On the Internet and in our culture, there's a lot of bluster, often warranted, about the failures of the church. We wince as another pastor is involved in scandal; another popular Christian leader says something unhelpful, insensitive, or heretical; another Christian blogger gang war erupts over the controversy du jour.

Every so often, someone pens a post breathlessly announcing the imminent doom of the church because of what a mess we Christians are. And then people like me talk about it. And tweet about it. And blog about it. And bicker about it. Again and again and again.

It's true. We are a mess and need to be quick to repent--doctrinal and moral failure among believers is serious and grievous. But from its earliest days, God has pursued and propelled the church in spite of our bumbling and failure.

And this week, Holy Week, we notice that in the midst of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection, we also find an embarrassingly painful display of the weakness, confusion, even imbecility of his earliest followers.

In each unfolding event of the week, the apostles disappoint. During the Last Supper, Jesus tells his friends that one of them will betray him and that they'll all abandon him. They respond by telling Jesus that he's underestimated them and arguing about who is the greatest, the most loyal disciple.

Then, they fall asleep, more than once, in Gethsemene, too weak to be a friend to Jesus when he is most desperate for one. Then, they panic and draw swords against those who arrested Jesus. Next, in a scene recounted with cringe-worthy detail, Peter swears up and down that he doesn't know Jesus even though it's pretty obvious to everyone around him that he does.

A damning refrain haunts the story of Holy Week: "Everyone deserted him and fled."

They bumbled through the week, first arrogant, then afraid, then hiding. They were cowardly, disloyal, and unfaithful. These holy martyrs and saints, these dearest friends of Jesus, failed, miserably and utterly, at the time of greatest crisis when courage was most needed.

It's heartbreaking. We watch Peter come undone, weeping after the third rooster crow, and Judas back-pedaling as he tries to return the blood money he sought. From the majority of Jesus' followers, we encounter nothing but silence. They simply walked away.

It's almost too much to take. How must they have felt? Were they ashamed? Did they feel foolish? Guilty? Did they make excuses?

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One thing is clear—the Gospels are not a story of the triumphant early church or hero apostles. The founders of our faith come off looking terrible. Yet, within weeks, these men were proclaiming the gospel with such abandon that now, thousands of years later, we believe because of their teaching and testimony.

As painful as it is to watch as those closest to Jesus abandon him, this subplot of Holy Week gives me hope. It is good news that the crux of Christianity, that which compels me to believe, is not the coherence of abstract principles writ by holy men or the perfect lives of Christ's followers, but is instead a claim to historic fact. This story of Jesus, this Holy Week, happened in time and space with messy, broken men and women who didn't understand at the time that their friend and teacher was in the process of saving the world.

This year I went through a brief, difficult season of doubt. During this period of struggle, I could not get away from a simple question: Was Jesus resurrected or not?

Whatever uncertainty I felt about weaknesses in the church and in my own life, whatever frustration I had as I wrestled with the scriptures and difficult doctrinal questions, I am anchored by the reality that the truth of the gospel does not rest in my feelings or preferences, but in this man Jesus and the claims made about who he is, what he did, how he died, and, most importantly, how he triumphed over death.

The reason I believe anything at all is because I believe in the resurrection of Jesus. I've never been able to begin with an abstract concept of a divine being and reason my way to Christianity. I begin with the concrete, historic claim of an empty tomb, and finding that claim true, everything else I believe flows from there.

Something earth-shattering must have happened to turn a group of sniveling, confused, bumbling, hiding, fearful men intent on saving their own skin into apostles who lived radically and boldly, each separately willing to be brutally killed (but never to kill) to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. The most compelling explanation I can find is that the testimony of the apostles must be true.

According to New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, every other ancient messianic movement upon the death of their leader either dissolved or found a new leader to be their appointed messiah. It would have made sense if the disciples retreated into obscurity or proclaimed James, the brother of Jesus, as the new, better hope of the world. But they didn't.

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The disciples had little hope to offer anyone, except that of a resurrected Messiah—an idea so preposterous, so unimaginable, that even they didn't believe it until they saw the risen Christ themselves. When they did, their lives were changed. The early church was birthed, proclaiming the unlikely good news that Jesus is the hope of the world, eternal, unchanging, Risen.

This terrible, comforting subplot of Holy Week reminds us that from the beginning, those who proclaim Christ were as broken and fearful as we are. And yet, in the providence of God, I find the testimony of these men more compelling because of their failures and their surprising transformation than I otherwise would.

Last month, my husband and I were ordained as priests. Upon our ordination, our former pastor, a loyal friend and respected mentor, gave us a chalice to use as we celebrate communion, a beautiful ceramic cup, stained blue and marked with a cross. It moved my husband to tears and is among the most cherished gifts we've ever received.

But as we were unpacking the car after returning home, the chalice slipped from my husband's hands and shattered on the ground. First, there was screaming, then arguing, then crying. He felt terrible about it. How could we be priests when we can't even take proper care of our very first chalice? How can I be a pastor when less than a week after publicly swearing to pattern my family life after the teaching of Christ, I find myself screaming at my husband on my front lawn over a cup that was supposed to aid in worship?

We're keeping the chalice, pieced and glued together, likely unusable, as a reminder that we're not priests because we're particularly worthy, moral, wise, or faithful, but instead because God fills broken cups with good wine and gives gifts to those and through those who least deserve it.

Each of us and all of us together are chalice-breakers, law-breakers, bumbling and broken. And so were the Holy Apostles. But a risen Christ came to them, shocked them, and they believed.

The resurrection of Christ, the truth of the gospel, is not made true or false by us who proclaim it. Instead, it makes us, broken vessels, into truth bearers. It's too good to be true. And it's true.

Tish Harrison Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America. She and her husband work with InterVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministries at The University of Texas at Austin and have two young daughters. She writes regularly for The Well, InterVarsity's online magazine for women, and was featured on The White Horse Inn. She's on Twitter at @Tish_H_Warren.