Posted by: Titus Presler | March 30, 2015

Holy Week: Driven to desolation – God locked out of the cockpit

This week Christians are immersed in the central story of our faith: Jesus in the way of suffering and death. The story is so central that the cross that stands as its climax is the definitive symbol of Christianity the world over, as it has been since the early centuries of Christian life. It is a story of betrayal, arrest, judicial travesty, howling mob, violence, agony, abandonment, death and burial.

It does not exhaust the story of Jesus. Not long ago, after all, we celebrated the stories of his conception and birth, and, indeed, this week’s story derives its significance from the fact of the Incarnation of God in Christ Jesus, that in this Jesus God was, in the words of Paul, reconciling the world to God. Since Epiphany we have been hearing stories of Jesus teaching, Jesus expressing compassion, Jesus carrying out mighty works of deliverance.

Yet it all comes to climax in this week’s story, this week’s journey from Passion Sunday through Good Friday and into Holy Saturday. At Jesus’ conception Matthew tells us that he was to be Emmanuel, God with us. In the story of this week, we see the depth of that God-with-us-ness – God with us in betrayal, God with us in heartrending parting from friends, God with us in dread, God with us in violence, God with us in aloneness and abandonment, God with us in dying.

We hear the story every year, so we know all the details in advance and we know how it ends. Yet in hearing it again the magnitude of God’s reaching out to us is imprinted afresh on our hearts and minds. Reading it aloud, listening to it set to music, seeing it in dramatic enactment – all this plows a fresh furrow for it in our imaginations.

None of it had to happen just the way it did. The particulars of how it happened – which disciple betrayed Jesus, the Garden of Gethsemane instead of some other place, the particular slanders brought against Jesus, the crown of thorns and the mocking purple – all these details that could have been otherwise. But the major trajectory of the story from popularity with palms to utter misery – that has an air of inevitability, a sense of humanity driving itself to desolation.

Driven to desolation – that sums up the Passion Sunday story.  Driven to desolation – that sums up the human story.

This past week we’ve been arrested by another story that ends in desolation, the desolation of the Germanwings jet and its passengers scattered over barren winter slopes in the French Alps. We cannot know entirely the mind and heart of the copilot, but we know a few things. He felt driven to fly. Torn-up doctor’s orders indicated he wasn’t supposed to fly.  He probably feared losing his job if psychiatric or physical problems became known to the airline. So when he had a chance to end it all he seized it. The captain left the cockpit for a biobreak and then could not get back in – on the voice recorder he’s banging on the door and shouting right up to the end. The end was utter desolation for all 150 people on board – and for their families and friends.

The Holy Week story is a story of God shut out of the cockpit. In creating humanity in God’s image, God intended humanity to be companion and partner in the great enterprise of forming fruitful community that would bless all people and bless the world and the infinite universe beyond this world. God the captain, we the copilot.

Yet humanity over and over would have none of that. Driven, like the copilot, by fear, driven by the will to power, driven by the need to control our lives rather than give our lives over, we lock God out of the cockpit and drive ourselves and others into desolation – the desolation of betrayal, the desolation of violence, the desolation of destroying others for the sake of our own gratification, the desolation of destroying ourselves in the midst of all this. The stories are writ small in marriages, families, friendships and workplaces. The stories are writ larger in the social patterns of alcoholism, sexism, homophobia, violence against prisoners, women and children. The stories are writ very large in countless wars of the last century and this one, destitution among one to two billion people, impending ecological apocalypse. And so on and on and on. In all this, God is locked out of the cockpit, and humanity drives itself to desolation.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cried out from the cross in what has become known as the Cry of Desolation. Humanity had locked God out of the cockpit.  Humanity was driving the drama to destruction.  Jesus was desolation’s victim.

Jesus shared in the desolation to which humanity has always been driving itself. He expressed the desolation of untold millions and billions of people over the millennia who have felt driven to desolation by the jealousy, greed and ambition of those with the power to drive the human community into the ground.

The story we hear this week, then, is a story not of comfort but of truth: the truth of our human condition.  The truth of Christ Jesus sharing the desolation of humanity.  And, therefore, the truth God’s infinite love for us.

This posting is adapted from the homily preached in St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Enosburg Falls, Vermont, on Passion Sunday, 29 March 2015.



  1. Beautifully said, Titus – thank you!

    • So good to hear from you, Elyn. Blessings to you and yours in this Holy Week.

  2. Just saw your article in the latest e-publication of IBMR. Prayers continue for your colleagues, students and friends; and, of course, you. Magi Griffin 

    • Thanks much for being in touch, Magi. God bless you in your continuing ministry.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: