For Jesus, the adulation ofthe entry into Jerusalem led to the agony of Gethsemane, the shame, humiliation and alienation of the cross, and finally to the triumphant resurrection and glorious ascension. In this short period, Jesus experienced rejection by the crowds, betrayal by a friend, and denial by those closest to him as well as false accusation, arrest, and conviction by the religious community. It is humanly impossible to plumb the depths of his suffering or to grasp their enormity. As the old hymn says, “We may not know, we cannot tell what pains He had to bear.” For God’s people throughout the ages, Jesus has been and continues to be their forerunner, their model, their pattern. There have been periods when they have had to face times of darkness from suffering, persecution, trials and temptations. There have been times when they have doubted because of mounting fears, when they have been distressed because of their circumstances, unsure how to press on, times when all hope seems to have gone, when darkness possesses and the future seems bleak. In their anguish and torment, they experience that moment of Jesus on the cross when He cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani [My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?]” In John Bunyans Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian is shown a wall from which there emanates a tremendous fire with searing heat. People are throwing buckets of water on the fire, trying to put it Christian asks the meaning of the fire, he is told that this represents faith and there are those who are trying through doubt and fear to extinguish it. But he is then taken to the other side of the wall and there he sees a figure with a vessel of oil and this gentle figure, almost in secret, is pouring oil on the fire, keeping the flames alive. When Christian asks the meaning, he is told that it is the oil of God’s grace that keeps the fire burning and so faith continues. We are like Christian. From one side, we see and experience the quenching of faith when our hearts are filled with doubt, darkness and despair, when the tempter, Satan, and his emissaries our friends and our foes alike seek to do his bidding and to bring about the destruction of our faith and very existence. And yet, there is One who keeps us, who with the oil of God’s grace feeds our souls, keeps us alive and keeps the flickering flame from dying until one day it will blaze forth again. Paul writing to the Corinthians speaks ofthe enormity of his suffering. It may well have been physical although we do not know. But he pleads with God to have it removed, begging for a respite and for peace, for him to be made well. But God’s answer was a simple one. It was to pour the oil of His grace into Paul’s life so that Paul could continue to press on, continue to serve, continue to fulfil the will and purposes God had for him. Though forsaken by many, though abused, though alone, God’s grace was present. For, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12: 90)
So, as we consider the period leading up to Easter as well as the Easter events themselves, we remember not only God’s suffering people but also our own inner experiences and travails. And so we ask God to give to us the oil of His grace to sustain us to live through not just the Thursday of Gethsemane, the tragedy of Friday of the cross, the loneliness and abandonment of Saturday, but also the triumphant resurrection of Sunday, with that certain hope of an ascension and a life to come when, in the words of the old, shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.