It’s Holy Week for Christians, and it began with Palm Sunday and the reading about Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem to the waving of palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” Did Jesus, did his family members and friends think that triumphal entry was a sign that all was well and Jesus had “dodged a bullet,” as our family believed Brandon had “dodged a (cancer) bullet”? Considering the New Testament scriptures describing Jesus last (Passover) meal with his friends, Jesus seems to have become aware that all was not well, although most of his disciples apparently remained blissfully unaware. Were they so oblivious, or like me, did they take brief vacations to the land of denial because the alternative was unimaginable?
As the clock ticks, counting down the minutes, hours, days, this Holy Week moves beyond the initial triumph and beyond the camaraderie and concerns felt during a special meal with dear friends. It shifts to a favorite quiet place, the Garden of Gethsemane, and to very human Jesus struggling with what he knows is coming, even as he prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want, but what you want” (Matthew 26:39). Yet despite his continued struggle, he prays again. The prayer is similar but not exactly the same. This time his words bear a sense of acceptance. “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matthew 26: 42).
The quiet struggle in the peaceful environs of the Garden of Gethsemane seems years away from the escalating suffering Jesus endures on Good Friday, yet only a few hours later Jesus utters, “It is finished” (John 19:30) and “gave up his spirit.” What did Jesus mean when he said, “It is finished”? Was it simply the last words of someone who knew he was about to die? I don’t think so.
|Piet by Franz von Stuck (1891)|
I watched Brandon’s mostly silent struggle as he – and we – realized the cancer was overtaking more and more of his body. I watched as there seemed to be a shift from “let this cup pass from me” to “if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And I was looking into his eyes the first time he whispered, “Done,” and I was still looking into them the second time he whispered, “Done,” after I’d explained what that meant. Although I do think Brandon’s “Done” meant he understood he was soon to die, I now believe it meant much, much more.
With Jesus’s utterance of, “It is finished,” I believe Jesus was saying that he’d completed the work he had come to this life to accomplish. It struck me several months ago when reflecting on the look in Brandon’s eyes that his “Done” was telling me the same thing. Whatever it was/is that he was here to accomplish, he had "done" it.
Today is Easter. Without the physical and emotional turmoil in the Garden of Gethsemane, without the physical and emotional pain and suffering of Calvary, could there be Easter? I don’t claim to understand the Resurrection; I’ve had my moments (years) of doubt. Still, I believe in the Resurrection, even as I think it is quite different than many imagine. There’s a reason Jesus’s close friends didn’t initially recognize him when he appeared to them after his resurrection from death. What that reason is remains part of the mystery.
|The artist didn't know he was capturing Brandon's welcome to another life!|
Brandon lived his own Garden of Gethsemane. He lived his own Calvary. And I believe he lives his own resurrection with our God and “appears” to us from time to time in ways which are not always recognizable. And that is part of the mystery.