Walking with God in Difficult Times

On Sunday, we begin our Holy Week journey. This year, I have been meditating on all of the walking that Jesus and his friends did during that week. If you click on this link, Pastor Kyle Windsor has created an incredibly helpful timeline for us to envision the movement of Holy Week.

  • Palm Sunday: Walking with Jesus from Bethany into Jerusalem and back to Bethany.
  • Monday: Walking with Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem where he curses the fig tree, weeps over Jerusalem, cleanses the temple for the second time, and then back to Bethany.
  • Tuesday: Walking with Jesus and his disciples to the Temple in Jerusalem before returning to Bethany
  • Wednesday: Jesus seems to remain in Bethany.
  • Thursday: Walking with Jesus to the Upper Room for the first Eucharist, to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus is betrayed and experiences great agony, to the High Priest’s house following Jesus’ arrest
  • Friday: Walking with Jesus from the High Priest’s House to the Council, to the encounter with Pontius Pilate, to be questioned by Herod, back to Pontius Pilate where Jesus is condemned to death. Then walking the via dolorosa to Golgotha where Jesus is crucified and dies. Walking with the women, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus to the tomb to bury Jesus.
  • Saturday: Jesus in the tomb.
  • Sunday: Walking with Mary to the tomb, where she meets the risen Lord who call her by name. Running with Mary to tell the disciples what she has seen. Running with Peter and other disciples to the tomb. Walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus where they encounter the risen Lord…. And more.

For the disciples, all of this movement was coordinated by Jesus, often with relatively few – and perhaps perplexing instructions (“go into the city and find a man with a young colt…”). Likely they had no clear sense of where the momentum of those days was headed. Even with the presence of Jesus among them, you can sense the uncertainty and anxiety building among his followers. When I embark on a journey of any kind, I like to have a solid sense of where I’m headed, how I’ll get there, what the way will be like, what will be waiting for me when I arrive, etc. etc. etc. With growing tensions around me, I would have pestered Jesus for as much detail as possible about every step of those days.

 

 

As we all have experienced, living in times of uncertainty is so difficult because we do not have a map or a timetable that can tell us what is to come. For me, one of the most difficult aspects of living with uncertainty is the not knowing. Even if I receive news that is very difficult, I can take small comfort in knowing what I’m facing so I can prepare myself. But this is not always possible. How do we live in times of trouble when we don’t know where we are going?

The prophet Isaiah presents a different way for us to consider how God is leading us during times of hardship and uncertainty. As much as I might want Jesus to be walking ahead of me, leading as if I’m an obedient puppy on a leash, Isaiah tells us “My ears hear a voice behind me saying ‘this is the way. Walk in it.’”  When we are led from behind, every step can become a matter for discernment – is this the way? Am I walking in it? And at every step, if we can quiet ourselves, God is whispering in our ear “A little to the right. Back to the center now….” We see this unfolding in the Garden of Gethsemane when the officers of the chief priests come to arrest Jesus. Peter is angry and draws his sword, cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant. If Peter had kept his eyes on Jesus, felt that fury arise, and inquired in his heart “is this the way?” Peter would have heard a resounding NO and perhaps kept his sword sheathed. Instead, Jesus corrects him to help him get back on the path.

 

 

What does this mean for us as we stand on the cusp of Holy Week? For me, Holy Week shows me all the different ways that I can become distracted from listening for how God is leading me from behind: the wild enthusiasm of Palm Sunday, the growing disappointment with the realization that the Messiah is completely different from expectations, the intimacy and love of Maundy Thursday, the betrayal of that evening, the denial and abandonment of Jesus at Gethsemane, the rising terror during Jesus’ trial, the agony of watching him be tortured, the shattering heartbreak of Jesus’ death, the sacred tending of the body, the hopelessness of the days when he is in the tomb, the confusion and fear of the empty tomb, and the wonder, joy, and disbelief of the resurrection. Every one of these emotions can draw me closer to Jesus, or cause me to be swept away by human experiences.

Holy Week services give us opportunities to practice listening to God in the midst of painful and troubling times. When we join together in community to walk through these sacred days, we join with pilgrims across time and space. Together, this sacred journey with Jesus can strengthen our ability to listen to God leading from behind, and empower us to stay close to the source of all hope and new life. .

Holy Week Blessings,

Libby

(this post was originally written as part of my interim work at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church)