To hope is to believe. To hope is to risk. To hope is to be vulnerable.
When the people who got to know Jesus and came to trust him as someone who would make hope something worth doing watched him die, their hopes died too.
Before Jesus, their simple lives were predictable and they knew where the power was. Between the Roman government officials and the Jewish religious establishment, power accumulated in these two areas. So long as everyone else went along in their everyday life and didn’t make any trouble, things were fine. So long as the behavior modification tactics of church and state were adhered to, there wouldn’t be any trouble. So long as everyone agreed that people with mental health issues should be marginalized, people with illnesses should be ostracized, women were the cause of all sexual misconduct, foreigners should be mistreated because of their nationality, wealth equaled power, and any ailment a person ever had was proof of their sinfulness…so long as everyone agreed to these rules, there was peace.
They had lives, but subdued lives. They had lives of limited meaning and limited consequence. Yes, there were urges and impulses and fantasies about things being different. There were ideas and conversations about change, but they knew their place. At the end of each day, they took their places dutifully or even begrudgingly, but there they stood – in place.
And then someone comes along and breaks all the rules. He touches and cures the mentally ill, he touches the sick, he defends women, he engages foreigners, he had no cash and challenged the wealthy with surprising credibility, he redefined why people were sick. Jesus didn’t agree with any of the rules people were supposed to agree to. He did not disagree with violence. He did not disagree with anger. He did not disagree with his own set of oppressions. He just disagreed with love.
And that gave people hope.
Those urges and impulses and fantasies people had about something, maybe it was freedom, got lured out past their allowable boundaries. They got out into the open. People started the believe that maybe things could be better. They thought that maybe there was some sort of legitimacy to their hope. People let their hope out from under the blankets of rules and laws and fear and doubt and disbelief. People saw a person who loved people and it was so very different than anything else they had ever seen before. They knew love when they saw it, even if they had seen it before.
Some got curious. Some got interested. Some quit their jobs to be near Jesus. It was that big a deal. He was that different. But he was familiar. He touched people. He told stories that made people think. He told stories that embarrassed people in power, but usually in a playful way. He said the words that made sense to people, the words they had always wanted to say, but didn’t believe it was true. When Jesus said it, there was confirmation that the inklings in their hearts were true. They weren’t crazy for thinking things could be better.
Jesus never promised fame.
Jesus never promised fortune.
Jesus never promised happiness.
People were not interested in Jesus for any of those reasons. They instinctively knew that life was not about these things. What brought them to him was that he was living the sort of life that showed them they were not crazy for their urges, impulses and fantasies of freedom and love and that there was a way live life that way.
Love was worth the risk.
People started to believe that if Jesus said it worth it, then it was worth it. They hoped.
And then something went terribly wrong. The old forces had had enough. The church and state collaborated to put an end to the rule breaking. Jesus’ freedom had gone too far. Jesus’ love had insulted the church and state enough. It was time to assert the true force, the true power. It was time for the church and state to demonstrate who was in control.
The church and state killed Jesus.
It was on a Friday. They publicly killed him. There was not going to be any chance of a rumor that he was still living in the hills somewhere outside of town. No. He would be killed in an undeniable way.
But the church and state were not just killing Jesus. They were on to the fact that people were hoping. Hope threatens power. Always. Hope threatens oppression. Always. What was worse than one man loving people was a lot of people believing in this sort of rule breaking. The church and state knew that if they killed Jesus, they killed hope. Jesus is one man. Hope is contagious. Hope can spread. Hope is a threat. They execution of Jesus was the execution of hope.
And it worked. When Jesus died on the Roman executioner’s cross, hope was nailed up there with him. No one who was there walked away with any hope. No one who heard about the execution had any hope left in them. Friday was a dark day. A lot died on Friday. There were tears as the space where hope once lifted the hearts of women and men was now just huge empty spot.
It was hard to sleep Friday night. Many people didn’t. They just cried a lot. The ache of lost hope left them with little idea of what might be next. The shock of the loss left them aching or numb or confused or angry or feeling duped or depressed or everything all at once.
Saturday morning met them as a day of long emptiness. Most people who just a day earlier held so much hope didn’t know what to do. Daily chores were going to be neglected. For some, ritual was all they had to help them to know what to do. Tradition, routine, and ritual would push the hours by, but with 100 pounds of grief strapped to the backs weighing them down.
Abruptly, hope was gone. And it was not just a bad dream. Saturday provided 24 straight hours of unrelenting reinforcement that he was really dead. Even though the minds of many wrestled to solve it, to figure out some way they was not really gone, they could not do it. Every thought lead to one place – death. People talked among each other. It was so hard to believe he was really gone, but impossible to deny it.
Some wept more.
Some betrayed themselves and said they never really hoped in the first place.
Some thought about ending their own lives.
Some were just quiet.
No one was left unaffected on this very dark Saturday.
The church and state had demonstrated that even the most clever, most engaging, most contagious man was going to submit to the rules one way or another. They had done so in a way that not only killed the man who broke the rules, and not only in a way that killed hope in the hearts of many people, but also in a way that was an obvious warning to anyone else who might try this sort of rule breaking. Rule breakers die. That was the message. And it was received.
On Saturday, all of the powers of oppression were reset. Order was re-established. The rules be followed once again. Everything people risked was proven pointless. People risked and became vulnerable – and got burned. Back to safety. Back to obedience. Back to hopelessness.
The only thing darker than the oppression before Jesus touched people’s hope was how dark it was when people realized that even someone like Jesus couldn’t pull it off. If hope for love and freedom and equality were improbable before Jesus came, they were confirmed impossible now that he was dead. The words of Jesus saying, “It is finished” echoed in the ears of many. Jesus was right – we’re done here.