Every year, as Easter draws near, I think about Will*, a student in my Sunday school group a few years back. One morning during Lent, we were revisiting Jesus’ arrest, suffering, and death.
The kids, especially the boys, were curious about the details of crucifixion: How did they get the nails in? Since Jesus is God, did he feel it? Did he scream/fight back? Was blood pouring down the hill?
I guess I’m used to their weird curiosities and obsessions, so I marched through their questions like a pro, without flinching, until this one came from Will’s half-shouting voice:
“So, his bones weren’t broken… BIG DEAL! I mean… look at him!”
He held up an illustration from his student Bible and made his point. Black and purple for the bruising. Deep maroon for the blood coming from the thorns in his skull. Bright red for the whipping, piercing, falling. Tiny, white highlights for the sweat and tears. Dark black for the eyes of the Roman soldiers. Light blue for the fabric hiding the mother’s face, off to the side and small.
My mouth was open, ready to give a practiced answer, but that image and Will’s current situation silenced me. Will and his family were suffering, and things hadn’t been good at his house for some time. Not at all.
Will ranted … “Sorry, Jesus, about being beaten and mocked. So sorry about that unfair trial. So sorry your friends abandoned you. Oh, and sorry your Father turned his back on you…. At least you don’t have a broken leg… ”
To his family situation and to his broken heart, unbroken bones probably sounded like, “Sorry about your life, Will. At least you have your health…”
I knew a cold explanation about prophecy and the lamb of God wouldn’t cut it with Will. I knew, because I’ve been through seasons when it didn’t cut it with me, either.
When you don’t have the strength to get to your feet, it’s hard to stand on any promises.
When the pain’s too much, it’s hard to remember God’s grace is enough.
When it’s hell with your life, it’s hard to care that it’s well with your soul.
Will was holding up his own life and needed answers.
So, I pushed aside the lesson plan, and we looked hard at the cross. We all pressed that page down in our Bibles and stared and talked and imagined. We wondered aloud, made connections, and shared stories of suffering. We looked for answers and found more questions. We got angry and wept.
And finally, I poised Will’s question again to the group, “So, in all of that suffering, what was the big deal about God keeping Jesus’ bones intact?”
The silence surrounded us and I prayed it would do a mighty work. Sometimes, nobody can learn though all of our answering and explaining.
Finally, and fairly, Will was the one to break it, “I guess because it showed everyone that God is who He says He is. If He says bones won’t break, then they won’t.” He’s a thinker, that Will.
“He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.” Psalm 34: 20-22
Scruffy, frizzy, buzz-cutted, and pony-tailed heads nodded all around, and from across the room, Will’s best friend added, “And I guess we just have to trust him with all the other stuff. The sadness, pain, and the people.” And the people.
When your students teach a better lesson than you ever could, all you can do is turn to the page.
A pink-orange sunrise, dark grey for the empty cave, golden tan for the dirt path…
We pressed that page down, too, and talked about a rolled stone, a folded garment, and a torn curtain.
Though there was so much more, it was enough for one day. More than enough.
Lent is a time to get ready, get real, and get help. Will taught me a better way to do all three.
He taught me to resist the urge to move forward until God meets me right where I am.
He taught me to wrestle honestly with the One who provides unbroken bones while allowing broken lives.
He taught me the power of sitting in the silence with trusted friends.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16
Are you suffering on this Lenten road? You are not alone.
The God who hung on that cross for you is also willing to wait with you. Don’t be afraid to shout out and press down, friend.
Easter is ready whenever you are.