Dinner Before Death by Andrew Shaughnessy
Before the quiet of night was ruptured by the crash of marching jackboots, the creak of oiled leathers, the clatter of armor on blade, the grunts of thick-necked stormtroopers…
Before a brother’s kiss of betrayal, the flash of steel and blood and violence, the quiet patter of sandals disappearing into the darkness, the deafening clamor of cowardice…
Before a kangaroo court hurled laws, spit accusations, flung fists in the face of our King of Peace…
Before a twist of once-green thorns tore his sun-leathered brow and shafts of steel ripped open cuticles, sliced sinew, fractured bone in calloused hands. His hands that had carved patterns in wood, felt the cool of dew on morning grass, burned their fingers on too-hot mugs of tea, scratched the ears of neighborhood dogs, healed the sick with some otherworldly mystery we can only describe as magic…
Before the light left the eyes of a Being, a Force, a God, a Man who had lived beyond the bounds of time and space and physics’ paltry laws…
… Jesus had dinner with his friends, one last time.
They broke bread, drank wine. They laughed and talked; wove stories; told jokes; maybe sang old sailing songs together.
Then to Gethsemane, that garden of forking paths, of present fears and an infinite labyrinth of futures.Death waited around the corner and Jesus—his belly full of wine and bread—sat among the trees and silence and creatures of the night. He listened to frogs singing in the trees; felt the dampening of the moss beneath his toes. He breathed deep the cool evening air to calm his quivering nerves, to still his shaking soon-pierced hands. And he prayed.
The King of the Universe sought friends and food and nature and beauty, and so armed for battle, He faced death.
Maybe it’s nothing—the dinner, the garden could just be narrative devices, arbitrary staging decisions to set the scene on the way to the main event. Or maybe there’s more: maybe wine and trees and friends and beauty are more important than we ever imagined, weapons in our cosmic struggle with the darkness. Maybe this too is a template for how to live, to struggle, to remember our King.
The Hope-Hurling Gospel by Andrew Shaughnessy
It’s been a tough few years. Heck, it’s been a tough few weeks. A deadly pandemic has swept the globe, leaving millions dead in its wake and ravaging the economic fortunes of the most vulnerable. A monstrous chasm of polarized political hate yawns between Americans, and it only grows larger as we sort ourselves into echo chambers defined by contempt for those who think differently than our narrow tribe. War rages in Central Asia, in the Middle East, in Central Africa, and now in Europe—and we watch in horror as bombs rain down on cities and villages populated by precious image bearers of our Creator: burning libraries filled with poems and crumbling coffee shops filled with 10,000 conversations, snuffing the lives of dentists and kindergarten teachers and hairdressers. And there, quietly lurking behind it all, vanishing insect populations, shrinking glaciers, and soaring temperatures signal looming environmental collapse.
What are we to do with a world so horrific? How do we cope? How do we hope?
Some perspective is in order on two fronts.
First, you don’t know the half of it. Our world is far more horrible than any of us can possibly fathom. Always has been. Our feeble fear and panic and pain pales in comparison to the full scope of terror and cruelty we humans have wreaked on each other over the centuries.
Second, Jesus would not be surprised or overwhelmed by our modern world. It is just as cruel, and justas beautiful, as that into which He was born, that in which he was slain.
Remember: The beginning of Jesus’ life on earth was marked by the massacre of innocents and our savior fleeing for His life, a refugee in a foreign country.
Remember: He lived his life under the thumb of a global empire; a world riven by tyranny and revolution; a nation beset by racism, patriarchy, and slavery.
Remember: He was executed as an enemy of the state, subjected to public humiliation and killed for stirring up good trouble, for making joyful rebellious noise that dared to threaten the status quo of those with money and muscle and influence.
Our King of Glory lived as one of us in the world as it really is—a place where the powerful crush the innocent, where the weak flee the strong, where death and decay chip away the most beautiful souls and the most powerful presidents and us. He knows. He gets it.
And it’s not too much for Him.
John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Good Friday marks the moment when—however briefly—it seemed as if our candle of hope had gone out, snuffed for good by the darkness.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Three days later, that candle of hope roared back to life and set the world ablaze. Christ—Word made flesh—overcame the darkness. He defeated death and hell.
And now, even as disease ravages our bodies and economies, as the barrel bombs fall and the tanks advance, as biodiversity vanishes alongside reason and the storms and billionaires and hate grow stronger, we can hope.
We hope because we know that Christ can handle this. He is undaunted by pandemic and politics and war and sin and misery.
We hope because we know that Christ’s death is only the beginning of the story He has written and is writing on the pages of the cosmos.
We hope because we know a day is coming when, to paraphrase Sam in The Lord of the Rings,“everything sad will come untrue,” when our Creator King will dry every tear and bind up the broken hearts and restore the sundered cities and turn the world upside down.
It is this story of the now and future King that drives us. We, the Church, are called to use our words and our deeds to sing the song of death defeated and beauty restored. In the face of death and despots, we are to hold our candles high, stare down in the darkness, and serve as signposts pointing to Christ and the day when all will be made new. Empowered and driven by the gospel, we are called to create art and break bread, to build businesses and forge friendships, to make murals and laws and medicines, to hurl hope and beauty and love and joy with a ferocity that makes people ask “Why?”
And when they ask, boy do we have a story to tell.
Andrew has been a professional writer for more than a decade, including four years living and working overseas, writing for Christian non-profits in South Sudan, Uganda, and India. After returning to the U.S. in2016, Andrew split his time between serving as the staff writer for Mission to the World and freelancing for global corporations, INGOs, and publications including Christianity Today, Narratively, NationsMedia, and ByFaith Magazine. These days, he is finishing his master’s degree in political science at Portland State University, helping authors make their books better as Director of Editorial Analysis for TargetAudience Insights, and soaking up as much poetic literature and mountain adventures as he can in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.