Mark 15: 40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.
The day is July 15, 2004. It’s a Thursday morning in Los Angeles and Lakers fans are mortified. LA has many sports franchises, but the NBA Lakers dominate the city. Theirs is a storied past, with past superstars like Wilt Chamerlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. The next dynasty was in the making with perennial All-Stars Kobe Bryan and Shaquille (Shaq) O’Neal. But that all changed on July 14th when Shaq was traded to Miami. A newspaper headline read: Lakers Carve Up the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg, and opened with: “Is it possible we’re watching what amounts to sports suicide?”
Shaq’s story is not unique. Most teams have similar stories and fans have similar reactions – usually intense anger pointed at the ownership. When the NHLs’ greatest player, Wayne Gretzky, was traded away from the Edmonton Oilers in 1988, the city mourned and the fans seethed. The owner’s portrait was burned in effigy in the streets. Whenever a sports hero is traded, a sense of hopelessness fills the air. Fans ask how they can go on? As time plays out, however, what seemed like the worst thing ever, has a way of turning around. The Shaq-less Lakers went on to win two more NBA championships (2009, 2010) and even the Edmonton Oilers (without Gretzky) went on to win the Stanley Cup in 1990 only two years after Gretzky was traded. It is easy to look back on the fans with a smirk, knowing what lay ahead for them, but in their darkest hours, when their personal plans did not play out, their hopelessness is understandable.
Over 2,000 years ago, a small, growing band of people were suddenly dispersed around a small middle eastern city. They had been following someone who was, at a minimum a wonderful teacher, but more likely the Christ, the one who had been prophesied. He was going to save the Jewish people from their oppressors, as Zechariah had prophesied: “Rejoice greatly, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you. He is righteous and victorious” (Zechariah 9:9a). But that was over now. Their leader had been arrested, tried, convicted to death, and now he hung helplessly on a cross. How his followers must have felt? We read that: “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” (John 19: 25). How gut wrenching it must have been for a mother to watch her son being violently beaten, mocked and murdered? What thoughts went through Mary’s mind on this day? In Matthew 26:56 we read that the disciples fled when Jesus was arrested, and likely stayed a considerable distance away from the crucifixion, for fear of their own arrest and death. These men had left their lives behind, they had sacrificed everything, to follow the Messiah. This was not how it was all supposed to turn out. This was the greatest tragedy ever.
I can’t imagine the hopelessness I would have felt on that day if I was Jesus’ parent, relative or friend. Without the full story, without knowledge of the ending, on that dark day, I too would have despaired. But today we have the benefit of the full story. We understand that Christ fulfilled the prophesies of the scriptures. He willingly took on the sins of the world, not the least of which are mine, because of his inexpressible love for us. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) On Easter day, darkness turned to light. Hopelessness turned to hope.