April 17, 2011
Frankly, it will always be too soon for me to hear (again) the old bromide about making lemonade out of lemons. In the interests of full disclosure, I caution all readers regarding the dangers of thinking—let alone saying—that old cliché where I may hear you. Mind carefully all metaphors, similes, and clichés regarding lemons; you are hereby warned.
It is not that I reject the kernel of truth wrapped in this plastic phrase. I understand all too well that the challenge of growing in and through the crises of life requires us to deal constructively with a great many sour and bitter things, and at times with numbing despair. What I reject vehemently is the Mary Poppins sounding simplicity of the implied process—just squeeze and add some sugar-water and all will be well. A little bit of sugar makes the medicine go down?—well, not so much for most of us when our worlds crash down.
On that day we call Palm Sunday the crowd was delirious with joy—their King had come, one of their own, and now, they believed, this King would make all things well. But by the end of that following terrible Friday, their joy had vanished in hard confrontation with bitter reality—that tortured figure dying with agonizing slowness on a Roman cross, his kingship marked only by the irony of the sign jerry-rigged over his thorn-crowned head.
Lemons into lemonade, indeed—the phrase is near-blasphemy in the face of such brutal savagery and injustice. Indeed, the terrible silence of that black Saturday has continued over the centuries to remind us that pain—human and divine—can lie beyond the reach of language.
Still, there is something that can be said to the defeated, frightened ones, those who tremble in the silent dark. This word is not a magic phrase that transforms the loss and destruction around us. It is not even a welcome word of encouragement or consolation; it is a word of terrible pragmatism. We are asked to do the only thing we can do: wait. Wait.
It is this terrible waiting that makes the ending of Psalm 88 echo ultimate despair. Humanly, we cannot change the destruction or the loss. We cannot make “good” come. Nevertheless, there is a paradoxical place for hope in this waiting. It is a hope that is rooted in the place we are in rather than any action we can take.
Douglas Schuurman has a wonderful phrase: “providentially situated.” While Schuurman does not use this phrase in reference to Good Friday events, nevertheless it expresses something of the wordless root of human hope that vibrates through Good Friday despair. Good Friday events did not place those disillusioned followers of Jesus in a position where they could roll the stone away from the tomb; these events did not place those followers politically in a place to replace this failed Messiah with a new more viable candidate. Friday did NOT “providentially situate” the defeated followers of Jesus to do anything to change the deadly consequences played out on Golgotha’s hill. But the progression from public triumph through Friday’s defeat did “providentially situate” them in exactly the right place to see and experience God’s Sunday morning answer to their despair.
Mary was among those pragmatic despairing women who in their grief sought on the first day of the week to prepare his dead body properly for burial. It was despairing realism that led Mary with these women on that Sunday morning to His tomb. They had no plans to construct a lemonade stand.
But there, in Sunday’s dawn light, Mary saw Him walking in the garden. Then Saturday’s terrible silence was broken--Mary heard His voice and, turning, knew Him when He called her name.
Trusting in the tsunamis of life that God will “providentially situate” me to see our Risen Lord, and hear Him call my name.
See you next week.