In the midst of this pandemic, I have a question for you. Bold and uncensored.
A somber, blunt, bare-your-soul kind of question.
What’s your worst fear?
Is it this virus?
This plague that violently attacks some… and leaves them gasping for breath… fighting for dear life?
Is that the vexing thing that looms low and dark, ominous and unsettling? The thing that instantly evokes foreboding… or sheer terror? The invisible enemy that creeps close, no matter which way you turn. The threat that slinks and slithers into every quiet moment and leaves you rattled, reeling.
Maybe COVID-19 isn’t the thing. Sure, it’s taken center stage… but behind the curtain lurks another assailant, taunting you with terrifying “what ifs” or “what nows” or grim predictions or false accusations. Threats of inescapable heartbreak or inevitable failure: infertility, arrest, abuse, bankruptcy, betrayal.
Perhaps it’s something even worse. Maybe you’re terrified of watching someone you love… leave.
(Does it matter the culprit? COVID, cancer, cardiac failure… they’re all merciless killers.)
Whatever it is, I’m guessing it’s heavy. And hard. And hurts like hell.
Fear and dread drag us to the shadowlands and abandon us there. They make us scratch/claw/cower/sob. They predict defeat and suggest surrender. Or lay blame and offer ammo.
They whisper doom.
So we seek scapegoats and stockpile munitions (masks/gloves/groceries/guns) and sometimes we make human shields of the people we hold dearest. (Because they’re near.)
Fear convinces us that we are utterly alone. That we have to walk the proverbial plank (or lie in the ICU bed) unaccompanied and unprotected, bound and bare.
Dread persuades us that no one has the faintest clue what we’re going through… or what peril awaits.
Not a single soul.
But it isn’t true.
He walked away, perhaps a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed this prayer: “Father, if you are willing, please take away this cup of horror from me. But I want your will, not mine.”Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him, for he was in such agony of spirit that he broke into a sweat of blood, with great drops falling to the ground as he prayed more and more earnestly. (Luke 22:41-44, TLB)
Jesus was no stranger to dread.
He felt its stranglehold. Knew its instinct to devour.
He begged release. But it was denied him.
There simply was no easy way out.
So He bore the anguish through tears… and beads of sweat… and drops of blood.
He faced the worst horror of all, knowing full well what heinous injustice, vicious brutality and unbridled evil would be unleashed against him.
He was not spared the brunt of the (real) Avenger’s wrath. He wasn’t delivered from one millisecond of hissing mockery or bloody torture or wrongful conviction. Nor the spitting or scourging or spikes or…
Jesus drank the cup of suffering… and poured out his lifeblood.
His followers distanced themselves.
His friends freaked… and fled. In fact, one of his closest companions outright denied even knowing him. (Not once or twice. Three times.) Another turned traitor.
Even his own Father seemed to have deserted him in his darkest hour.
At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” …Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:33-34, 37-39, NLT)
Jesus – the Son of Almighty God – despaired… and died. Unaccompanied and unprotected, bound and bare.
Utterly, indecently, disgracefully – and yes, dreadfully – alone.
Why? So we never have to be. Not in a pandemic. Not on our deathbed. Never.
Jesus died alone so we don’t have to.
His name is Immanuel…
God with us.
He is Love. And love never leaves.
Oh how he loves us.
Crazy as it may sound, his love was deeper and wider and higher than his sweating-blood dread. Braver than the savagery inflicted on him. More ferocious than all the foes and forces amassed against him. His love fueled him through forsakenness.
Jesus’ steadfast, staggering love compelled him – held him – to the cross.
He suffered alone, so we could come near.
Near to the holy.
Near to the heavenly.
Near to hope.
He drank the cup of crucifixion, so we could could come close – commune – with him.
Our Helper, our Healer, our High Priest.
We have a great high priest. He has gone up into heaven. He is Jesus the Son of God. So let us hold firmly to what we say we believe. We have a high priest who can feel it when we are weak and hurting. We have a high priest who has been tempted in every way, just as we are. But he did not sin. So let us boldly approach God’s throne of grace. Then we will receive mercy. We will find grace to help us when we need it. (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIRV)
There’s no easy way out of this pandemic. And ultimately, there’s no escaping death. It comes to all… eventually.
If there’s ever a time to face your worst fear, it’s now.
Whatever it is that you dread… draw near to the throne of grace.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread and blessed it. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take this, and eat it. This is my body.” Then he took a cup and spoke a prayer of thanksgiving. He gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood, the blood of the promise. It is poured out for many people so that sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 26:26-28, GW)
The One – God’s own Son, the perfect Passover Lamb – who faced the dread, drank the cup, spilled his blood and bore the cross…
He forgives. (Yes, even that.)
He defeated sin and darkness and death. Once and for all.
Believe and receive.
Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. (Ephesians 3:20, TLB)
Praying for (another) Easter miracle.
P.S. When it looks like there’s no easy way out, remember what Jesus said: I am the Way.