From the moment we’re born until we die, we’re listening to, and telling stories.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how beautifully the Passion Week falls into the three-act narrative of storytelling.
Holy Week, Act 1: On the very first day, we have Jesus entering into Jerusalem on a donkey. He’s greeted by crowds triumphantly cheering, and people singing psalms in his honour. He’s greeted like a king – and his disciples must have surely felt like: “Ok, this is where it all starts. ”
Here, in the first act, we see Jesus within his world – we get a sense of who he is, and the universe he inhabits. So throughout Holy Week, we see Jesus cleansing the temple, weeping over Jerusalem, and teaching his disciples. We get a greater glimpse into who he is – his justice and mercy, his sense of purpose, his calling as our Messiah.
But the first act always ends with an “inciting incident” – a twist, a turn of events that is completely unexpected. That moment, I think, occurs at the Passover meal that Jesus shares with his friends on that Thursday night. This time of communion and sharing takes a strange turn as Jesus dips the bread into the dish and then offers it to Judas – which in Jewish culture was a sign of high esteem and love, something you would only do for your most honoured guest – and then says: “What you’re about to do, do quickly.”
The disciples of course, have no idea what Jesus is talking about, or why Judas is getting this special treatment. But Judas turns and disappears into the night, and everything, as we know, changes. The second act begins.
In the second act, everything’s quickly getting worse. The inciting incident sets off a chain of other events, each worse than the last, with Jesus eventually finding himself in a very dark and dangerous place indeed. As the events of that Thursday night unfold, one by one, he is abandoned and left to face a sham trial alone. He’s beaten. Mocked. Ferried between Herod and Pilate and the Sanhedrin, bound like a slave and treated no better than an animal. Exhausted, wounded and humiliated. The son of God, brought down to the dirt.
And then he’s crucified. He dies a torturous, slow, and public death, surrounded by mocking enemies, with his heartbroken family and a few disciples watching from the edges of the crowd. And he’s left alone, with our sins, with only humiliation and pain.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.”
These things aren’t easy to reflect on. It’s hard to dwell on pain and suffering. It’s hard to sit in silence and think about what it would have meant for Jesus to go through all of this for us.
And if you’re anything like me, it’s around this point that you start thinking: “Let’s get to the happy bit! Let’s get to triumphal Jesus, rising again on the third day. That’s the bit I want to think about.”
But the thing is, we’re still in Act 2. We can’t get ahead of ourselves here. Act 3 is yet to come.
We’re in Act 2, and Act 2 is hard.
Brene Brown, the researcher-storyteller, says that act two is the moment “when you’re in the dark – the door has closed behind you. You’re too far in to turn around and not closer enough to the end to see the light”.
And that’s where we are right now, in the story. That’s where the disciples were. They had no idea how it would all end. They thought this was the end.
Can you imagine how they felt?
I’d like to think that during those couple of days – during the days we now call Good Friday and Holy Saturday – that there was something that whispered to them, telling them that maybe there was a reason for it all. That maybe there was some grace for them somewhere. But honestly, I don’t know.
All I know is right now, we’re with them in Act 2. We’re being called to stay there for a little while. To not skip, as we’re so often tempted to do in our world of instant gratification, to the finish line – to the resolution – but to stay the course.
To sit with the pain and the grief and the loss. Because Act 2 is dark.
I’ve been asking myself why it had to be so dark. Why would a loving Father allow the disciples to go through Act 2? Why do we, the followers of Jesus, have to experience the darkness?
I think maybe it’s in these moments, in these second acts, that we realise just how lost we are without Jesus. We realise just how harsh, cold and brutal our world is without Him in it. Imagine a world where death is the last word, where WE are kings and everything serves us and ultimately betrays us; where there is no meaning or point, or purpose. That’s the world the disciples inhabited. That was their Act 2.
Act 2 is not only hard and dark; Act 2 is where the hard work is done. It was in the dark night of Act 2 that Jesus wrestled with the problem of human brokenness and sin. It was in the dark night that Jesus conquered the enemy and took away his power once and for all. The messy, transformative, life-changing work that we owe our lives to was actually done in the dark night of Act 2.
So let’s remember it. Let’s not skip past it. It’s not the end of the story, it’s true. But the story doesn’t end without it. Let’s embed the story of the sacrifice of Jesus, and the darkness of that night, into our hearts and minds and lives. Because without the darkness, without the cross, there’s no Act 3.
“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds.
I will remember their sins no more.”