I Am with Him

Sometimes, when I read the words of Jesus, I long for the time when he was here on this earth. I long to hear him speak, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.” Surely his was a better time, not ripped asunder by all the tears at us today. And yet, when I move past my selfish longings and read about the cast of characters surrounding Jesus, I see myself there, at times sitting at his feet, in my dreams sacrificing all for him but more realistically as part of the crowd, standing by, if not joining in the chant, at least not disputing the accusation, not risking it all to take a stand for him.

I scan the crowd and see in his innermost circle the zealot, Judas Iscariot, that might have grown impatient with his master’s call to love everyone—even neighbors, foreigners (for goodness sake!), Samaritans!—Judas heard all of this and felt his inner revulsion grow into rebellion and a desire to take matters into his own hands. He was a doer, a taker, a king maker. Let the cards fall where they may—he thought—I will take money and push him forward as the only viable candidate in a corrupt and miserable world. It’s either do or die.

And there is Pilate, caught in the middle, the go-between, passions high on either side, unwilling to take a stand for Truth, unwilling to do what is right because to do that he would have to close the door on a whole group of people who had power to make his life difficult. He ultimately chose power over purpose. He chose the here and now over eternity. He chose the easy way instead of the right way.

The Jews, the church people, the leaders of the synagogues, the keepers of tradition, stand front and center before Pilate but don’t want to go in, because of all things, it will keep them from eating the Passover. Their concern is a cardboard cutout character, a ridiculously worldly concern that cannot stand up in the place of a man’s life—a meal or a life? Which will it be? They chose the meal, the pleasure, the place at the table of this life, the position of temporal authority, the reward, they think, of their years of playing the game, of living by the rules, of denying their true selves and now, they can’t even remember who they really are, only that they can’t let this position slip away. This Jesus fellow threatens to rupture the womb of filth they have so carefully tended and replace it with true Life. They want no part of it. In the numbness of spirit that comes with rule following, with denying Truth, they close their spirit eyes and chose death over life, nailing their own coffins into place from the inside—pride the hammer and lack of love the individual nails.

At the center of it all is Jesus, the ultimate expression of a counter-cultural figure. He stands in direct opposition to just about everything that the people around him want to see. To the traditionalist, he says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not the man for the Sabbath;” to the revolutionary he says, “Love your enemies and turn the other cheek;” to the moderate he says, “I came not to bring peace but a sword.” Each one sees their personal, self-centered dream crumble in the face of a man who speaks only Truth.

Jesus stands alone at the crossroads of all this turmoil. In his crown of thorns and wearing his blood soaked purple sash, he stands at the confluence of rivers of conflict, at the apex of the storm. His followers deny him and leave or huddle fearfully in a corner, terrified to speak up, allowing Evil to triumph even as they feel Light extinguish inside their souls. But where Jesus is, Peace reigns. He continues to speak words of forgiveness, love and care; as the spikes smash his wrists he willfully extends his arms in a gesture of redemption and self-sacrifice, inviting us to do the same.

Jesus understands where we stand today, and the choices that we face. He is risen from the dead and reigns supreme, but he allows us to continue to live in a broken world, where the same passions persist. We see tradition butt up against revolution, we see government looking away as innocents are carted off, we see ourselves choosing a meal over a life, we look away with shame as our muteness indicts us. In each of the characters, we sadly recognize a part of ourselves.

Even today, Jesus looks at us and asks the question: “Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?” He asks us to chose him over all else, to leave our silence and speak out boldly, professing love to any who will listen. The scene at the praetorian repeats itself every day, even now. I look around and see myself alternately standing among the power brokers of the day, then among those that left him to slink away toward safety or huddled silently, standing by as the crowd shouts out, “Release Barabas!” I want to be the one that runs up to where Jesus is, and says, “I am with him. Take me too.”

Tethered

The storm raged
whipping salty sea
into eyes brimming with tears
of fear.
My tiny craft
filled from without and from within
sinking with the weight
of the unknown.
Leaks,
formerly patched
sprung open
and spilled out
liquid lostness
that oozed around me.
Puddles of doubt
Drowning my resolve.
I looked outward
And saw only
more storm ahead.
Gray horizons,
Strikes of terror slashing
through the darkness of night.
The wind filled my ears full.
It was hard to hear,
but then
His voice
Almost a whisper in the howl
came through
And took over a tip,
A toehold in the chaos.
A tiny territory
In a mind besieged.
Focus shifted
From the sea of troubles to
The Source.
The warmth and gentleness of that presence
Filled the boat and I looked around me.
Right there, in the boat
Was a rope
A coil of love
Attached firmly to the bow.
My eyes followed the rope
And as the tears cleared
I saw Him
On the shore—
Holding me firmly,
Fastened eternally
Tethered to love.

Joy Eastridge
April 2017

Building Bridges with Compassion

My heart aches as it reaches out in compassion. Toward you, my friend, and your needs. Toward those I don’t know and their needs. Toward the people fleeing war and strife. Toward those seeking a better life for their children. And I know your heart goes out to all people, too, because in our common humanity, we are built to feel for one another. That is what makes us alive.

Where we may differ is in how we approach the problem of helping a world full of hurting, sad, poor and troubled people—some of them sitting right next to us and some of them living in our hearts through sad pictures of little boys in an ambulance in Aleppo, Syria.

Oh God of tender mercy and love toward all, how do we respond?

Do we simply throw open the gates and let everyone in and enjoy beautiful chaos? (I have been accused of espousing this crazy option! But I will quickly point out that it’s not realistic…)

Do we build a “big, beautiful door” as our President has suggested and ask people to use that door?

Do we emulate our small children and grandchildren who don’t know better and refuse to share? We teach them to share and give because that is the source of true life. In the upside down Way of Love, we see it over and over, “Give and you shall receive. Die and you shall live.”

Do we wall ourselves off, huddle up around our campfire in the middle of our circled wagons praying that the wild forces outside will not penetrate our feeble defenses?

How do we live in all of this and continue to be the people of God who give freely, who lay down our lives for others, who walk with Jesus every day? For goodness sake, what would HE do??

For one thing, he would tell us, “Fear not.”

Living in fear is living in a prison of our own making. It is the gilded cage that promises comfort and delivers confinement instead. Fear begets irrational thinking where survival is supreme and self defense overrules all common sense.

How do we combat the fear that besets us on every side? Sometimes, identifying the thing that is underneath it all, can help us to let go and allow God to comfort us in our dark places. Do we fear losing power? Do we fear losing our material wealth? Do we fear losing our health? Do we fear death? Do we fear the future? Do we fear the present? The answer is probably “yes” and “all of the above.” How can we release our fears and live in the true freedom that Christ offers us? He came to earth to show us the Way, the Truth and the Life. And he invites us to share that with others, not condemning them for not believing as we do, but sharing The True Life by walking together, hand in hand, partaking daily of communion.

As we ask God to “Give us this day our daily bread” we ask for ourselves and for others. May we have enough to satisfy our need and also enough to share with our neighbor. For isn’t this our charge as followers of the One who laid down his life for us all? Jesus, help us to be like you this day.

–Joy Eastridge, Feb. 14, 2017