some sheep aren’t lost
they know exactly
where the shepherd is.
it’s just that they’re running
away from him.

“All of you will desert me,” Jesus told them. “For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”
—Jesus, predicting that his disciples would abandon him
(Matthew 26:31)

All his disciples deserted him and ran away.
—less than ten hours later, when his words came true
(Mark 14:50)

What a place to be in.

Sometimes I try to imagine how those first vagabonds must have felt. They’d staked their lives, their futures, their eternities on this man, this indestructible and yet fragile Savior. And now he’s dead, and so are all their dreams. Their Savior has been slain.

Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take Jesus’ body down. When Pilate gave him permission, he came and took the body away.

Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night, also came, bringing about seventy-five pounds of embalming ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Together they wrapped Jesus’ body in a long linen cloth with the spices, as is the Jewish custom of burial.
John 19:38-40

Where do you turn, what do you do when your Savior lies cold and
dead at your feet? I guess you stick him in the grave and toss dirt over his
body like any other dead guy. What else is there to do?

Take out the dead and get on with life.

Nothing makes sense. Nothing seems trustworthy and sure. Reality is splintering around you. The one who claimed to be “the resurrection and the life” ( John 11:25) is dead. Could it be that all of his promises, all of his teachings, all of his kingdom-talk was nothing more than wishful thinking?

Is anything real? Is anything true anymore?

He’s dead. That’s true. That’s real enough. There’s his corpse right over there.

What name do you give to the realization that all your beliefs were a cosmic joke? That all you held as true is illusion? How do you grapple with the knowledge that your Savior couldn’t even save himself ? Is there a word in any language that can speak the color of that emotion?

I don’t know of one. Despair doesn’t do it. Hopelessness doesn’t go far enough. Whatever that terrible word is, they felt it wrenching through their hearts, leaving great scars in its wake. They had doubted him, deserted him, denied that they knew him, and now at last they gave up on him.

A secret disciple and a midnight visitor took care of his body. But where were the disciples?

Scattered. Hopeless. Hiding.

In the aftermath of Jesus’s death, one of his disciples said this: “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-21 NIV).

See that? They “had hoped.” Past tense.

They don’t hope anymore. Their hope had been put to death on the cross.

The shepherd had been struck. And the sheep went into hiding.

On the night of Judas’s betrayal, Jesus’s friends had all let him down. First they fell asleep while he prayed in the garden. Then James and John, who’d begged to rule beside Jesus, bolted into the night. Peter, the man who’d vowed he would die with Jesus, was too frightened to admit that he even knew him. Mark was so scared he ran off naked: “There was a young man following along behind, clothed only in a linen nightshirt. When the mob tried to grab him, they tore off his clothes, but he escaped and ran away naked” (Mark 14:51-52).

You don’t hear the part about Mark running off naked too much in churches anymore. But that’s how scared they were, how scattered. The disciples run off, and we don’t see them again until Easter morning when Mary Magdalene comes knocking at Peter and John’s door with the news of a missing corpse.

Here the story of Easter really gets personal—here, in the aftermath of Jesus’s death, with his followers hiding like lost sheep. Because when I look in the shadows beside them, I see myself: hiding from God like Adam and Eve, or slipping off to the field like Cain, or running into the night like Mark.

Some people leave the theater at this point. When their Savior lets them down, when their hero falls, when their drug doesn’t deaden enough of the pain, they check out of the game, with a bullet in the head or a handful of pills. It happens every day. Because sometimes when we stare at the abyss it doesn’t just stare back; it invites us to come over and play. It whispers to us, drawing us closer and closer to the edge. Jesus is dead. There’s no hope left. What’s the use?

If we don’t hear the rest of the story, if we don’t stick around until Easter, we’ll be left in the shadows with Judas. We’ll be left fumbling for a way out, trapped in the center of a long, narrow scream.

where is the breeze that brings hope in its wings?

where is the fragrance of life to be found?

only on the other side of the grave.

only on the other side of easter.

Jesus is dead. All they had hoped for, all they had believed in, all they had dreamed of came crashing down. They don’t realize yet that if any of his words, if any of his teachings are ever to make final sense, he had to die. They don’t remember his words, “When we get to Jerusalem . . . the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, beat him with their whips, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again” (Mark 10:33-34).

They don’t see the big picture; all they see is a corpse. His words are betrayals to them now. Broken promises made by a deluded man. The shepherd has been slain. The sheep have been scattered. And the wolves have been set loose.

touching the unseen

my prayers are vacant paragraphs
floating toward the edge of the truth.
why did it have to happen like this?
why did you have to die?
hope in you seemed so reasonable
only a moment ago.
now, it all seems so ludicrous.

slain shepherd,
don’t stop looking for me
don’t stop searching.
find me,
here i am—
wherever here is.