A Holy Week Blessing from Dr. Jay Akkerman

A director and professor at Northwest Nazarene University sent along this message today and I thought I would share it (with his permission) with my readers. Have a great weekend!

Nearly 51 years ago, the crew of Apollo 13 successfully lifted off from Kennedy Space Center’s Pad 39A. Veteran astronaut Jim Lovell commanded the mission, but for his colleagues Jack Swigert and Fred Haise, this would be their first flight in space.

NASA’s third Moon-landing mission suffered some early setbacks. Swigert, who was originally on Apollo 13’s backup crew, replaced his counterpart Ken Mattingly just three days prior to launch because Mattingly had been exposed to rubella the week prior. A second glitch came in the fifth minute of Apollo 13’s flight when the center engine on the Saturn V’s second stage began oscillating, shutting down one J-2 rocket engine.

But at 55 hours and 53 minutes into their mission, the Apollo 13 crew experienced a setback no one ever anticipated, ultimately aborting their lunar mission. During a routine cryo-stir by Swigert of the oxygen tanks on their Odyssey service module, wires inside one tank sparked, causing a catastrophic explosion that vented both tanks into the void of space, depriving the crew of the vital oxygen needed both for breathing and generating electricity, as shown above. Lovell, Swigert, and Haise found themselves roughly 200,000 miles from Earth in a crippled spacecraft flailing toward the Moon.

Three men, so far from home, while the whole world watched helplessly.

This Holy Week leads us again to the most significant day in Christian history: Easter Sunday. But before we can get to Sunday, we must trace Jesus’ journey through Good Friday as found in the New Testament Gospel of John, chapters 18-19.

In our text, Jesus is dragged through a series of kangaroo courts where he answers his interrogators with divine perception. Pilate surprisingly finds no fault in Jesus but bends to the religious leaders and the crowds by handing Jesus over for crucifixion.

Jesus’ passion and death itself occupies only thirteen verses in John 18-19. Stripped and whipped, those executed by crucifixion are starved of oxygen as they hang in agony. Crucified for hours between two common felons, the parched Jesus finally receives some sour wine, utters just three words, “It is finished,” then bows his head and gives up his spirit.

Three men dying helplessly at the hands of Roman executioners in an obscure corner of the world, virtually ignored by everyone at the time.

In preparation for the upcoming Sabbath dawning just a few hours away at dusk, the religious leaders convince Pilate to have the condemned men’s legs broken to hasten their deaths. Since Jesus hangs dead already, a Roman soldier runs a spear through his side instead.

Then a little-known gospel character named Joseph of Arimathea approaches Pilate in the night. Nicodemus joins him, also known for his night visit to Jesus back in John 3. Together, these two men make Jesus’ burial possible.

Good Friday ends precisely at this point. Jesus. Is. Dead. Wrapped in simple linens in keeping with Jewish custom and walled up in a fresh tomb, Jesus lies dead as a doornail. For Peter, Mary, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea, John 19.42 marks the deepest moment of failure in both their lives and their faith. Their hopes and dreams obliterated, the unfathomable becomes reality. Jesus. Is. Dead.

Every Good Friday, it’s precisely at this moment that we have to resist our urge to fast-forward the story to Easter morning. Hard as it is to receive, despite our eagerness for a happy ending, Holy Week reminds us that we need to learn to watch for God at work, especially in life’s darkest moments.

When the crew of Apollo 13 experienced the mission-critical incidents that put their very lives at risk, no one knew for certain how their story would end. Despite thousands of dedicated support personnel working night and day, the jury was out if they could bring the astronauts back from their wider-than-planned orbit around the backside of the Moon, a journey that took them farther from home than anyone in human history.

Following their nearly impossible week-long slingshot voyage that took the crew around the Moon and safely back, administrators ultimately labeled the mission of Apollo 13 a “successful failure,” NASA’s greatest hour. While they failed to achieve their well-outlined mission objectives, Lovell, Swigert and Haise—and everyone who supported them from the Earth, worked together to overcome their nearly impossible lunar odyssey.

This Holy Week, this Good Friday, and every day we live between “now” and “not yet” when missions fail and hopes are sometimes dashed, I hope you will reach for the God who is not finished with you, who alone can make “successful failures” out of the unforeseen challenges that mark our paths through heartache and death to resurrection and life.

Blessings on you this Holy Week.

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