What though the tempest round me roar?
I know the truth, it liveth.
What though the darkness round me blows?
Songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that Rock I’m clinging;
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?
— Quaker hymn
* * * * * * *
There is nothing new under the sun. Disaster, strife, bloodshed, racial tensions, national rivalries, trials and tribulations — all are regular features of life in a fallen world. Anyone who follows the news knows that things of this sort happen every day – not just today, and not just in Brussels or Paris. The Pilgrim realizes this. He understands that the land through which he travels and in which he sojourns is an uncertain, unstable, and dangerous place.
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars,” says the Chief of all Pilgrims in what is often referred to as His “mini-apocalypse.” In making this assertion, did He imagine Himself to be describing anything unusual? Certainly not. He was only talking about the status quo. Why else should He have added, “See that you are not troubled”?
Nor was He troubled – deeply saddened, certainly, but not troubled – when, at another time, He received news of a couple of particularly disastrous “current events.” In the first instance, a group of worshiping Galileans had been slaughtered by Pilate’s Roman soldiers within the very precincts of the Jewish Temple. In the second, a tower had suddenly collapsed, killing eighteen people. In both cases the Master’s response was the same. He began by asking, “Do you suppose these men were worse sinners than anyone else that this happened to them?” The answer, of course, was no – on the contrary, such occurrences are to be regarded as “business as usual.” Then, instead of whipping His hearers into a frenzy by shouting, “Now is the time to panic! We need more security! Arm yourselves! The end is near!” – instead of this, He gave the conversation a very different twist. He refocused His hearers’ attention upon the question of their eternal destiny and relationship with God: “Unless you repent,” He declared, “you will all likewise perish.”
Tension, bloodshed, disaster, death – this was pretty much the situation in Jerusalem at the beginning of what is now called Holy Week. It was a time not unlike our own: a time of civil unrest and international strife, ethnic and racial violence, revolutionary activities, and “terrorist” plots. Armed and highly organized Zealots were biding their time, waiting in the shadows, laying plans for the bloody overthrow of the Roman overlords. Occupying forces were beefing up security measures as tens of thousands of visitors poured into the city. Relations between the police and the masses were stretched nearly to the breaking point. People in Judea were looking desperately for a leader capable of responding directly to these dire circumstances with confidence and power. They wanted a King strong enough to restore the nation to greatness and tough enough to protect common citizens from their enemies. They expected the Man on the donkey to take things in hand and do something about the situation. But He didn’t. He was on a pilgrimage. He had His own mission to fulfill.
His response on this occasion was much the same as it had been when He was told about the fallen tower and the slaughtered Galileans. In spite of everything, He fixed His mind on the eternal and set His face like flint to go forward to His destiny. Perhaps it was His example in this instance that later inspired one of His weak-kneed followers – the one ironically nick-named “the Rock” – to write the following words: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness …?” That’s the question that really matters.
The old saying “It’s always darkest before the dawn” is truer than most of us know. It sums up the story of Holy Week. In the midst of political turmoil, unrest, tense relations between hostile factions, and violent street altercations, a gentle Man rode into town on the back of a harmless donkey. Instead of overcoming and conquering all these negative forces, He was swallowed up and destroyed by them. But that wasn’t the end of the story. For following the blackness of Friday and the blank confusion of Saturday came Resurrection Sunday.
That’s the way it was then. That’s the way it is now and always will be. Such is the Pilgrim’s peculiar hope. And this is the time to hold on to it as never before.