A few years ago, a buddy of mine ghosted me. If you’ve never experienced this and are wondering, “Is that a weird feeling?” I assure you that it very much is. Texts went unanswered. Twitter exchanges disappeared. The usual social invites suddenly dried up. Without warning, our friendship got the Kylo Ren treatment and faded away.
Interestingly, what bugged me long afterward wasn’t the loss of a friendship. It was that it didn’t have a true ending. Instead, it just . . . stopped.
Stories need endings. We are, as the old cliché goes, hardwired for story, and that’s never more apparent than when something stops with no ending. The dissatisfaction of it gnaws at us. This is why people who go through breakups often feel such a strong hunger for “closure.” On the surface, it looks like trying to get answers to the question “What happened?” But closure, at its root, is really us saying, “I need to feel like this has an ending.”
When part of our story ends abruptly, frustration, grief, and confusion follow quickly after. In the time of coronavirus, probably no one is feeling this more acutely than college students—particularly seniors:
graduation ceremonies canceled
athletes’ end-of-year tournaments gone
music recitals, theatre productions, capstone projects, year-end celebrations disappeared
relationships with friends and professors paused, possibly forever
Just like that, the story of their year is done. If you aren't a student, maybe you've lost something that way too. What can you do when life ghosts you?
Ghosted on Good Friday
Good Friday, in this sense, is a ghost story. For the disciples, the crucifixion must have looked like such an abrupt, incoherent stop to Jesus’ story. All the miracles, all the teaching, all the prophecies and promises and hopes and “Hosannas”, now seemed all for nothing. Everything they thought they knew was gone. They would spend the rest of their lives wrestling with unanswered questions, sifting through their unfulfilled dreams. They’d forever wonder what this experience meant. And they would never have true closure.
In John 19:28, John records Jesus’ final seconds of life and one of his last decisions: “Knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’”
Jesus is minutes away from death. The end is here. There is no longer any doubt, for onlooker or reader, that Jesus’ life is over. Even he seems to know it. Yet he says, “I am thirsty.”
How peculiar. To the crowd, it looks like nothing more than a pitiful attempt to squeeze the last drops of experience from a vanishing life. All their eyes show them is a whimpering rage against the dying of the light.
But their eyes are missing something. Another story is happening here, and Jesus is the only one who sees it. That curious phrase is the hope of Good Friday’s ghost story.
God’s Deeper Story
Since Genesis 3, God had been telling a story of redemption for his fallen world. Through his chosen people of Israel, he had been layering prophecy after prophecy through the ages, promise after promise over thousands of years, all pointing to a Messiah who would liberate a world held in the stranglehold of sin and death. It almost seems too good to be true. As Jesus hung there dying, it surely looked like it was.
But at the peak of his suffering, "knowing that everything had now been finished", Jesus is thinking about a kernel of a promise buried in Psalm 69:21: “[They] gave me vinegar for my thirst.” The soldiers handed Jesus a sponge soaked in sour wine, and with that, another part of God’s story broke through into ours. That’s the story everyone else couldn’t see. But it’s the one Jesus kept living, even with his dying breath.
What’s happening now with coronavirus, both on college campuses and in our everyday lives, feels a bit like getting ghosted. All around us, stories we took for granted—jobs, school, relationships, safety and security—are ending, snap, just like that. It’s tempting to despair that that’s the story we’re in.
On Good Friday, we’re invited to acknowledge the reality that sometimes life feels chaotic and incoherent, jumbled and stuttering. Things do end, unexpectedly, sometimes for no clear reason, and without resolution.
But we also get a glimpse of God’s deeper, truer narrative at work, one that is anchored by the steel cables of his promises to the rock of his character and strength. In the midst of suffering, Jesus shows us that the story we see isn’t the story we’re in.
Life will ghost us, somehow or someway. It is a tragic fact of the Fall that we know all too well, especially right now. Today, take heart: not even the heights of suffering could hide that story from Jesus, or from us. The Living Water’s thirst was not a desperate cry of need. It was his strong grip, on our behalf, on God’s unbreakable story whose ending will satisfy every plot twist we ever grieved or puzzled over. Forever.
Our lives are being disrupted. We are forced to let go of things that have felt both normal and essential. In all this, God invites us to come to him, to be passionate about our love for him and others.