Big story, little story (part 2)

In part 1 of this post, I suggested that Jesus’ disciples came into the Last Supper with their imaginations full of glorious visions of their master as the triumphant Messiah who would soon throw off the yoke of Rome and establish a new kingdom. But Jesus’ dire predictions caught them by surprise. What did he mean when he said that one of them would betray him? That he was going away?  The story they thought they were living was being drastically revised on the spot, and they had nothing yet to put in its place.

Jesus knows this is his last opportunity to prepare them for what’s coming; he’s leaving, and they will have to carry on without him. Naturally, the disciples feel lost and abandoned. So Jesus begins with reassurance. I’m not leaving forever; you’ll see me again soon. And eventually, I will come take you to be with me in my Father’s house. He says it several times and in different ways: I will come again; you will see me; I will see you; I’m not leaving you as orphans.

He knows that despite their belief in their own loyalty, they will betray him and run away. They will face not only the threat of persecution, but the sting of their own shame. As difficult as it is to hear, he tells them this will indeed happen — so that later, as they grapple with despair, they will remember that he had calmly predicted it as if it was all part of some larger plan of the Father, carried out by the Son.

The larger plan is the bigger story the disciples had not yet imagined. Jesus came to inaugurate a new kingdom, but not the kind to which the disciples were accustomed. The Messiah did not come to be the new emperor. Rather, the sovereign rule of God was to be demonstrated in the lives of those loyal to the Messiah, those who grasped the mercy at the heart of his mission and who were therefore obedient to the commandment to love.

This had always been the plan, for all the twists and turns in the story of God’s people. Jesus, as the true vine (John 15:1), embodied the loving obedience that was always meant to characterize God’s children; the disciples, as branches of that vine, would in turn embody the life of Jesus.

And they would not be left to their own devices. Just as they could not yet fathom the crucifixion or the resurrection, they could not anticipate Pentecost and its lasting effect on their lives. But Jesus, of course, knew. The promise of the Holy Spirit, who would comfort, guide, and teach them, is a major part of his last words to them.

The point is this. We may not always be aware that we have our own plans for our lives, but we do. That’s not to say that it’s as fully detailed as a novel or a movie script. But we have expectations and anticipations which we don’t realize until those expectations are violated, when we have the experience that life isn’t going the way we had hoped. When we suffer beyond a certain point, our taken-for-granted stories become problematic, and a rewrite becomes needed.

What I’m suggesting is that the rewrite we need is not just tinkering with our expectations. It’s not just about what happens to us between the day we’re born and the day we die, and whether we’re going to get the happy ending. Our life stories all end in death. All of them. The question is whether resurrection follows — because that changes everything.

Resurrection isn’t just a continuation of our life stories as they are. Resurrection points us beyond ourselves, beyond what we know of life as we experience it day to day. Our lives are part of a much larger narrative of all that God has done, is doing, and will do, the story that runs all the way from Genesis to Revelation.

The disciples can’t understand that now. They have to go through Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost first.

But for us, each of those events are long past. Their truth has been recorded for our benefit. What impact, then, if any, have they had on how we imagine our own life stories and how we tell the tale of our own struggles?

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