only after the deadly encounter with the worst.
A week ago I posted on Facebook my thoughts regarding a recent trip to the grocery store. It was a dismal morning, and I saw human beings bent over, cautiously peering over their makeshift masks. I wrote of the terror and fear in the eyes I saw. I wish I could have reported a ray of sunlight, a smile, a nod. Anything positive. But on that particular day in that particular place, I saw nothing but doom. And so I wrote what I witnessed.
The responses went something like, “Russ, surely you saw something positive. You used to be so upbeat, lifting the spirits of so many of us. What happened to you?” And my answer to them was that I don’t have to be Pollyanna any more. I’ll find a silver lining wherever I can. I’ll look for the helpers in times of disaster. But if I can’t see any light, then I’ll be honest and write the truth. This most likely is upsetting to those who’ve known me for the last half-century, but it’s where God has brought me. No more “power of positive thinking” or “possibility thinking” unless I can substantiate it with the evidence before my eyes.
Again back to this sacred week. The “Way of Sorrow” is real. It hurts like Hell. In fact, it sometimes resembles Hell in its fiery torment, its bloodletting, its isolation, and its hopelessness. Christians believe our Savior endured all of this to secure the greatest victory ever…for time and for eternity. But Good Friday had to occur before Easter. Blood had to be shed. Dying had to take place in order for resurrection to emerge.
Our Jewish friends and neighbors will begin the observance of Passover at sundown on Wednesday, April 8th. The narrative is similar to the one Protestants and Catholics tell. The sorrow of bondage in Egypt. The Exodus, the journey of freedom to the Promised Land coming only after the sacrifice of the lamb and the blood around the door. The Angel of Death “passing over” the homes of the Hebrews who were protected by the blood. The deaths of the firstborn of Egypt. Weeping and wailing piercing the night sky above many dwellings as the muted songs of liberation wafted upward from simple hovels.
Sorrow before joy. Or finding joy in the midst of sadness, knowing that a kind, merciful, benevolent God will always be faithful to those who trust. To those who persevere. To those who hold onto hope in the midst of death and bereavement.
Yes, we’ll get through this awful time. We trust that the right leaders will rise to the occasion and rally the nations of the world to join in facing a common foe. Perhaps it’s too naive to expect Germany, China, Russia, and America to work together, but I’m not going to let go of that vision. At least not yet.
The poet of Psalm 30 sang these notes of promise to us all, “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” So let’s walk together the Way of Sorrow, encouraging one another, embracing the message and the assurance of Holy Week and Passover. And let us boldly and honestly confront this dark void…without losing the hope of the dawning.