“I’m not leaving his side.” This is the expression of love. A love so deep that it proclaims, nothing is separating us. I am staying right here… in case he needs something, in case he hurts, to prevent him from getting lost or wandering away, so he won’t be confused or lonely. This is the language of love and devotion.
How must it have felt to Jesus to leave those he loved so dearly? Those who had loved him and been his closest companions. Those whom he had ministered to, taught, mentored, loved. These with whom he had laughed and cried, eaten, slept, prayed, walked, and sat in silence. These with whom he shared his final hours around a table where bread and wine became body and blood. What must it have been like to know that your leaving will cause overwhelming grief, mourning, pain and sorrow? To anticipate this pain and yet, agree to go?
Perhaps this pain was even greater than that inflicted by those who derided, flogged and crucified him. Perhaps this was why he asked this cup be taken, why his prayer evoked drops of blood. He longed to stay with those he loved. What reason could there possibly be to separate a love like that?
Only one: to prepare a place for us, all who love him, so we can be where He is. The only thing greater than a love like that is a Love Like That.
I sit mesmerized by our choir singing powerfully of the lamb of God slain. Crucified, dead and buried. We emerge in the silence of the dark night. As I sit in my car waiting for traffic to clear so I can make my way home, I wonder at what I’ve seen and heard. A dinner with friends so closely followed by denial and death. This speaks so loudly of the way of this world. Why do I force myself to sit before the sights and sounds of Good Friday? I know this story; it slays me.
The parking lot begins to clear and I power up my car to make my exit. I have inadvertently left the radio on and its lyrics shock the silence. “God’s not dead he’s surely alive,” croon the Newsboys. I smile to myself, then sing along. “He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion…” I even turn up the volume a bit as I pull past the few remaining cars, motioning one woman driving a mini-van into the line ahead of me.
I wonder if she or the parking attendant in reflective orange who is directing traffic with orange-glo sticks can hear me and the Newsboys. Can they see me smiling and singing along? Probably wondering about me.
The way I see it, why wait? The weight of three days has already been lifted. God’s not dead; he’s surely alive.
I stand at a crossroads, two ways before me. One paved and well lit, the other hard pan, worn through newly greening grass. Which way do I go?
A Robert Frost poem beckons dimly from an English class long past. Something about two paths and a choice to be made. One worn and one less so? The brave choose the one less traveled, it seems to say. They venture into uncharted territory and pave their own way.
Clearly, the folks in charge of these paths want me to choose the paved path. It is straight and firm so I won’t lose my footing. It is lit so I can walk it any time of the day or night and not lose my way. But is it the well worn path? Robert Frost seems to ask me. I can’t tell because its surface doesn’t show the wear and tear of footsteps along it. At least not today.
Clearly, someone wants me to go this way. But I’m glad for the other path; it actually leads in the direction I want to go. Those willing to take the chance of stepping off the paved path have given me permission to go this way. I’m grateful to them because when I was this age – college age as I am on a college campus today – I didn’t feel that freedom. I was all about seeking the right way, the paved way, the lit path.
Now, I am here with my own daughter, and she is readying to choose her own path. She doesn’t even hesitate at this intersection. Well, of course, take the dirt path; it’s more direct. Yet, she looks around. Is anyone actually walking across the grass? Am I singling myself out here? Will someone catch me and caution me about treading on the grass? What are the rules here?
Ah, the rules. We don’t like them, but it’s so important we know them. Not so we can break them, as some creative writing teachers will tell you, but because they are there for a reason. And reasons we need to know, so we can decide for ourselves whether the reasoning is sound and deserves our attention and respect. This is the way of youth. This, quite frankly, is the way of today.
Shortcuts are convenient and treading new paths is bold. But often the path laid before us is meant to take us past things we need to see (and perhaps deny or adopt) before we go on our way. The hard thing is, we don’t know which is which when we stand before both. As Sir Robert did not when he stood before his decision. But if he was to move on, he had to choose. To say no to one when he stepped onto the other.
And that, ironically, is the apparent lesson of this poem, as I read it again after all these years. It is not ‘the road less taken’; it is The Road Not Taken. It does not glorify the spirit of individualism that strikes out on its own. It laments the path we always intended to come back to but never do. Even if life does bring us back to the same crossroads, the choice is not the same because we are not the same. We’ve been changed by the choosing.
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me,” Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives, the eve of what would be His crucifixion. Jesus had come to decision point. “Yet not my will but yours be done,” Jesus concluded. Surely, no one with the power to choose otherwise would choose the way of the cross, yet He did.
Could it be that He took the road not meant to be taken in order to pave and bring light to our choice?
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I’ve noticed that the world doesn’t take this week off. I mean, if you don’t pick up and travel to some location far away, life finds you. And it finds you doing what you do the other 51 weeks of the year. I’m not sure we know how to do rest anymore.
I was so looking forward to it – a week of Sundays with no demands. None of the regularly scheduled items. No deadlines. No meetings. No classes. No obligatory anything. All was left open. But that’s not enough. Because things wander in, and before you know it you’re more full with things to be done than you were when your appointment book reigned supreme. Unless we “take our rest,” we are restless, and the world’s ways have a very quick solution to that problem.
This week, known as Holy Week to those in the Christian faith, is the holiest week of the year. We are meant to set it aside, the culmination of a season of Lent which has prepared us for just this time. The week following Palm Sunday: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. What a package deal: 3 for the price of One, all on sale this week at a church near you!
That sounds just plain exhausting. Better to go on vacation to take our mind off it all. But this year, we haven’t. I’m here and I must decide what this week will be for me. For my faith. For my Lord. For my family, friends, community and world. Because that is why I am here.
What do I suffer so that someone else might be healed? It’s a simple question, with no simple answer. We all have to answer it for ourselves. The key for me is trusting that there is an answer. There is an intention behind what I’m meant to do, and it’s bigger – so much bigger – than me.
A friend just posted this on Facebook:
A week of palindromes. The dates this week will be the same read backwards and forwards. Were you to list these numbers, there would be no way of telling whether your started at the beginning or the end. The last would be first and the first would be last, and we couldn’t tell which was which. Cool, huh?
Funny that this is true of Holy week. The week where the greatest reversal of all time is celebrated. The week that death itself was defeated and life eternal took its place. Impossible to grasp, really. Yet, what I keep finding (and hearing from others when they find) is that when God’s solution in a circumstance or a question or a hardship or a decision is made plain, it makes perfect sense. “Of course. I should have seen that all along!” It’s so simple.
So, I sit with my week that isn’t quite what I had planned, and the things set before me. Kids who are hurt, injured, recovering and the parents and coaches who long for them to be well. I see the hardship that desperately needs healing, and I am in awe that He would entrust these to me. But God, this week? It was supposed to be our quiet week, our Sabbath time, our rest. We were going to get to those old projects, really wrap up the manuscript, tidy up those articles I have been meaning to submit, and clean out those closets. It’s spring after all!!
Wait. There’s no quiet there. The spring break holiday is no respecter of pain and suffering; they get no vacation, no break, no respite until healing comes. Health care workers are on the job, even on holidays, even on weekends, even on Easter. Perhaps this week, above all weeks, is meant to be dedicated to making all things well.
Jesus didn’t take a week off. Especially not this one. How simple.