From Fear to Love

After today’s sermon, the priest came up to me, smiled and said, “Any of that sound familiar?”

I love the Holy Week services. I love all the ceremonies involved with walking through the last days of Christ – those physical reminders of His last acts on Earth. A great Passion play can really tug at the heartstrings as we witness the prosecution, persecution, humiliation and ultimate crucifixion of the man Jesus. Even if we do not accept Jesus as the Messiah, even if we can’t see Him as a perfect, sinless being, it does not lessen the impact of watching a man being tortured and ridiculed in this way. We relate with the characters – the persecuted and betrayed Jesus; His grief-stricken mother, Mary; Judas, the back-stabber; Pilate, choosing not to pass judgement, but not intervening to stop the madness either; Simon, forced to carry the burden of another man’s crime; the compassionate Veronica, wishing to alleviate another’s pain in any way possible; the crowds who cried for blood; and ultimately, the Roman soldiers who carried out the punishment.

My absolute favorite service, though, is Maundy Thursday. I grew up American Baptist (very, very different from Southern Baptists) and I was probably about 12 when I attended my first Maundy Thursday service. Our preacher brought us in, twelve at a time, to recreate the events of The Last Supper. It felt as if we were actually sitting there with Christ, this man who knew that He would be betrayed by one of His closest friends, arrested, tortured and killed in a very horrific manner. Even though He knew what was to befall Him, His last acts with His dearest companions, those who looked up to Him and called Him “Rabbi,” were ones of true humility and love.

We all know the story of the lowly birth in a manger, where God became man to save us. Equally as well do we know the story of the sacrificed Christ, crucified, buried and risen again. Both of these stories are rather intangible or overwhelming for someone like me. I am the Thomas figure – the one who must touch the wounds of the risen Christ in order to believe He is real. The whole “Creator of Heaven and Earth becoming man, while still remaining God, as well as this Holy Spirit” thing and the “rising from the dead and then ascending into Heaven” thing are a bit too science fiction for me. I mean, yes, I do believe it, but it’s all so far removed from human comprehension. Jesus’ actions on the night before he is captured, though, are profoundly human in nature.

When I had a couple of years sober and a little stability in my life, I decided it was time to start thinking about finding a new church home. I had spent my kids’ early years as part of a Methodist church (as all the Baptists in this part of the world are a bit… different than my old church), but I hadn’t been in years and they had replaced the pastor I liked with this really weird dude that gave me the creeps. Easter was approaching and I began thinking about the Maundy Thursday service. A fellow from my home group mentioned that his church was having the traditional service and I was more than welcome to come. I was certainly not Episcopal (or as Robin Williams calls it, “Catholic Light”), but I didn’t have anywhere better to go and at least I would know someone there. Oh, I forgot to mention, the dude from my home group just happened to be the priest for this particular church.

I gotta tell ya, I do love the way the Episcopalians do Maundy Thursday! I had done the whole foot washing & communion before, but it was the stripping of the altar that got me. After the meal in the upper room, Jesus and His crew went out to the Garden of Gethsemane where He spent time in prayer before He was arrested. At the end of this very solemn service where we are humbled by allowing our feet to be washed (insanely awkward for me as this was the first time I was seeing my recovery friend in his role as priest), we are reminded of Jesus’ request for just one of His disciples to stay up and keep watch over Him for at least an hour. Once the service is ended, all of the trappings of the altar are removed silently, piece by piece. The candlesticks, the flowers, the Gospel book are all picked up and spirited away. The cloths that cover the altar are carefully folded, leaving it bare. The Host (bread and wine) is taken from its little box on the wall, even the little curtain is removed. It’s like watching the most depressing version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” ever. Once everything is gone, the red candle, signifying the presence of the Holy Spirit, is snuffed out. And you sit there and pray, but all the signs of God’s existence are gone. We are alone. Jesus shows us His ultimate love and humble sacrifice and we sit fidgeting, wondering if we really need to sit there for a whole hour.

So, today was Palm Sunday. We celebrated Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem with palm fronds. We went through the reading of the Passion and we were reintroduced to the events which are to follow. And then the sermon was given, titled “From Fear to Love.” My friend talked about the “corrosive thread” of fear which winds its way through all aspects of our lives. He pointed out how the fears of some of these characters led to not just the death of Jesus, but also the tormenting & humiliation he was forced to endure. Judas was afraid that Jesus wasn’t the conquering King he was expecting Him to be. Pilate was afraid of being caught up in the controversy. The Jewish priests were afraid that this man was trying to take away their power. Absolutely no one could control this Jesus character, so obviously He had to go! My friend then said he had an assignment for us to do. He would like us to go home and examine our hearts to discover the fears we have hiding there. He instructed us to “make a list – an inventory, if you will.” I think he purposely did not look my way when he said this because I couldn’t keep from laughing. On Good Friday, my friend continued, he would like us to come back in and nail these lists of fears to the cross because it is Christ’s love which conquers all our fears.

