This Is Us is the runaway NBC hit about a family of fairly messed-up people and how the complexity of their lives are woven together into one tapestry of imperfect love.
There is an intricate plot of time hops from what made them to what they became and plenty of drama and dysfunction to go around.
While I am not a devotee of the show or fully aligned with its message, I am struck by the way it has grabbed so many by the heartstrings. I gave some thought to why it became such an immediate ratings success.
I think its magic may be how easy it is for viewers who live the imperfect lives of family to find a bit of themselves in the story. Perhaps, even as a different character in each episode.
It is that connection with our reality that makes it seem real.
Last night I sat in our Church’s first-ever Service of Tenebrae–a historically-rooted contemplative commemoration of the events of Holy Week. The setting is a candle-lit room of silence and shadows.
I had never been to a Tenebrae service. I will never be the same because I went.
The retelling of the significant moments, the colossal evil, the betrayals and denials surrounding the death of Jesus reminded me of all those times I–dare I say we–have been so much like the characters of that plot.
I heard the stories, felt the trauma, experienced the fear and wept through the saga. As I traversed the intense details of the days between Palm Sunday and Easter I just could not escape the truth, “This Is Us.”
All week as I have come to the end of my Lent preparations, I mused over the events that took Jesus to the cross. I wrestled with the fact that this really is the story of us. I see the events and characters of that week and consistently find myself in them over and over again.
- Sometimes I am a Mary sitting rapt at His feet…sometimes I am Martha resentfully spinning the plates of my demanding life
- Sometimes I am a child joyfully crying Hosanna!…sometimes I am disillusioned follower screaming crucify Him!
- Sometimes I am a devoted follower journeying to celebrate His goodness…sometimes I am a religious huckster whose theological table Jesus has to kick over
- Sometimes I am a disciple hearing with my heart…sometimes I am a Pharisee accusing with my voice
- Sometimes I am Mary pouring my best offering at His feet….sometimes I am Judas counting coins and ranking sinners
- Sometimes I am Peter begging for a bath…sometimes I am the kid running naked from Gethsemane
- Sometimes I am John leaning on His breast…sometimes I am Peter following from a distance
- Sometimes I am a captive listener absorbing all He says about what is to come…sometimes I am a religious know-it-all angry because He won’t fit into my boxes
- Sometimes I am one of His intimates walking closely and hearing His heart…sometimes I am James sleeping through His deepest concerns
- Sometimes I am Joseph of Arimathea wanting to do anything I can to honor my Lord…sometimes I am Pilate washing my hands of the whole deal
- Sometimes I am a soldier with a mallet and spike nailing the King once again to the cross…but sometimes, just sometimes, I see enough of who He really is and what He is truly doing in my world to stand back in awestruck wonder and whisper, “Surely this is the Son of God!”
- Sometimes I am the heart-broken, grief-stricken follower who thought He would do one thing but He did another and I weep…but sometimes, just sometimes, I see Him as He is–risen, alive, reigning King and active redeemer–and I fall at His feet and cling to Him for dear life.
The strangest thing about sitting last night with tears coursing my cheeks in the silence and shadows of Tenebrae was how I felt.
I wanted to tell Jesus how sorry I was not only for my sins but also for the times I have taken advantage of the grace I came to know. I wanted to express my sorrow for the times I was Judas in betrayal, Peter in denial or Pilate washing his hands.
But in those moments all that my heart could feel and my mouth could whisper was, “Thank You.”
Because you see, the very same people who were cloaked in confusion, driven by fear and lost in pain were the ones He died to save. That group of dysfunctional failures were the ones Jesus asked the Father to forgive because they didn’t have a clue what they were doing.
It was for all those struggling, bumbling, questioning, waffling people that Jesus refused to stay in the tomb He had borrowed. It was for them that He gathered up all His power, removed all the obstacles and blazed a trail to a new forever-life.
And we, with those first century followers, are the ones who along with Jesus’ companion on the neighboring cross now hear the words, “You will be with me in Paradise.”
This is us.