Lent #4

The Way Forward is Through

This week, I have been thinking about the downward journey. The downward journey is a description of what Jesus did in participating in human life by becoming a man and living according to the same rules as the creation (well, kind of at least–I can’t remember the last time I walked on water or multiplied loaves of bread). But the downward journey is especially significant because it gives us the best answer to the problem of evil. And it’s not an answer that we like, but it’s better than nothing at all. The downward journey lets us know that when we encounter suffering or evil, God is right there with us. And that’s not the answer we would prefer, because it would make things a lot easier on us if God would solve our problems rather than being present with us in them, but that’s not the way this whole faith in God thing works. To have faith means that we must trust, and so we trust that God’s presence with us in the midst of our pain or anxiety is really an amazing gift. 

Jesus participated in the downward journey, though, not just as a comforter or a friend in times of need. Jesus participated in this journey fully. Which means that he himself suffered. He lost friends and followers. His family struggled to support him at times. He died at the hands of the people he was trying to serve and to save. God’s very self, incarnated in the person of Jesus, didn’t avoid the suffering. He didn’t whisk it away. In fact, when tempted with that very idea, Jesus refused (Matthew 4:6). And later in his ministry, just before his arrest, when he had the opportunity to save himself and to get out of town, he instead went to pray that God’s will be done rather than his own will to save his life (Matthew 26:39). 

The downward journey is not one that any of us would choose. It’s not pleasant or desirable. It’s not even that comforting in the sense that our wounds aren’t healed by some amazing aloe or balm. But, it is the path that leads us to God. It is the path that God chose to come to us. And there is comfort in that. There is comfort in the presence of God. In the action and choosing of God. There is healing, even, in it too. Slow healing. Painful healing. But healing nonetheless. 

The downward journey includes hardship and pain, suffering and trials. And that has never been a secret. Jesus lived it. Paul knew it (Galatians 5:22–long-suffering, 2 Corinthians 11:23-12:13). And the early church thrived in the midst of it (the entire book of Acts and early Christian history). 

Which leads me to where we are today. Because these have been a trying couple of weeks. Our church community has now met virtually for the past two weeks, and it is difficult to not get the chance to see each other face to face and to worship side by side. We are facing a situation for the next several weeks where the city is to be shut down except for essential business. And much more significantly, there are people who are getting sick and dying because of a virus that none of us can control or fix. Fear and pain, isolation and even death seem to be winning the day. But this week, as we continue to march on towards Easter, allow me to remind you (and to remind myself) that our faith is in a different story. That we are co-participants with Jesus in the downward journey. That the way of suffering and giving our lives for others is the way of Christ and the way of the cross. 

And so, in these uncertain times, don’t forget what the Psalmist wrote in the 23rd Psalm: “Even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff–they comfort me.”

And the Psalmist continues: “You set a table for me right in front of my enemies. You bathe my head in oil; my cup is so full it spills over! Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the LORD’S house as long as I live.”

Today, we face a microscopic enemy, but it is one that God has been preparing us for. God is present with us in the midst of this crisis. God is even now preparing a feast for all of God’s children. A feast of celebration that we are not alone. That we are with our Creator. That there is no enemy that can separate us from the love of God in Christ. 

This week, I encourage you to recite the words of Psalm 23 (the entire Psalm, not just the last half as I have done here) each day. Let’s these words be on your heart and mind and on your lips this week. (And keep washing your hands!)