That got me thinking about something I hear so often in meetings: “Fear is the opposite of faith.” I’ve heard folks relating the two to two opposite sides of a rope. The more fear you have, the less faith you have and vice versa. The concept never really rang true with me, though. My alcoholic priest really tied everything together for me today with just the title of his sermon. Faith is not the opposite of fear. Love is. Maundy Thursday proves it.

That night, in Gethsemane, Jesus told His companions, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” Three times, He came back to His disciples and chastised them for falling asleep. He pleaded with them to stay up and keep watch. These are not the words and the actions of a man fearlessly facing the horrendous torture, ridicule and death that he knows is coming! Jesus, being God incarnate, has the absolute utmost of faith. Yet He is aggrieved to a level He fears may kill Him. He is afraid that the soldiers will come at any moment to take Him away, so He gets angry with His best friends for not having His back. He begs God to not make Him go through the pain and suffering which is to come. Even though He knows the vital reason for what He must do because He IS God and He has seen the end of the story, He still fears the agony of it. He still doesn’t want to leave His friends. Even more than faith, the full-on KNOWING of the larger scheme of things is not enough to keep Him out of fear.

No, faith is not the opposite of fear. We have fear. We will always have fear. Faith is what helps us walk through those fears. Faith is the rod in our spine which keeps our head held high when we just want to crawl under the nearest table. Faith is the loving hand of a friend when we are scared shitless.

Love turns fear into bravery. I would run into any burning building to save my precious babies. Love turns emotional and financial insecurities into satisfaction and gratitude. Love replenishes our self-esteem and makes us feel valuable. Love overrules all of our ambitions. Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not self-seeking or boastful. Love delights in the truth. Love keeps no records of wrongs. OMFG! Love is the EXACT OPPOSITE of absolutely everything on my fourth step!

So, when he asked me if anything sounded familiar, my response was, “You’re not my sponsor! You can’t make me do a fourth step!”

But I think I’ll gladly do it anyway. I could use a little more love in my life.

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13 responses to “From Fear to Love”

  1. mishedup says :

    OMFG….really?
    This post is beautiful, absolutely beautiful. I am not religious and have no personal relationship with jesus, but I would go to your church in a hot second…the ritual, the meaning sounds incredible.
    And the way you laid it out…i felt like i was in church hearing a beautiful sermon (and not being pissy about it at all!) Really, wonderful writing and a clear message about love and fear and how they cannot meet, coexist.
    Thank you.

    and it doesn’t sound like a 4th step…just a fear inventory. My sponsor likes it when I go to others with those sometimes….taking it to the cross seems reasonable.

    • littleman031103 says :

      Thank you. It took a lot for me to accept this pull toward the Episcopal Church. A LOT! I was nearly 3 years sober when I made the move – more than a full year from my first visit there. When I had fleshed out the God of my understanding, though, and identified His characteristics, I held Him up to the Episcopal idea of God. I had to admit, He held an uncanny resemblance. All the standing & kneeling, the pomp & ornamentation was odd and uncomfortable at first. As I’ve continued to improve my conscious contact with God, these things have begun to make sense. I willingly and joyfully participate because I feel the connection there. God really set me up for this one. With one alcoholic priest and the other recently divorced, I feel at HOME! These folks know how to speak my language! This truly is a loving, forgiving and understanding God!
      And no, it’s not a complete 4th step, but the fear inventory is a portion of it. And nailing these fears to the cross is a sort of 5th step, as well – admitting to God (the cross), to ourselves (writing it out) and another human being (whomever comes after and reads what we’ve posted there). I just love it when I recognize “our” steps outside the context of the program. It makes me smile because I know that the work I do to recover is the same sort of work we all must do to live our lives to the utmost.

    • sunnyseitz says :

      i never peeled thelayer back regarding love underlying faith until now. love IS faith in its purest form…(the Agape love)…wow! what an “aha”moment, laurie! once again, you nailed it on the head. i think about what a loving and just God i have…that even though we are fallen, he made it possible for us to be justly forgiven…so what does that mean? it is our nature to sin, but his love for us is to have us with Him despite the impossibility for us to perfecty adhere to His 10 commandments for us to follow. Hell, the commandments are in a way, the constant reminder to me how hopeless I am. a perfect price price had to be paid for our sins, but we can’t go through sacrificing virgins and babies and perfect rams and sheep and all the crazy shit they used to do forever. so God had to do it for us in our place. but that means God had to do what is not in his nature…suffer, be humiliated, endure ridicule, fear, feel lonely, be tempted, and ultimately die. so He became the perfect man to live perfectly without sin and foot the bill for all of us. my relationship with God has morphed in the last couple of years…it used to center around how much i love the god who brought me from the gates hell while i was in the grip of alcoholism…and i would base my actions on this whole “i do this or i do that because i love God so much.” but slowly it has evolved in to “whoa…God loves me even though I did this and i did that? Damn! i can’t help but be grateful for this love i have no way of comprehending, and the joy i have surpasses my decision making…so i do this or i do that because He loves ME so much.”
      thanks for your fine way of sparking some great contemplation.

