Is it OK for a Christian to have a negative feeling and express it? That was a question I was pondering this week. In an intellectual sense, I know the answer: of course it’s OK! However, when it comes to actual expression, I get a little more hesitant. There were many moments this week where I felt discouraged, inadequate, and tired. Being a follower of Jesus is a real challenge sometimes. Some days you might feel exhausted, like you don’t have the energy or faith to proceed, like you aren’t even worthy of God’s grace and love. It could be a question of rationality; you don’t believe God exists. It could be about trauma, God has let so many bad things happen to you, you just can’t keep going. It could be a question of loneliness, you might not feel God’s presence. You might have faced too much persecution for an allegiance to Jesus that seems to be fleeting anyway, just a product of who you once were. You might be able to relate to this disillusionment, this depression, this acedia.
But, it’s amazing, the movement continues and grows. It continues despite the feelings, thoughts, and numerous other encumbrances that so many of us feel and have every day. It often does happen in spite of us. But it still often happens through us. As we journey together hand-in-hand, it’s really the bond that we form as a covenantal community that keeps us going. Christianity continues because the strategy that God used was to make his dwelling among us. That’s what the church is. It works not because of individual excellence, but because of communal representation of God.
Our faith is sustained by being in the church, not by our individual merit or ability. I saw this clearly this week as I read the final three chapters of Mark and noticed Peter’s emotional process, Jesus’ loneliness, and the women’s confusion.
“Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.”
Peter’s convinced in chapter 14 that he could never disown Jesus. Often times, I think we might be just as arrogant. I think that my connection to God is infinite in its depth and unbreakable (remember that CCM song, “I could sing of your love forever”?). But who knows what will happen? If our worth is somehow based on how much we can hold on to God, I think we’re doomed to fall. I hope we can find it in how firmly God holds on to us.
Then he falls asleep. Jesus goes on to pray and he asks that the Father take away this bloody cup from Him, the one holding his death. The only instructions he offers to his disciples is to stay awake. And of course, they fall asleep. And so do we all the time. We aren’t prepared to pay attention to the most important things we need to be. Our attention is competed for by all sorts of things today, and it’s easy to come to Jesus unprepared and not well rested. When we aren’t giving Jesus our best, we really are getting ready for burn out. Often times our need for Him doesn’t decrease, but our willingness to engage Him to fill it.
Jesus knows how hard it is to follow Him. He’s having a hard time following God himself. This quotation is revealing.
Jesus knows the method is in the medium. Pray so that you don’t fall into temptation. Keep talking to God. Keep talking to the people in community. Keep relating.
Jesus knows we’re not maliciously not following him. We aren’t maliciously falling asleep. He knows you want to stay awake. And He even knows that you want to want to. He’s understanding, mainly because it is understanding to fall into a slumber, as much as it is to arrogantly defy what Jesus tells you, like Peter also did.
Peter denies his best friend. For his own sake. To save his skin. It’s heart-breaking. And again, it’s relatable. This is the person that becomes one of the founders of the church! The author of a portion of the New Testament. The leader of the group; the oldest one. Jesus’ closest friend.
He betrays Jesus to save his skin in the moment where it is most threatened. And his realization is punishment enough. Check it out.
Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
He’s so vehemently adamant about his denial. The people around him know he’s from Galilee, where Jesus hung around a lot. He looks like his follower, he smells like one, he talks like one. It might be hard for us to imagine a situation where we are being persecuted for our beliefs, so we change them. You might have felt that way at the university or something. Maybe it wasn’t safe for you to belief in the family you grew up in.
But again, despite Peter’s denial of Jesus, despite his arrogance, and despite his falling asleep in the garden, there is room for him to exist. There’s room for him to feel that way, to be understood, too. Peter’s actions range from just an expression of negative feelings to explicit sinning, but in any event Jesus makes room for him.
Jesus is lonely. Time and again, he gets ignored, his friends sleep on him in one of his darkest hours, and then he gets denied. That feeling of being by ourselves that Jesus exhibits, the abuse he received from Pilate in chapter 15, the way that the soldiers mock him, how the Jewish leaders sell him out, and then through his crucifixion, Jesus is feeling a lot of the pain that many of us feel during the week. And in that person is someone with whom we can relate.
The women are confused and scared. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome show up to the empty tomb with the rolled away stone and they don’t make the connection that Jesus is resurrected. They think the body has been stolen.
When the mysterious man wearing white interrupts their grief, trauma, and confusion be declaring that “He is risen!” they aren’t comforted. The greatest thing that’s ever happened in the history of the world occurred, and they don’t get it. The whole books end with fear and confusion. It’s as ambiguous as anything. And this is the first Gospel written. It ends like a weird movie.
Listen to the final passage. Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. 16:8
That’s disheartening. The movement barely got going; it ends in a death, a stolen body, disciples that betray Jesus, sleep on him, abandon him. That feeling of emptiness that the book of Mark ends with might be one that we can relate to. But still, here were are, riding the wave of those first people.
Many scholars believe that Mark didn’t intend to end his gospel with the witnesses being silent and being in fear. Like many ancient scrolls, the last page may have been torn out (the beginning portions may also have been). It is possible that the Gospel was mutilated. There’s more to the story. But of course there’s more! The Bible is living and Spirit-filled; but the whole book can’t contain everything.
We are the completion of this story. Despite our sin, our fatigue, our arrogance and pride, our self-righteousness, the loneliness that we feel, and even the fear that we have in our lack of faith—we are the ones that have been given the chance to keep telling the story.
In other versions of this story, Jesus come back to comfort his disciples and recreate the community that seems to be falling apart without him. We just celebrated Ascension Day this last week—the day that Jesus ascended into heaven, after forming community after He resurrected on earth for forty days. Ten days later, the Holy Spirit comes to inhabit the forming church, which is now led by Peter. We call it Pentecost.
Jesus forms the community, the Spirit cements it, and then generation after generation, a group of people who might experience those same, raw emotions that the disciples did are responsible to keep the church going. The formation of the community makes it possible. It gives us strength and hope. It gives us faith. It gives us opportunity.
So join it. Do it. Be a part of something bigger than all of your fear, doubt, and misery. So even on the weeks where you don’t feel good enough, where you feel too tired, you’ll be held and embraced by the body in which God has chosen to dwell.