When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written,
“I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.”
But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’
How difficult must it have been for Jesus to face his final hours not knowing whether his followers could carry on the mission that he launched? It is beyond the imagination of most of us to conceive all that Jesus was feeling and facing during this time that we have come to call “Holy Week.” Ushered into Jerusalem with the shouts of “Hosanna,” and received as a fulfillment to prophecy one day, confronting and challenging political, military, and religious leadership in days following, saying goodbye and being arrested, tried, beaten, and crucified. Few of us can fathom the stress and emotion of this time. And Jesus questioned whether his closest friends and followers ever fully grasped what was to come. Peter’s denial. Judas’ betrayal. The abandonment of the remaining disciples. The rejection of the crowds. The mockery. The agony. Feeling forsaken.
Only Easter allows this to make any sense. Only the resurrection and all it symbolizes and means provides any redemption to this level of sacrifice and suffering. No wonder we often race to Easter, to celebrate new life in Jesus, to escape the darkness and despair of Good Friday and Black Saturday. Who wants to dwell in uncertainty, doubt, guilt, remorse and shame?
Yet, there is much value and benefit to thinking through our own discipleship and commitment as we prepare to meet the risen Lord. It is easy to judge Peter, to condemn Judas, to shake our heads at James and John and Thomas and the others. But staying together and staying committed is always easier from a distance. There is a good chance that we would not have fared any better than the disciples were we to find ourselves in their places.
Deserting in both big and small ways is a natural and normal defense mechanism. We seek safety and survival. We seek comfort and protection. When the storms are raging all around us, we look for cover and sanctuary. Who intentionally heads into danger and threat?
But we sometimes forget that there is NO Easter without Good Friday and all the events leading up to it. The road to Easter is rocky and rough, but that makes it all the more amazing, all the more miraculous. God prepares the road for us. God walks the road with us. God waits for us at the other end. But only if we stay on the road from start to finish.
Our United Methodist Church is going through some rough times. We are on a rocky road. People are failing. People are betraying. People are being hurt. People are feeling abandoned. People are giving into weakness. People are lashing out – with words if not with swords. People are running away. People are hiding.
Should we condemn them? Should we judge? Are we not among them? Perhaps the best course of action is one of grace and humility and gentleness and kindness. Perhaps we need to understand that we need each other to make it up the road, to get through the darkness, and to emerge – together – into the light of resurrection and new life.
In the pain and suffering of loss, betrayal, loneliness, darkness, and despair, we can get distracted. We can begin to feel that what we are experiencing in the moment is the ultimate reality. But we are Easter people. Darkness never defeats the light. Despair never has the last word over hope. And death is an illusion, intended to confuse us and make us forget who we really are. Easter people. Now and forevermore. Thanks be to God.
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).