      • Laurie G.F. says :

        Sunny,

        I would have to say my latest post, “This Little Light of Mine” is a follow-up to this one. It takes the fear/love relationship a bit further and points out where we tend to fail in fully turning over our will & our lives. I’m sure you’ll see how it builds on what we talked about Sunday night.

        The “Adoration” portion of retreat really hit me hard this year and it has changed how I look at God’s love. Like you said, I used to do things because I love God, but my love toward Him was only expressed when it was convenient to do so. I treated Him the way a teenager treats her parents. At home, behind closed doors, when no one is watching, I’ll occasionally say something nice, but out in public you’d best not embarrass me or I’m going to act like I don’t know you! Something changed during that talk, though, and I finally understood the Divine Mercy chaplet – “God, please don’t look at my uncleanliness, rather remember what Your Son, my Lord and my Sacrifice, went through and don’t let it have been in vain.” I don’t know; it’s one of those things which is so profound in its simplicity – something I’ve always known, but finally clicked deep inside me. In that way, yes, it becomes a deep admiration for such a passionate love. It’s like what the Father said about the sacrament of marriage, how it’s a covenant between unequal parties. The love that God has for me is so great and so complete that I can never earn it. It is therefore my great joy to forever try to make it up to Him. Woah, indeed!

        I love you to bits, you beautiful woman! Thanks for stopping by my little corner of the internet. 🙂

  2. jrj1701 says :

    A very good post to contemplate during this time. During Holy Week it is easy to forget that this all happened for a victory, I get hung up on the pain and suffering that my Lord, Savior, and King went through and I feel very guilty, and that is necessary, yet I need to never forget His victory on the cross, His demonstration of the LOVE that He has for this silly sinner and ALL sinners. Thanks for your words that inspire to true love and helps alleviate fear.

    • littleman031103 says :

      Thank you. You reminded me of thoughts I had at Christmas this year. Where the world finds it a joyful holiday, ruled by a fat & jolly Santa Claus, the Church is more reflecting on this dark, hopeless, sinful world. It doesn’t make me feel guilt or shame, per se, but the Advent season does prompt me to recognize my sinful nature. It is because the world was without light and love that this perfect baby had to be born and then slaughtered as a sacrifice. At Christmas, a little ray of hope pierces through the dark days of our physical, as well as emotional and spiritual, winter. However, it is not until Easter when that hope is fully realized. “Behold, I make all things new!” (Rev. 21:5). Yes, the torment of the Passion is excruciating, but knowing that He willingly endured it all for ME is amazing! I was hopelessly lost in darkness & despair when I didn’t need to be because OMG, look how much my God loves me! Where I once felt worthless, I now see my inherent value. I do have a purpose in life!
      If you want to read my thoughts on the Christmas season, you can find them here.

  3. carrythemessage says :

    Another fantastic offering, my friend. Like M, I am not religious per se, and don’t have the relationship with Jesus that you and others do, but I understand how strongly they can anchor us and keep us on our own paths. My HP does the same for me. We all have our journeys, and where we choose to align ourselves with is our choice. For me, aligning my will with His is the only way I get through this whole thing.

    Love conquers all.

    Ain’t that the truth 🙂

    Blessings,
    Paul

    • littleman031103 says :

      I’m still working out the particulars on the whole Jesus as God thing, but I find that regardless of where I fall on the specifics, it really doesn’t matter. God is too big to fully comprehend. When I think of Him as the embodiment of light, love, truth and justice, it really doesn’t matter whether He’s some old white dude in a throne on a cloud or a Jewish carpenter or a friggin’ doorknob. The point is that I align myself with those qualities which make Him God to me. Whether human or God, therefore wholly different from the rest of us mere mortals, the Jesus of Holy Week is a fantastic example of the sort of sacrificial love that anything worthy to be called God would embody.

      Feels great to be out of my funk & back where I need to be! 🙂

  4. Karen @ Mended Musings says :

    What you’ve written has touch me so much. I want to write out my fears and nail them to the cross. I agree with everything you say about fear and faith. It’s such a powerful image to see Jesus as afraid even though he knows the big picture. I know I’ll be ok no matter what and I still have fear. But because of my faith, that fear doesn’t paralyze me. Beautiful post!

    • littleman031103 says :

      Thank you. It’s easy to feel shame when we’re told that fear is the opposite of faith. We can’t help our feelings. We can only help whether we let them control us or not.

  5. judyjourneys says :

    Your post made me immediately recall 1 John 4:18 where it says,”Perfect love casts out fear.” I like the expanded meaning in the Amplified Bible: “There is no fear in love [dread does not exist], but full-grown (complete, perfect) love turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror! For fear brings with it the thought of punishment, and [so] he who is afraid has not reached the full maturity of love [is not yet grown into love’s complete perfection].

    • littleman031103 says :

      I don’t think I’d read the amplified version before. I love the inclusion of “the thought of punishment.” It’s something that we instinctively think, but seeing it put into words makes you see just how silly it is to fear anything when you know you are loved by God. Thank you for sharing.

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