From early on Good Friday morning when a detachment of Temple guards invaded the quiet of Gethsemane and arrested Jesus, the disciples were beside themselves with fear and disillusionment. Their master's demise was not part of their vision for the future. They, no doubt, felt like the sea turtle Barbara Brown Taylor wrote about in The Other Side? Tales of Terror, Times of Wonder.
A turtle’s rescue
Several summers ago I spent three days on a barrier island where loggerhead turtles were laying their eggs. One night while the tide was out, I watched a huge female heave herself up on the beach to dig her nest and empty her eggs into it. Afraid of disturbing her, I left before she had finished.
The next morning I returned to see if I could find the spot where her eggs lay hidden in the sand. What I found were her tracks leading in the wrong direction. Instead of heading back out to sea, she had wandered into the dunes, which were already as hot as asphalt in the morning sun.
A little ways inland I found her: Exhausted, all but baked, her head and flippers caked with dried sand. After pouring water on her and covering her with sea oats, I fetched a park ranger who returned with a jeep to rescue her.
He flipped her on her back, wrapped tire chains around her front legs, and hooked the chains to a trailer hitch on his jeep. Then I watched horrified as he took off, yanking her body forward so that her mouth filled with sand and her neck bent so far back I thought it would break.
The ranger hauled her over the dunes and down onto the beach. At the ocean's edge, he unhooked her and turned her right side up. She lay motionless in the surf as the water lapped at her body, washing the sand from her eyes and making her skin shine again. A wave broke over her; she lifted her head slightly, moving her back legs. Other waves brought her further back to life until one of them made her light enough to find a foothold and push off, back into the ocean.
Watching her swim slowly away and remembering her nightmare ride through the dunes, I reflected that it is sometimes hard to tell whether you are being killed or saved by the hands that turn your life upside down.
Killed or saved
When the sun set on Good Friday, Jesus' disciples did not wonder if those who turned their lives upside down -- not to mention Jesus' life -- were set on saving them. They were convinced death also stalked them. Worse, with all the evidence they saw that Jesus could not have been Messiah, hell stalked them.
But in the bright morning that Easter brought, their perceptions changed dramatically. Jesus returned to life, just as he promised he would. His Good Friday declaration, "It is finished! I've accomplished my mission" was true. The turtle-ride they had experienced was to rescue them, to bring to the endless ocean of God's grace.
Such is the case with every seeming disaster we face. Jesus' resurrection guarantees our God will never leave us, never forsake us. In Jesus' empty tomb we hear our God assure:
“All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, little Israel, do not fear, for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 41:11,13,14).