Feb 22 2011

Let Us Also Go – A Message for Lent

“Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
— John 11:16

It felt as though they had escaped Judea by the skin of their teeth. Angry crowds planned to stone Jesus; authorities had repeatedly sought his arrest. As they made their way from Jerusalem, more than one disciple experienced longing visions of the Sea of Galilee. Several exhaled in relief. Jesus had told them before what must happen; but at least this wasn’t the end!

Everyone had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, remembering the pilgrimage of deliverance through the wilderness to the Promised Land, renewing their covenant with God. Jesus had resisted his brothers urging that he go to Jerusalem and do the spectacular, wow his disciples, and spread his fame. Instead he had gone quietly, without fanfare, among everyone else. Once he was in the holy city, he was true to the names the Father had given him: Son; Beloved; God’s Pleasure. Through him, people again began to see the true nature of God; not just in word but in deed. It was during these days that he had stood with the woman about to be stoned for adultery, willing to share in her fate. He had taught that following the traditions alone doesn’t embody the Way; immersion in a Living Word awaited. He crossed boundaries; he celebrated life. There was a blind man in the street begging, and after Jesus initiated an intimate touch of healing, he set about healing the massive spiritual blindness (“from birth”) of all the people in the scene who defined themselves over/against others. His entire ministry was an invitation to new life; while some rejoiced, others were angry, enraged. Things seemed at a critical stage, a breaking point even, at the end of Chapter 10.

Leaving town, Jesus pointed the disciples eastward. I can imagine a protest, “This isn’t the way!”, and Jesus’ response: “Isn’t it?” He led them across the Jordan, to the place where he had been baptized. They camped at the edge of the wilderness, the same wilderness where Jesus had been tempted repeatedly and been strengthened.

Why would Jesus bring them to this place? I imagine the disciples looking deeply into those baptismal waters and pondering who they truly were. Then looking up into the heavens that were “torn apart” at Jesus’ baptism, remembering that the coming of the Holy Spirit not only opened the door between heaven and earth but blew the door off its hinges, never to return! No more barriers to God! And hearing Jesus’ voice naming them: Disciple; Beloved; Friend. I suspect they looked out into the wilderness of challenge and thought about Judea. Maybe coming out to this place wasn’t about “escaping” at all!

Their reflections were interrupted by the appearance of familiar faces from Bethany, the neighborhood at the edge of Jerusalem where they stayed in Judea. The people of “Poortown” cared for Jesus and the disciples as brothers and sisters, sharing everything. They lived in the valley of the shadow of death, under the noses of religious authorities who lined up against Jesus, and down the street from the Roman governor and a garrison of menacing soldiers. To wear their belief on their sleeve was a precarious existence. When news came from a family so close to Jesus, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill”, I’m sure his heart was rent.

Jesus said, “This illness is not to death”, and then, “It is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” And despite his deep love not only for Lazarus but also for Mary and Martha, Jesus chose to stay there by the Jordan for two full days. Two more days of quiet. For the disciples, two more days of looking deeply into the baptismal waters, and up into the heavens, and out into the wilderness, and deep within.

Finally, when the silence was deafening, Jesus said, “Let’s go into Judea again”. And the things that the disciples had been afraid to voice came pouring out: “Rabbi, there are people down there who have tried to stone you and are still planning your death, and you want to go there again?” … “That’s a great family, Lord, but they can’t possibly expect you (or us!) to come back and make yourself so vulnerable!” … “What about our dreams for your ministry?”

He talked to them about walking in the light rather than darkness. Perhaps they remembered what he had said when he put mud on the blind man’s eyes: “We must do the work of him who sent me while we’re in the light.” And back when he had stood by the woman about to be stoned and challenged those who would stone her, he had blessed her, then turned and said, “I am the light of the world; the one who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life!” Jesus had waited for them.

It’s like when a loved one, a brother or sister in Christ, is dying, and you are stricken, but you tell yourself it will be too difficult to see them that way, or that you hate hospitals, that you “can’t handle it”. Or when you witness someone suffering scorn, teased or marginalized or cast out … and you want stand up with them or speak up for them but you waver, afraid that the same will happen to you. The dilemma isn’t so much about what is right or wrong. The deeper question is: Who are you? Who are we?

“But now, let’s go to him.” Thomas, so much more faithful than anyone gives him credit for, speaks aloud, to and for all of them: “Let us go also, that we may die with him.” Echoes of: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of he gospel will save it.” This path doesn’t lead to death; it goes through it, beyond the darkness.

During this challenging season, let us again deeply into those baptismal waters and expectantly into the heavens; let us shudder as we gaze out into the wilderness of challenge, and welcome as the journey leads us to peer within. Who are we? What names have each of us been given?

Perhaps, when Jesus cries out, “Unbind him (her), and let him go!,” he might also be talking about me, and us.

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