Trust the Down

Trust the down                                                                    ©Suzanne Grimmett     

If you could reach into yourself and remove all your fears- every single one- what would your life be like? How would you be different?

Many have said that there are only really two emotions: love and fear. The others are secondary to these. In fact, it would be better to say that there is only love or fear, as you cannot feel these two simultaneously. “Perfect love drives out all fear,” we read in the first letter of John.

As we enter these momentous days of Holy Week, we see clearly the forces and outcomes of fear present in an angry mob, uncertain disciples, powerful religious leaders and even more powerful leaders of the State. And we see love, incarnated in this one man Jesus, as he walks through these days, surrendering all to love: the greatest power in heaven and on earth.

Yet we have held together in the readings today, the crowd moving from two forms of unity- the praise and cries of “Hosanna!” which means “Save us!” or “Salvation- thank you!”- to the murderous shouts of the Passion reading. Philosopher René Girard calls the kind of mob mentality that we here see played out in the turning of the hearts and minds of the crowd as “the negative unanimity around one.”  Human beings either can find and create unity in love and solidarity with one another, or else they can fixate on one issue or one person to create a different kind of unity fed by fear and hatred, by gossip and negativity. This is “the negative unanimity around one”, and sadly it is faster and more efficient at rallying people than love. And it is the kind of unity based in fear that feeds the violent frenzy of a lynch mob and nails Jesus to a cross on Friday.

In this week, we see the full expression of the nature of God, and who God is for us. The revelation that supersedes all others is this; God is present in the person of Jesus, this man of flesh and blood, who shows us that God would rather die by violence than commit it.[1] It takes a downward move of God to come amongst us and share our human sufferings, endure our fearful scapegoating, and surrender in love and obedience that we might follow the same road, breaking the power of sin and death. The Collect for today says it beautifully;

…..in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son to take our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross: in your mercy enable us to share in his obedience to your will and in the glorious victory of his resurrection.

This week asks us to join every part of this downward road to the cross, asking us to examine where our own fears are taking us away from an obedience to God’s will for a life lived in love and freedom. Our fear leads us to try to narrate constant success stories for ourselves and failure stories for others. This is a journey that looks ever upwards for its destination. What Jesus models instead is a way of deliberately taking a journey of descent, not because he believed a sacrifice was required, nor because suffering of itself was holy, nor for some idea of self-negation, but because he trusted to the transformative power of love; a love that can create not the false unity of rallying around a scapegoat, but the real and deeper unity that makes us one in spirit and in truth. This deep unity of love becomes possible because of the exposure of our violence on the cross and the loving forgiveness of the victim.

Of course, fears often come from a place where we need to be healed; the place of our greatest wounds. The place that tells us we must never stop fighting, never stop making alliances against a common enemy, never let go of our anger, never surrender for fear that our enemies will triumph or we will somehow lose ourselves. It is not difficult to imagine these same kinds of motivations driving the fragile humanity of the mocking soldiers, the jeering religious folks, the violent mob. Jesus knew their fears, role playing an elaborate theatrical show of turning the parade of kings on its head. Where rulers entered the city on warhorses ruling by threats of violence and retribution, Jesus comes on a humble donkey, offering peace and kinship. Jesus is revealing in his own vulnerability the truth that God will even surrender to our greatest acts of violence when it means our fears can be exposed to the light, and healed with love.  The truth is, we are all in that crowd. We all need forgiveness for the times our fears have led us to think and act in violent ways.

So we all need to take the descending steps of this week, a week where we will;

  • meet one another around the table and wash one another’s feet
  • offer ourselves to prayer as we keep watch in the garden recognising the fear that would lead us into all the great and petty betrayals of our lives
  • stand at the foot of the cross to lay down our burdens  
  • face the reality of death in that closed tomb, knowing that in order for new life to begin, some things need to die.

Trust the down, says Richard Rohr, and God will take care of the up. [2]

If there are only two ways of finding unity- through fearful scapegoating or loving surrender- may we have the courage this week to follow Jesus as he descends to the way of the cross, releasing us from our pain to find a love that is real.

What if you could live this week free of all your fears?

May we all find in this Holy Week our own downward journey where the Spirit heals and sets us free to greet the new dawn this Easter Day.

+Amen


[1] Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again, (2018: Nelson Books)  76-77

[2] Rohr, Richard. Wondrous Encounters : Scripture for Lent (pp. 123-124). Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition.

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