Thursday, March 29, 2007

Meeting Jesus on the Road to Die

Paul met Jesus. Crossing a plain in the fiery sun, he fell under the piercing reality of heavenly light. He encountered Jesus in ways that time and space cannot contain, and Paul’s word could never fully explain.

Paul met Jesus.

He communed with Lord of all creation in the crushing blows of affliction. Beaten, stoned, left for dead, this broken man despaired of life, assuming his body had been given over to death.

Paul met Jesus in the cruel betrayal of trusted friends. The loved ones that he had invested his life into abandoned, rejected and turned their backs on this weak fool. As a humiliated captive paraded before a jeering world, Paul lived the words, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me.”

Paul met Jesus—not simply in third heaven visions of rapturous glory but in the embodied communion of suffering. As he fell forward into a lived death, Paul discovered another, deeper, richer communion. Beneath the pain of the cross, Paul met Jesus in the living comfort of God’s ever-consoling Spirit.

There is a life discovered only in death.

In the midst of affliction and comfort, Paul met Jesus in the prayers of God’s people. Even as Paul entered into a communion of love with the Savior, he discovered another communion as well: the sweet and mysterious communion with the frailty of God’s people. For the Spirit of Communion bound Paul with God and with God’s people.

In his journey to far country, Paul discovered a mystery the Savior prayed for his disciples before leaving. were called out of darkness and into light. They were called to be the friends of God.

The friending of God and God’s people is revealed in the weakness of suffering, of betrayal, of loneliness, of the cross. For we truly must love one another as Christ loved us. In his gracious love, the Spirit of God leads us to the place of the skull.

This is not a cruel joke, but a mystery of love that frees us from an exclusive self love that can never know the sweet bonds of communion. In weakness and death, we can finally embody the reality of a love that cannot die, that cannot be quenched, that cannot fail. We discover a love the Savior calls “everlasting life.”

In both agony and ecstasy, we are bound to the Lord by the Spirit, and yet not to the Lord alone but to the Lord’s people.

Each of us are graced to know Judas and Peter. The fellowship of God, the Holy Spirit, ministers to us the wounds of the cross through Judas and Peter. And yet one, in the mystery of love, will become the friend who sticks closer than a brother. The betrayer will become the lover.

The mystery of this gospel is that it is not carved in stone. It is not forged in immoveable forms that cannot change. Rather, it is stamped on the weakness of the human heart. The same heart that is fickle, untrustworthy, deceitful, and selfish. And onto this weak form is stamped the beauty of a love that will survive death and burn eternal.

As we stumble toward Golgotha, let us embrace those who have forsaken us. Some like Judas will run away. But others like Peter will become the rock upon which a communion that cannot be shaken will be formed.

Let us know the bonds of communion in suffering and comfort, in joy and sorrow, in betrayal and love. May the Spirit of Communion fulfill the great and wondrous prayer that we all might be one even as the Father, the Son and the Spirit are one.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Going Home

In some ways, the Lenten pilgrimage is a like a journey home. We walk toward the place where our end meets our beginning, where love answers love. But how do we go home?

I cannot go back home. Yes, I may travel back to the house of our childhood, but it is no longer home. Home exists not simply in space but in time as well. Echoes of home resound through my memories: a birthday party on a boat, the birth of my baby brother, a candlelight Christmas Eve in hushed wonder. But these are simply hauntings now, signs of what once was. They blow through my soul like wind across my face.

Since I cannot go back, I must go forward home. Sometimes I rush headlong. Other times I hesitantly tread like crossing slick stones over a flooded creek. In each step, the Father guides towards the place of the cross: the path of that great and wondrous homecoming.

From time to time, I catch glimpses, sightings of land, of home. In the breaking of bread, the sharing of suffering, the sweetness of celebration. As I walk, I listen to my traveling companion, the poet Rod Jellema. His words awake the longing ache of my heart. May they pierce you as well.

Travel Advisory
By Rod Jellema

Remind yourself, when you wake to a strangeness
of foreign lights through blowing trees
out the window of yet another hotel,
that home is only where you pretend you’re from.
What’s familiar sends you packing,
watching for “some lost place called home.”
You’re from wherever you go.

Don’t admit what you’re looking for.
If you say to a baker in Bremen, to a barmaid
in Provence, “Back home we think of you here
as having deeper lives,” they’ll shrug you wrong
and won’t respond. And then you’ll know:
they’re strangers too. Broken and wrinkled
stones and skin, brush strokes and chords,
old streets and saints you’ve read about,
flute-notes in the laughter of foreign children,
the nip of a local market cheese—
there’s a life we almost knew once.
Watch. Just let it in.

The return ticket will take you only
to the town where you packed to get on the plane.
It never missed you. You’ll notice
alien goods in your kitchen, wind in a wall,
losses in the middle drawer of your desk.
Even there, that dim outlandish civitas dei
you’re a citizen of never was a place.
Remember not to feel too much at home.

“Travel Advisory” from A Slender Grace by Rod Jellema.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Promise of Death

Jesus calls us out into the wilderness, so that we can finally…die. He frees us from the cruel slavery of neverending existence by inviting us into the delightful freedom of life everlasting.

Yet we struggle and fight and grasp to survive in a world that is dead. This world trudges on and on in endless cycles of lifeless living. We live like the ancients whose creed still echoes in our world: "what has been, is, and will be again." We simply tread round and round a gristmill of movement without change.

Think of the horror of living day after day after day with no hope of change. The loneliness that chokes the soul growing day after day. The bitterness of disappointment increasing moment by moment. The pain of betrayal, the loss of innocence, the web of envy, the fire of lust, the sting of regret entwining our souls breath by breath.

Imagine lying in a bed wracked with pain from cancer slowing eating through the body. One day the doctor comes and delivers the bad news: "All our tests indicate that you are never going to get well—and you're never going to die." Day after day after endless day of pain twisting and turning through the body.

The world we cling do kills the soul and the body stumbles forward in numbed chaos. Jesus came so that we could finally…die.

Before Jesus came, the world couldn't die. Everything kept turning in circles. Everything and everyone cannot escape the endless circle. Reincarnation is the inability to die. Endlessly reappearing in one form or another. No memory. No power to change. No mercy. No redemption. Just endless circles.

C.S. Lewis paints this terror of not being able to die in "The Great Divorce." The condemned cannot die. Thus they cannot change. They simply grow firmer and stronger and more resolved in their illnesses, handicaps, bitternesses, self deceptions. Harder and harder and harder. Moving farther and father apart.

Jesus comes so that man might finally die. For unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains alone. But if it dies, it produces much fruit. The cross brings death--an end to our world. As we travel through lent, we embrace the hope of the cross, the hope of change.

At first, the cross seems like a destructive intrusion, an unwanted invasion of our comfort zone. The comfort of our lifeless world may come to an end. But then the resurrection welcomes us to a new heavens and a new earth. St. Paul reminds us that we will face tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword (Rom 8:35). We will know the struggles of loss and weakness and hardship. We will be delivered to death for Jesus' sake. And the life of Jesus will be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Cor 4:11).

And in His life, we will discover a love that does not waver, does not weaken, does not fade regardless. In His life, we will rest in a love that encircles us with life everlasting, leading forward to new worlds and new heavens we never imagined.