One of my favourite films is the Matrix. The Matrix is a trilogy, they are all important parts of the complete story in the same way that Lord of the Rings is a trilogy that needs all three parts to be watched to make a full and satisfying conclusion.
The last film of the Matrix trilogy is the climactic end to the struggle between humans and the machines. The end of the struggle comes as a result of the realisation, to quote Agent Smith, ‘Everything that has a beginning has an end.’ The machine world finally surrenders to the reality that is coming to an end because Neo, the human, was willing to surrender his life for the sake of all other humans.
I see in the conclusion of the Matrix story something of the point of Easter and Jesus’ willingness to surrender to the will of his heavenly Father. Neo’s willingness to surrender to bring to an end the struggle between humans and the power of the machines reflects Jesus’ willingness to surrender his self in order to free the whole of creation from the power of sin and death.
My own experience tells me that sometimes struggle is an aspect of sin – it is the stubborn refusal to let go of a vision, a plan, a hope, a dream for my own life and, perhaps, my expectations of others, that is wrong, unhelpful or even outdated. Whatever my expectations of my self or others, no longer valid, my refusal to let them go leads to struggle.
The very entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey is not only a provocation of the political and religious authorities of the day, it is also giving in to the hopes and dreams of the crowd for Jesus to be the political, earthly king he had resisted up to this point, but it was now, also, setting his face to Jerusalem and the way of the cross.
We hear this surrender in the words of Isaiah that we have come to see expresses the nature of Jesus, ‘I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard.’ (Is 50:5,6) And the challenge of Paul to the Philippians, and so to us, ‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who… emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.’ (Phil 2:5, 7-8) The same mind that was in Christ Jesus is the mind that surrenders.
One of the Old Testament stories that I find myself reflecting on over and over is the story of Jacob wrestling with God. In the background is Jacob’s ladder, the angels ascending and descending between earth and heaven. This story is about prayer. It as an aspect of prayer that most Christians have neglected; so busy asking God for things. This understanding of prayer is the idea of having robust discussion with God about issues in your life, the world, the church and the lives of others. The outcome, as it was for Jacob, is that he was scarred; permanently changed by his struggle with God. He was so transformed by this struggle that even his sense of who he was was transformed. From this point onward, Jacob is known as Israel. But, and here’s the thing, this transformation could only come when he surrendered, when he stopped struggling.
There are two reasons that, I think, we can get into a struggle. The first is that we have found our hope, our dream, our vision, our expectation of how things are going to be and should be, has been found inadequate, erroneous or outdated and we cannot yet find a new hope, dream, vision to replace it. The second source of struggle is that we have found our hope, dream, vision, expectations inadequate, but we refuse to let go of them. We keep struggling to maintain them against all odds and against all reason.
We need to surrender. We need to be prepared to surrender.
The passion that Jesus entered into as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey is that passion that is exemplified in the garden if Gethsemane. Here Jesus struggles with God in prayer, faced with the reality of his crucifixion the next day, the sweat that falls from his faces tinged with blood from blood pressure raised through stress, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ (Mt 26:39) Jesus willingly enters into struggle, but he knows the outcome is a willingness to surrender.
I can’t help wondering what the things are that causes us to resist the changes taking place within and around us that lead us into struggle. Perhaps we think that we might be betraying, or afraid we will forget, a person who is no longer with us. Perhaps we think we are betraying ourselves. Perhaps it is that if we accept something new and different it will mean thinking that we were wrong before. Perhaps it has something to do with the world in which we live driven by winning at the expense of others. Or, perhaps, it has something to do with the society that is negative toward the concept of struggle.
The passion that Jesus entered into is a passion that acknowledges struggle. Jesus may not have known what the outcome of this passion struggle would be, but he clearly understood that he needed to surrender to it. That the outcome of his passion was his resurrection, the triumph over sin and death, is the promise of something new. In order that we can share in this promise, is the willingness to surrender to and in the struggle and find new and creative hopes, dreams and expectations for ourselves, our church and our world.