By Kristine Blaess
The story is told about a ship that ran aground one dark night as it was trying to make its homecoming landing.
The wind was screaming, the sleet was falling in sheets, and the rocks upon which the ship had grounded were lit alternately by flashes of lightning and the flashing of the lighthouse’s rotating light.
As the ship broke apart, the men clung to rafts of timber, the lifeboats swept away in the waves. The waves beat on the sailors as the village people raced to save them, but many were lost.
And in the howling of the storm, in the howling of a village’s grief, there was silence. The silence of shock. The silence of horror. The mute silence of despair.
How will the shipwrecked be saved? It would take a miracle from the sea unlike any ever seen before.
The shipwreck does not leave any of us unscathed. We all have shipwrecks at times in our lives — shipwrecks of our own making and shipwrecks that have come upon us from outside ourselves. We are right now hanging onto one another and staying together as we are riding waves of sickness, isolation, financial distress, uncertainty.
But ours is not just a personal shipwreck.
We all are subject to the Big Shipwreck — we are members of this human community that is in bondage to sin, and cannot free ourselves. The wages of our sin can only be death.
Ours is a shipwreck for our families, our community, our nation, our world.
The entire cosmos, without the salvation given by Jesus, is under the power of evil, pain, and death.
Jesus’ disciples, as they waited in the garden that night, watched a shipwreck of their own unfolding before their eyes.
Jesus’ disciples, waiting with him in the Garden of Gethsemane, watched as the soldiers with torches made their way from Jerusalem to the olive grove where they kept watch.
From their vantage point on the side of a hill, the disciples watched as the soldiers marched the switchback road coming down out of Jerusalem, down through the Kidron Valley, and back up to the garden where they waited. Many of you have been to that garden and seen the place. The disciples could see the entire foul procession.
As they waited, they heard the shouts of the crowd. They saw the shaded figures of the soldiers, lit by the flickering light of their torches. As this unholy parade drew close, they could feel the heat of the torches. They could smell the creosote burning, and the sour stench of the unwashed soldiers.
They could feel the jostling as the overheated crowd surrounded them, they could feel the hot breath of the crowd excited by its depravity. And they could taste the sour fear in their own dry mouths.
Even in the midst of the shouts, there was silence. The silence of shock. The silence of horror. The mute silence of despair. Who will save us now?
And the shipwreck unfolded in the flickering darkness from there.
Jesus was arrested. The disciple Peter, who thought he would be loyal to the last, discovered himself for what he was — a common betrayer just like all the others.
Jesus was questioned by Pilate, then Herod. He was flogged. He was mocked, and signs of his kingship, a crown of thorns and a purple robe, were contemptuously pressed upon him.
The crowds were complicit. We were complicit, calling for the death of the Son of Man, our long-awaited king. “We have no king but Caesar,” we cried.
As the flickering darkness of this evil night gave way to dawn, Jesus was led out of the city, carrying his own cross on his back. Jesus climbed up, up, up, to the place of the skull, and climbed up, up, up onto his cross.
In the howling of this spiritual storm, in the howling of the disciples’ grief, there was silence. The silence of shock. The silence of horror. The mute silence of despair. Who will save us now? The moment is not far off now.
It was here, on the cross, after this evil night, after this night of spiritual darkness and battle, when all the powers of evil and death came out and began to celebrate their triumph over life — it was here on the cross after this evil night that the collision between Jesus and Satan came to a head.
It was here on the cross that Jesus made his stand. It was here on the cross that God’s wrath flared against every evil that would hurt and destroy his beloved creation. It was here on the cross that Jesus became the victor. Here, on the cross, Jesus won the victory over death. Here, on the cross, Jesus became the salvation of the world.
We are in the presence of a deep mystery now.
N.T. Wright reminds us that in “this moment, this bloody and dark moment, this miscarriage of justice, this terrible suffering, this offering by Jesus of his full self to the will of God — this is how God is dealing in sovereign, rescuing love. [This is how God is dealing] with the weight of the world’s evil and pain, and with death itself.”
This is what glory looks like. This is how the shipwrecked are saved.
Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, knowing that evil, pain, and death were being defeated, knowing that salvation was coming into the world to rescue the shipwrecked, Jesus said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
This is what glory looks like. This is how the shipwrecked are saved. This is God dealing in sovereign, rescuing love. This is how your new life is given to you. It is a gift of love. It is a gift of grace. It is a gift for you. It is a gift for the world.
The Rev. Dr. Kristine Blaess is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.