Ella was four. All knobs and knees and chubby cheeks. Cute as a button and bouncy as her pigtails. We were visiting her aunt in Atlanta—doing the tourist thing.
There’s a mountain in Atlanta. Mount Kennesaw.
Granted, it can’t compare to the snowcaps of the Rocky’s or even the Blue Ridge cliffs and peaks. But it was bigger than a hill. And the National Park Service deemed it a mountain so a mountain it must be. All rocks and clay and trees pressed tight together out of the valleys to create steep inclines and wooded trails.
Prince Charming and I decided our little Ella-girl was capable of moving mountains, so she must have been able to hike this one. Right?
Climbing mountains aren’t easy.
Ella held her own for a while until she didn’t. She got tired as we neared the peak. But we were almost there. To close to stop; too big to carry.
My Prince and I walked with her, encouraged her, cheered for her.
She was determined. Still is determined…
We reached the summit tired but proud. The trees cleared and the boulders gave our bodies rest. What had been a blanket of humid air through the trails became the cool breeze of spring at the top.
The climb was difficult, but Ella did it. She climbed the mountain.
Later that afternoon we slid into the car, weary and dirty. Mud had grabbed the crevices of our soled sneakers and stained our jeans. You can’t stay clean when you’re climbing to the peaks.
The dirt stays with you.
This trudging out of valleys and up to mountain tops? It’s our life.
While the aches and pains and despair cling to our souls in the low sunken places, climbing out of the mire and up the incline isn’t easy either.
Our climbs in life can steal our energy and take our breath away.
We hike the valleys and cliffs to seek the hope of clearing trees and calming winds.
Today is Maundy Thursday.
Only in recent years have I begun to frame its meaning. To understand Christ’s last meal, last words, last moments without the torture his death would be.
To realize it’s okay to not be okay.
Because less than a day would pass and the disciples would watch their Jesus, bloodied and beaten, climb a hill towards crucifixion. The place His arms would stretch across splintered wood and thorns would press deep into his brow.
The followers of Christ wept and mourned and broke over the pain and suffering of their leader. They must have watched stunned, without understanding.
This was the Christ.
Why was He dying the humiliating death of a criminal?
Jesus knew what tomorrow would bring. He knew the mountain He would have to stagger up, ripped and torn from the battle with evil. He knew his followers would tremble with confused despair.
He knew nothing would seem okay.
Maundy Thursday marked the beginning of the climb to Calvary. And on His way? Jesus encouraged, served, loved, and taught his disciples. He prepared them. Even though they felt so very unprepared.
He whispered in their ears.
You can walk this. These valleys for you to trudge? These mountains for you to climb? I’m with you. I will never leave you. I love you. Let me show you how I love…
This was Maundy Thursday.
As Jesus and his disciples walked to the Garden of Gethsemane, He left them with words of hope, words of love, words of joy.
Before going alone to pray, Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
He knew the tormented mountain He would climb only hours later. He knew the despair his followers would feel. He knows the torments and despairs of your journeys, of your valleys and mountains.
It’s as if the Creator of the heavens and of earth knew. He knew in our darkest hours and our bleakest moments we would need to know it’s okay to not be okay—you will have trouble echoes in our darkness.
But there’s hope. The climb will one day be over. But take heart! I have overcome the world reminds us light is stronger than dark.
We will reach our mountain tops and look over our climbs and see our valleys.
We will see the journey we’ve come through.
Because we are the resurrection people. And our glimpse beyond the mountaintop is heavenward.
Because Christ didn’t stay dead on the rough-hewn beams of a cross.
Because Christ didn’t stay dead in the darkness of a rock-hewn tomb.
Because Christ didn’t stay dead.
And while the mountains we climb and the valleys we face may leave scars on our souls, the dirt and grime aren’t with us forever.
It’s okay to not be okay.
Because we have hope.
Because the story of Jesus doesn’t end on Maundy Thursday.
His story—our story—has only just begun.
Because Resurrection Sunday has overcome the world.