Spring is coming, maybe. A man, whom much of the world will declare is God, is making his way inexorably to death. He is going to do that ordinary thing people do everyday: he is going to suffer and die.
What makes this different is that it is God, who is doing it, and God overcomes the sting of it all by being God, by being One who attains victory, not by escaping evil or by beating it to a pulp, but by surrendering to it and going right through the heart of it, while remaining God.
As we watch Jesus walking toward the cross, we call out: “Don’t do it. Don’t go that way. And for heaven’s sake, don’t ask us to do it, too.” But he, who has set his face like flint, will not hide from the insult and spitting. No, the amazing claim is that this gray day, this aging body, this meager life, this broken world houses glory. And our reluctant following after Jesus is grounded in the slim hope that somehow, some way, this is true.
Spring doesn’t come from some far distant place like an eagerly awaited guest bringing exotic presents. Spring recoils, bounces up from the heart of winter, and jiggles before us like a jack-in-the-box. The joke is on us.
We strain to turn the crank that sets free joy, and just when our guard is down and we think life is only a meaningless turning to an idiotic tune, out pops Jesus, winking his eye. “Now, die!” he says. We, who thought we were chasing joy and were hot on its trail, find ourselves swallowed up by Life and dwelling in the inner parts of the God who creates joy. . . .
Amazingly, God wants to be with us and has gone to great lengths to get our attention, even condensing divinity to fit into a mortal being. And that is almost more than we can bear. What do we know about being company for God? For thousands of years we have been trying to get it right.
Someone hears a Word from the Lord and says: “Here do it like this. Here are the answers we are seeking.” We give names to Truth. We compose prayers, and rituals. We sew up little suits for Truth to wear. Over time Truth grows beyond the suits. Its legs stretch below the pant cuffs. Shirt sleeves ride up to the elbows. We try to stuff Truth back in its tearing clothes. We sew patches here and there. We get into fights about the right color of patches. We pay more attention to the clothes than to Truth.
Truth condescends to wear the forms we give it, only briefly. Jesus bursts the wineskin of the tomb we called death. The church shudders, draws in its breath and exhales, bursting its seams. Some panic. Some become weary and simply turn away.
When Truth as we have known and cherished it begins to grow beyond the forms which have mediated it for us; that is, language, institutions, and rituals – we may shrug our shoulders and walk away, feeling betrayed.
For a good part of the journey our relationship with the Holy is largely self serving. We seek God for our and others’ benefit. Then during this tedious lent we go seeking help and find a forlorn God carrying a cross.
Jesus asks, “How long have I been with you and you still do not understand? I want to be with you – not just to bring you peace, joy and good, but even more, because I need a place to lay my head. Will you stay with me one hour?”
“We usually begin our acquaintance with God from the outside in. Jesus is external, beyond us. I learn about God from the historical record, the witness of the church, scripture – through forms, rituals, disciplines, words, symbols. Could it not also be possible to know God from the inside out? To experience God from God’s interior reality, a reality which the forms seek to represent or express? “Where are you staying?” John’s two disciples ask Jesus. “Come and see,” he says. And they went and saw where he lived and remained there with him that day. (John 1: 38-39)