“He stirs the people up by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.”
— The Chief Priests and the Scribes (Luke 23:5)
There is stirring up and there is stirring up, of course.
It jumped out at me though, this time through, this vivid description of the effect of Jesus’ teaching.
It turns out that such stirring can also be translated as ‘shaking,’ — the sort of ‘shaking’ that comes with earthquakes. And yes, the sort of earthquake that we hear about over and over in scripture signaling those times when God is powerfully, actively present.
- Like on a mountaintop with Moses, signifying God’s presence. (Exodus 19:18)
- Or in the song that Deborah sings where she speaks of a warrior God marching in (Judges 5:4).
- Or in the words of the Prophet, a sure sign of God’s judgment (Isaiah 13:13).
It is obvious, of course, but I am struck today that those who use this word do not mean it as a compliment. For it seems that they see, they experience this stirring, this shaking up as a threat that needs to be thwarted. Indeed, it surely seems that for them such stirring up, this shaking, this active presence of God is preferred to be kept at a comfortable distance, if at all. Not here and not now where it promises to turn upside down everything known so well before, everything counted upon, all that was reliable. Indeed, everything that kept everyone in their place and those who, no doubt, wanted things kept as they had been, who were more than comfortable with the status quo.
And yet, with all that we are called to turn our attention to this Holy Week, if those who wanted to bring that ‘stirring up’ to a quiet end, they failed in monumental ways. For indeed, don’t we sense such stirring up and more in all that is before us now as we enter this story as Luke tells it once more?
- In the garden, where Jesus’ anguished prayers are accompanied by what is described as sweat turning to actual drops of blood…
- And in the disciples who simply cannot stay awake?
Don’t you feel the shaking, the stirring up building now?
- In the approaching crowd, led by one of his trusted followers…
- and in Jesus continuing to be a bearer of wholeness and peace as he reached out and restored the severed ear of a slave.
- In Jesus being led away…
- and in Peter’s quickly fulfilling Jesus’ own words about him, denying the deep personal connection he had to Jesus.
Surely in these as well, we are stirred to our core as we know it only gets worse.
- In the mocking, the blindfolding, the insulting…
- and in Jesus standing firm before the chief priests and the scribes.
- In the trial before Pilate and his silently standing before Herod
- and in the accusing, the contempt, the mocking.
Could those who engineered his arrest, his violent death, have imagined that these images would stir us still?
- And oh, the release of Barabbas
- and in the blood thirsty shouts to crucify.
- In the agonizing walk to the place called The Skull…
- in Simon of Cyrene who would carry the cross, in the wailing of the women, in the others who hung beside him.
Even now, for you and I who have read and heard and seen all this portrayed a thousand times, we quake again, don’t we?
- In the promise of Paradise, in the darkness at high noon, in the last words of Jesus and in the resounding words of the Centurion
- and in those who took the body, wrapped it in a linen cloth, laying it in a never before used tomb and in the women who followed behind, taking note of where he was.
Indeed, we are reminded now beyond a doubt because we sense it, too, again this year: Jesus’ teaching may have stirred up the people as he pointed to another, truer way, but if those who thought to end it by all that we see now?
We know that the earthquake had only just begun.
Has only just begun even now.
Now I can only speak for myself at this point, but in many seasons it has been true ,that by the time I come to this point on the journey through Lent, I am ready to skim over, to fly by, if possible, all that is ours to pause in now.
- Indeed, by now I am more than ready for yet another earthquake (signifying the world altering presence of God) which surely must have opened wide the tomb itself.
- I am aching for that resurrection first discovered and told by women and by Peter sprinting to see it for himself.
And maybe especially this year which is only paralleled for me by other seasons when the losses also ran deep and which left wounds yet unhealed, when Easter came, heralding news which brought the promise of something other than that which we had known too long.
By now we have seen enough of the worst that humanity can do to each other, surely. Too much of the suffering which follows one loss too many where one hasn’t the time to heal before another burrows its way into much of what you hold dear.
We cannot wait for the sunrise which follows all of this.
And yet, this year I find myself pausing in it longer, more deliberately this time through, this story we know so well:
Of betrayal, yes. Of ridicule and denial, of mocking and beating, of suffering and dying.
And yet as we listen closely, there is also this.
- Even now, Jesus sharing a meal which beloved ones would share remembering until the end of time.
- Even now, Jesus’ hand stretched out in healing. Even now his refusal to bend to the accusations of those who held his life in their hands.
- Even now, another perhaps not-yet-actual disciple compelled to carry the cross following behind the one who would be crucified.
- Even now, Jesus able to hear the plea of another hanging beside him and with his dying breath to offer him a promise meant for us all.
- Even now, an outsider to all of this, sent there as a presence to keep the crowds at bay, speaking words of witness.
Even now, even before that longed for Easter morning, we see heartbreakingly beautiful things which have the ground quaking beneath our feet: signs of God at work.
Indeed, we do well, it seems to me, not to rush to quickly to Easter now.
We do well to recognize and take into ourselves this certain truth that God is already at work.
- Even now before Easter, where does the Promise come home for you?
- There is much, perhaps too much, to take in when we allow ourselves to pause in this entire reading of the Passion. What stands out for you?
- What stirs you up, where do you feel the ground quaking beneath you as we approach another Holy Week? Do you sense in all that stirring up, that shaking, the powerful presence of God? How is God at work even now with you, for you, through you, through those among whom you serve?