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.