Bedtime stories. Epic ballads. Campfire tales. They are the stories that never grow old, that fade in one form only to emerge again arrayed with different adjectives, a different detail or two, but recognizable to anyone. When we were very young, my older brother and I had one Star Wars book on tape about Ewoks that we just about wore out, we listened to it so many times. Same with certain bible stories. The first time, everything is new, and what the stories make you feel is an unfamiliar and challenging, sometimes scary, ultimately thrilling, rollercoaster. If you really like the story, then you want to get right back on and ride again…and again…and again. You know every twist and turn by heart, but it continues to enthrall.
The best stories are the ones that somehow leave us in suspense even though we know the ending. They’re the stories we most want to believe are true, the ones that have to be true for our hope to stay alive. Something about them being true matters to us in the deepest places. During Lent we hear stories about Jesus’ life. During Holy Week we go through his Passion, and every year it becomes more and more meaningful. But every year, my breath catches at the absurdity of the whole thing. To borrow from a song: “how can it be? That you, my King, would die, for me?“ Every year, I forget and I need to be reminded. I am especially grateful for the liturgy at these times, for the rhythm that anticipates our human way, the need to remember the truth of the stories of our Savior again, and again, and again. The liturgy takes us through a rhythm not just every week, but every year, with crescendos at the appropriate narrative points to show us the biggest moments, but also how all of it fits together, all the time.
To borrow from another song, Andrew Peterson, in “We Will Survive” writes about this when he says:
So tell me the story I still need to hear
Tell me about the love that never dies
Tell me the story I still need to hear
Tell me we’re gonna make it out alive again
I need to know there’s nothing left to fear
There’s nothing left to hide
Because every year, each of us lives a life and encounters things that threaten our memory and tries to erode our trust in this great, all-encompassing, never-ending story. Will we make it out alive this time? Will the hero triumph over evil forces and complete his daring rescue? We know the ending. But the reminder of it is no less needed, especially in the midst of the precarious balance each of us are trying to strike walking for our lives on the thin line between heaven and earth. Can we accept that it is true again? And not just true for everyone else, but true for me? Can we keep walking and hang on to that truth?
Listen with the ears of a child to the familiar stories this season. Let the words challenge, comfort, instruct and inspire. Let the tension of the stories draw you into relationship to the Storyteller. Rest in the reminder and bolster your trust in this eternal reality: the Savior has come, and the battle is won.