Today I’ve woken up. After days, weeks, even months of a strange sleep, once again I’m struck with an understanding powerful beyond description. Coming through a class on the last supper in the Gospel of John, I’m struck by the bittersweetness of it all. Here Jesus is, nearing His death, knowing what He will face, knowing He will be betrayed and abandoned and denied by those who’ve followed him the most closely, knowing He’s being hated and condemned and killed by the very people He came to save, knowing He’s about to face unimaginable pain and suffering, and knowing it has to happen. He can’t back out of it, He can’t avoid it. He has to take it head on. The power of what He must’ve been feeling…I can’t imagine it. Even tasting what it’s like to wait for death, especially tasting that, I can’t imagine the depths of what Jesus was going through.
This past winter, when I almost froze to death…I caught a glimpse of what it’s like to wait to die. I was there, in the suburban, knowing I was too cold, knowing I had no chance of warming up on my own. I was there with my brother, core to core, piled under jackets, doing all we could to keep warm as the temperature kept dropping and ice crawled across the inside of the vehicle… It was such an impossible situation, such a helpless place to be. There we were: waiting for death…knowing it was near…knowing that within hours we could be gone, that as our eyes closed and our minds drifted toward sleep our hearts would eventually give in to the cold, eventually we would cease to breath and all the life we’d had in our bodies mere hours before would be gone. All we ever had looked forward to in this world, gone. All the people we know, out of our reach. Everything we’ve ever known ripped away. It was terrifying, to wait for inevitable death, to know it was coming and not be able to do a thing about it.
And yet it wasn’t hopeless. We weren’t sure we would die. We didn’t give in, we kept trying. We cried out to God to help us, to save us. We begged for Him to give us warmth, to keep our eyes open, to save us from this frozen situation that we were powerless to do anything about. We weren’t alone, and we knew that there was at least a chance we would survive. We knew that God could save us, and that blissful relief when He did…when we came through that night, and in the light of morning we were altogether, all alive, all safe…the end to our sorrows and fears. And even in those darkest moments, when the thoughts I refused to voice filled my mind saying we were probably going to die…there was hope. Like my brother said, the worst that could happen that night is we go to be with Jesus. And that “worst” is far from being a tragedy. Even the end we feared was a glorious one, one to look forward to, even if getting to it is terrifying to face. Eternity in the presence of our Lord…that’s the goal. Even in the terror, we knew that if God decided to take us away from earth into His presence, the fear of facing unknown death would end in rejoicing and praise.
But Jesus… with Him it’s so different. Because He knew what His end was. He knew there was no escape, that He had to face that horrid death completely alone. He knew He was going to face the punishment of crimes He never committed. The pain of that knowing, that waiting, as the hour drew closer and closer and having to continue on as the minutes tick by, unable to slow them down or speed them up…stuck in that place of anticipating the pain… how hard that must have been to bear. It’s so painful to read, knowing what Jesus had to go through and knowing that it was all for us. To know that for my brother and I to have that unfailing hope of a good end, Jesus had to go through the agony of an end without escape…
“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” (John 12:27-28a). That verse…there’s so much pain in those words. He knows. He knows what He will face, and He does not relish the pain. And yet He still does it. Even in that place of the, dare I say, anguish of looking at a horrendous death with no escape, He doesn’t back out. For that purpose He came, and to that purpose He holds. And then, on top of that to read later that “when Jesus knew that His hour had some that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” (John 13:1b). That verse just makes me cry. Knowing all He was about to go through, knowing the torture and abandonment, the separation from His Father and the weight of eras of sin laid on Him at once…He still loved us. Even knowing the agony He would face in carrying our sin, He loved us. That’s why He did it.
And all I can think is that I do not deserve that kind of love. I don’t deserve that kind of saving. To know that even as I sin, even as I go against God and add that much more pain to His death…He loves me. To come to that moment of understanding of all that it means that Jesus died for me…it’s almost too much. And my heart overflows with such sorrow that He had to go through that pain for my sake, and such confused and awed joy that He would go through that for my sake.
There are times when we say Jesus died for our sins and it doesn’t touch us. We know it, and yet we forget. We forget all the meaning those words hold. It becomes something we know in our heads, that we acknowledge with our mouths…but the deep part of our soul is almost detached from the meaning of it. And to read the Gospels, to truly see it again and fall to my knees in pain and awed gratitude…it’s waking up. It’s coming alive again, it’s feeling the warmth return to all that was dead with cold. It hurts, it hurts so much…but part of that hurting comes from the deep and overwhelming joy spilling out of me. A joy that isn’t all happiness and is so much deeper because of that. A joy that reaches to the depths of who I am and spills out through the tears on my cheeks and the words that I write. A bittersweet joy that demands to be expressed, to be shared, even as I know language lacks the ability to express all of what it is and means. A joy that makes my unworthy saved self fall at Jesus’ feet in humble gratitude and awestruck praise, that He would come to that hour willingly, and that even in that darkest moment His love didn’t falter. I am the most unworthy person to receive such merciful love…but I am so utterly thankful that He gives it anyway.