Monday, April 13, 2009

Jesus the MAN

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

An excerpt from a letter to those who made my trip to Israel possible...

...I wanted to take a moment to write and share with you just a little bit of the impact your gift has had on me. In the midst of what must be an unbelievably difficult time for you, you sought to be a blessing to another, and in so doing, you shared something with me that I would never have had the opportunity to experience otherwise.

Because of your generosity, I walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus called his disciples, where he spent many a day preaching or fishing or talking with friends, where he built one last fire and cooked breakfast after his death and resurrection.

Fish.

The Word made flesh and raised from the dead stood and cooked fish on this beach! I could practically smell the smoke and see the flames from my vantage point on the rocks looking out over the waves. The same wind that pulled at their robes tousled my hair as I pondered the beauty of that place...

Here, Jesus began to be real to me in a completely different way than he had been before. No longer a Sunday-School-story or even a distant-Savior-who-lived-in-some-other-time-and-in-some-other-place-far-removed, he appeared right before my eyes as Jesus the Man. He built campfires the way my mom used to when, growing up, we camped at the lake in the summer. He pulled his cloak close around him against the wind even as it tangled his hair. He sat in an intimate conversation with Peter right after the unbelievable ordeal he had been through, asking him, "Do you love me?"

And what an ordeal he went through - that is an understatement! Only a few days after walking that shore and 'meeting' the Jesus who lived and breathed and waded in the sea (as well as walked on it!) enjoying the sun, we visited the dungeons and the pit where they would have kept him as he awaited his trial before the Sanhedrin. We went down in and I witnessed just a fraction of the darkness he would have experienced. They described for us what it would have been like, how the prisoners would have been standing in stale, contaminated water - Jesus with many others, all unbathed and pressed in together, the only source of light and air a tiny opening in the roof over-head. We all stood in the bowels of that prison, all 55 of us, and read Psalm 88.

O LORD, the God who saves me,
day and night I cry out before you.

May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

For my soul is full of trouble
and my life draws near the grave.

I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man without strength.

I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.

Your wrath lies heavily upon me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
Selah

You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;

my eyes are dim with grief.
I call to you, O LORD, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.

Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do those who are dead rise up and praise you?

Selah

Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?

Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, O LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.

Why, O LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have been afflicted and close to death;
I have suffered your terrors and am in despair.

Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.

All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.

You have taken my companions and loved ones from me;
the darkness is my closest friend.

Standing in that pit I was well aware of the dark times I have known in my own short life. How many times have I read the Psalms, their words giving expression the the cries of my own heart? And even as I remembered those times, I remembered how God was with me in them. That day in Jerusalem in the bowels of the earth, it was almost as if Jesus was opening up his heart and allowing me into his dark place with him, too. Hearing his agony as expressed through the psalmist made it all the more poignant, all the more vivid and human. Christ shared his suffering with me.

We ended that day at the memorial museum documenting the tragedies and horrors of the holocaust. The atrocities visited on Jesus' people, God's chosen ones, painted a picture of the atrocities inflicted upon Christ when he was tortured and crucified. They shared in Christ's suffering as well, in ways that I cannot even conceptualize - nor would I if I could. It was a somber day, but one that I will never forget.

It completely reframes the call that God has placed on my life to minister to his people, to take up my cross and follow him. Many of those who made this pilgrimage remarked that one does not have to go to the Holy Land in order to meet Jesus. But in a way, I met a Jesus there that I had not yet known. It was as if a long-time friend decided to open up and let me in a little, to share his burdens with me, to share his suffering, yes, in order to share his heart. It was like that moment when a special someone you've been getting to know reaches over and reaches out and really allows you to catch a glimpse into his world. You're blown away by the beauty and the magnitude and the richness of one person's life, and you're humbled to be a part of it even for a moment.

As followers, we are the blessed who believe in Christ without seeing; he meets us where we are. But because you chose to give, I found myself invited by Christ to come home with him, the way a fiance would bring his beloved home to meet his parents, his people, and see the place where he grew up. It is a special and intimate thing, a treasure. Thank you for that opportunity...

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