Preached by the Rev. David Fly at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, February 28, 2010
“At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.’ He said to them, ‘Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. But for today and tomorrow and the next day I must go on, since it would not be right for a prophet to die outside Jerusalem.’” (Luke 13.31)
Reading this passage always reminds me of a very powerful dream I had when I was a boy. I can still remember it clearly to this day. In the dream, I was alone and drifting into the darkness of space. The only lights were the minuscule stars so very far away. As I continued to drift, I became smaller and the stars began to disappear. Finally, I was only a tiny dot against the blackness of space. The darkness surrounded me and the silence was overwhelming. I knew I was coming to an end and I had to struggle to the surface of wakefulness to save myself.
Dreams get interpreted in lots of different ways. For me, that dream was a coming of age in which, for the first time, I faced my mortality. I realized that there would come a time when I would die and I was frightened. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross suggests that somewhere deep inside, we are convinced of our own immortality (and that is certainly true for adolescents). To be confronted with the prospect of our own death can be a shattering experience that becomes as hard to shake as it was for me to shake that boyhood dream. When illness touches our lives, when friends and family die, it’s as if we too are moving into the darkness and the stars are beginning to fade.
Less dramatically, though powerful nonetheless, each of us have experienced those little “deaths” as we move into situations that seem too big for us or demand too much of us, and leave us feeling small and inadequate. There are times when decisions are called for and we alone must make them. When that happens we are moving into our own Jerusalems and experiencing the pain of decision-making that Jesus faced as he moved into the city at the end of his life.
As we face the uncertainty and insecurity of our lives we look to the life of Jesus as a model of living in the face of death. His life becomes a pattern for living into the puzzles that each of our lives presents us. It is not we who ask questions about the meaning of life, rather it is life that asks us questions and in responding to those concrete, real, daily questions we find the meaning in life. Let me give you an example. When I was a college chaplain, eighteen and nineteen-year-old students would wrestle with the question: “Who am I?” I used to respond, somewhat facetiously, “Get a job and for at least 8 hours a day, you’ll know who you are!” In other words, as we enter into the reality of daily living, we will be confronted with situations and questions that call forth who we are in very concrete ways.
The Pharisees came to him and said, “Leave this place, because Herod means to kill you.” How often have we been tempted to “leave this place” (this vocation, this painful situation, this relationship) because we feel that we are inadequate to the task or that we are taking on something more than we can handle and don’t want to risk the little death that might be in it for us? But Jesus understands that he would not have been in this place had he not been called there. So he responds, “Go tell Herod not to try and trick me. I will stay in this place and do what I have to do.” Jesus stands his ground. There is nothing particularly heroic about what he does. Jesus simply understands that to be true to himself, he cannot run away. He is faithful to the task at hand. We’re not called to be heroes either. We’re called to be faithful to the situations in which we find ourselves. If we leave, we may never discover the reasons we were called to those places by God’s Spirit.
“Today and tomorrow, I must go on,” says Jesus, “and the third day attain my end.” Today and tomorrow, we must go on, however inadequate or mortal we feel, making those decisions that life brings us: decisions to go on loving when love seems to fade; decisions to change when change is laid upon us; decisions to be faithful when we are tempted to be faithless. We are on a journey that has an end and a mission to accomplish.
Jesus “goes up” to Jerusalem and there he meets his end. It is in the end that we find the powerful reason for his going on – for our going on. Because somewhere, at the end of it all, love is the answer to our daily quest for meaning, but it can seldom be discovered without Good Friday. Love isn’t abstract and it doesn’t come cheap. It very often leads us to suffering before it leads us into glory. And meaning is found in loving our way through all the little deaths that befall us.
Jesus gives himself over to that which calls him: “Let your will be done, not mine.” His mortal life drifts into the darkness of space, stars flicker and fade, and death has its way with him. Like the end of a day, night comes, black night, with no stars. He is alone. The only sound is silence. To enter into this moment with Jesus is to enter into our own “dark nights,” our own dreams of meaninglessness, our own feelings of impotence in the face of greater odds.
Darkness. Darkness gently penetrated by light. Night pushed away as dawn approaches. Dawn comes and birds sing like angels. A new beginning invades what we believed to be that end. Going on in the face of darkness has brought the light. The Resurrection is God’s final affirmation of Jesus, his willingness to journey onward with all the odds against him.
Learning to live means learning to “go on.” It means willing to have our hearts broken by the things that break the heart of God. We must move on into the darkness, up to our own Jerusalems, knowing that, although we are afraid, he is with us, and that if we weep, the one who wept in Gethsemane understands. For in the darkness, there is light, and in the shadow of death, there is life everlasting. One of my favorite songs goes like this:
It’s the heart afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance.
It’s the dream afraid of waking
That never takes the chance.
It’s the one who won’t be taken
That cannot seem to give
And the soul afraid of dying
That never learns to live. Amen.