None of the disciples, save one, could have imagined this day. They knew the scriptures but could not connect the sacred words to this reality. Who would have expected their leader would fulfill prophecy in such a violent manner — beaten and executed before a throng that days earlier hailed him as King. They had celebrated their triumphal entry into Jerusalem, as friends of a “celebrity” would, unable to conceive of what would come next.
They had feasted together and received his blessing. They had been told they would carry on his ministry, would receive his power to heal. But did they believe him or even understand when he lifted his cup?
“I have eagerly desired to eat the Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus the Messiah was taken, tried and hanged before they could shake their heads. And as the Sabbath approached, these followers of Christ followed his maimed body through the setting sun to the burial tomb. It would be days before they could perform a proper anointing and say their final good-byes.
As they walked away from a reality they struggled to comprehend, they must have asked themselves “What now?”
Have we not asked ourselves the same question?
- A loved one dies, either suddenly or after a long illness, and we are bereft and adrift. What now?
- Our family is splintered, our children turn from God and from us. What now?
- A job ends with no future employment in sight, yet we must still provide for ourselves and our families. What now?
A new illness, borne on breath and spittle, never before seen under a microscope or on the news, is carried across oceans into the lungs of our neighbors, our loved ones. Us. People we know are dying alone in hospitals that are beyond capacity. We walk in a reality we struggle to comprehend and we ask ourselves and anyone who will listen. What now?
Our televisions are tuned to presidential press conferences, to news channels. We search the internet for facts and figures that we hope will give us answers to what will happen now.
But when we turn away and turn to God, we know the answer, don’t we? We know that “now” has already been redeemed by words the crucified Christ uttered as his lungs filled with fluid.
It is finished.
We don’t wait for the answer to “What now?” because we know we can ask “What next?”
What’s next is finding ways to connect through technology while we keep our distance and protect one another. What’s next is turning to our families, getting reacquainted, teaching our children, calling our neighbors. Washing our hands. Shopping less. Sleeping more. What’s next is sitting in silence. Grieving our losses.
This, too, will end and when it is finished, we’ll find our new normal. We will open our eyes, lift our heads and embrace what’s next.
As the sun set on the day the earth stood still, the new Christ followers could not know they already had the answer to their question.
“… the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you…If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.” John 14:25-26, 28b-29
Christ’s followers did return to the tomb. The empty tomb. Christ had made good on his promise. He was going to the Father, but not before returning to them while the question still formed on their lips. “What now?” they asked and their eyes were opened. The 800-year-old prophecy of Isaiah was beginning to make sense. Christ had risen. Words they knew well were alive in the Christ who no longer lived in the flesh, but lives forever in the soul of his creation:
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. ~ Isaiah 53:8-10