It’s Holy Week. And there’s so much… so, I’ll just add some reflections as we go that have crossed my awareness hoping they enter the dialogue with yours and that together we assist each other on the journey.
At yesterday’s Palm Sunday liturgy, I heard this blog post’s title words “I WILL NOT RUN AWAY”. They were proclaimed in the midst of the first reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 50:5b specifically, a translation I am still trying to track down!). I am accustomed to hearing, “I have not rebelled, have not turned back” in that verse. As I turn the words around in my head and on my tongue now, I’m not sure that there’s much difference really in the meaning: not turned back, not run away. Still, when I heard it, the words rang out for me when I heard it as if an emergency vehicle was instantaneously on my back bumper blaring its siren. I WILL NOT RUN AWAY. They seemed to shout, and almost made me jump. So, I paid attention. How could I not?
It seems to me that we all run away from many things, but especially from pain and what we know is or will be intimate suffering. We do this in a million extremely creative ways, distinct to our histories, habits, and temperaments. And, all in all, most of us become pretty good at it. We get a lot of practice. We like to forget we are poor, contingent, mortal, subject to loss, fragile and vulnerable, frequently clueless and confused. We seek fixes and moments when we will eventually ‘have it all together’ and ‘arrive’ at some place that looks a bit like Cinderella’s palace or Camelot. We might deny that we think this is possible, but part of us seeks with something akin to desperation a ‘peace’ that is an arrival at what we think might answer all our questions, soothe all our hurts, complete all our incompleteness, and make us invulnerable to significant upheaval.
But… I WILL NOT RUN AWAY. I imagine this is what Jesus chooses and says. Not that he will not hurt, but that he will not run.
Part of me wants to be a bit silly and quote Star Trek’s Borg — “Escape is futile!” I mean, even if we do run, can we hide from our own life’s dying and rising? I don’t think so. But I do think that I and others can make an art form of avoidance… and for long stretches of time. For some of us, we do it all our lives. How sad. Jesus’ words invite us, I believe, to remain – to stay fast and stay put with him – to know that what we most fear may not be the worst – that our fear might be.
This week it seems to me I might hear Jesus say: I did not run away from pain, from hunger, from incompleteness, from mortality, from suffering. I entered all of what it means to be human by being all of what it is to be human. Joy and sorrow, birth and death, family and community, worship and weeping, woodcraft and wedding celebrations, time’s limits and time’s gifts, waking and sleeping, hunger and filling meals, friends and isolation, great loves and great betrayals, longing and peace, prayer and questions, vocation and doubt, excitement and exhaustion, wonderful beauty and crushing ugliness. The point is – whatever it means to be human, in every and any moment of my life – I did not run away. You don’t have to either. Mark’s story of my passion says I was “sorrowful even unto death” – and I was. But I walked into the next moment, and you can too. I cried out, feeling utterly forsaken and abandoned. And I lived and died with Abba. And now I am with you always.
The words that follow this Isaiah 50:5 include assurances that “the Lord God is my help” (v. 7, 9) and, in chapter 51, that “the Lord shall comfort… and have pity on all… ruins” (v. 3). Just, “Be attentive to me, my people; my folk, give ear to me” (v. 4) for “it is I who comfort you” (v.12) and I “have shielded you in the shadow of my hand” (v.16). So, “Awake, awake! Put on your strength” (52:1).
Our hearts may quake, but there is a different place we can arrive that is not about being protected from being impacted by life, the world and relationships. This is a new land, a new way of being, that only grace and the One who has been there before (Jesus) can show us. In this sacred space we can put on strength for we KNOW it is safe to commend our spirits to God, and we choose to, regardless of a moment’s or a season’s pain or fear. We dwell with other friends of God there, hoping together and helping each other; celebrating the joys and supporting each other through the struggles. We are shaped there into the community of faith, a communion for which God longs, with our hearts set on the way that Jesus shows us. It can become no necessary to run away. Here is where salvation is worked out for and in and through us. Life and hope will not disappoint us, for we have a companion stronger and more dependable than our largest fears, and all the monsters under our beds. And this companion-Lord can knit together the many places in our lives where we are hurt or disabled, where we are wounded or have wounded others, where we lack integrity or have been without hope. We have only to run towards the one who does not run away, and stand with him.
In a contemporary Christian song by Steven Curtis Chapman (Believe Me Now) Chapman has God saying to us these powerful words: “I know all the fears you’re feeling now – but do you remember who I am?” Really, do we remember our Companion-Lord and pay more attention to him than to our fears? The song goes on: “I never have, I never will, abandon you…. I am with you, I am for you, so believe me, now.”
As we look this week at Jesus, the One who does not run away, let us remember that he shows us who God is – One who never has and never will abandon us. May we know Jesus’ company with us in whatever is our now, as we believe him, now.
Check out this link to the Chapman song and video, if you like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2xqhAYprUs