Tuesday: When God Runs Out of Courage
No one is brave all the time.
Not even Jesus.
Not even God.
That is the message of our scriptures today.
Courage and fear are poles that we bounce between all the time.
Our hope is that we will be able to stand in the place of bravery when the most important moments come, and our faith is that God will undergird it all even when our fear rises up to choke us and we fail at the moment of testing.
We can hear the voice of Jesus reflecting on his life and ministry in our lesson from Isaiah.
We begin with the story of his nativity and youth: “The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away.”
Hidden away—this speaks to the fact that we hear nothing from Jesus until the advanced age of thirty.
Isaiah’s words indicate that this time was not spent idly—Jesus was being refined into the sharp tool of insight and teaching that would strike to our hearts with sometimes uncomfortable truth.
But the reality of what Jesus faced comes to the forefront next: “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.”
Although his patience with them is unending, we can read Jesus’ frustration with his disciples as he tries over and over again to get them to understand who he is and what his mission is.
In this moment, as his death approaches, he must have had moments when the entire enterprise seemed completely futile.
What is the point of his giving up his life if no one, not even his chosen twelve, could understand either his teaching or his identity?
We hear the voice of Jesus in our psalm as he confronts the oncoming and very real threats building up against him: “For my enemies are talking against me, and those who lie in wait for my life take counsel together. They say, ‘God has forsaken him; go after him and seize him; because there is none who will save.’ O God, be not far from me; come quickly to help me, O my God.”
It’s hard to determine which fear would be more crippling: the fear of the divine side of Jesus who understood and foresaw exactly what was coming for him, every moment of pain and humiliation and abandonment, or the fear of the human side of Jesus, who knew only that events were accelerating out of his control and he could protect neither himself nor his followers from whatever came next.
We hear Jesus ricochet from courage to fear and back again even in our gospel story tonight.
We hear his voice ring out confidently, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” and, “Now the ruler of this world will be driven out.”
But then we hear him say, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say– `Father, save me from this hour’?”
And how could we blame him?
But he summons his courage again and says, “No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
In that moment, he gives his consent for the process to move forward.
He knows what lies ahead of him, and even though his fear is about to overtake him, he calls out to God and says, “I’m ready. Let’s begin.”
I love him so much in this moment, giving himself to the people to save them, even as he is still having to explain who he is and what God is accomplishing through him.
Then we have a moment that is easy to overlook but is incredibly evocative when we stop to think about it.
The crowd is still lost, asking him who the Son of Man is.
He patiently explains it once again, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”
And then the verse that stops me in my tracks: “After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.”
Listen to that again: “After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.”
There is no further explanation.
The next verse reads, “Although he had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in him.”
This is an unprecedented window into Jesus’ feelings, the intensity of what he was going through this week.
We have just witnessed him fighting through the emotional rollercoaster of fear to courage and back again, holding it together in front of the crowd enough to continue teaching them and more than that, giving them words about being children of light, words he knows they will need to sustain them once he’s gone.
He’s pouring himself out for them, giving his strength away even though he needs it so badly himself.
But finally, it is too much.
Something snaps and he knows if he doesn’t get away from this crowd who demands so much from him while still failing to understand what he’s giving them, he’s going to lose it.
He might lose track of what it takes to be the Son of Man and just be a guy named Jesus from Nazareth, worn out and afraid, who in a hidden corner of his heart realizes he could have been happy just being a simple carpenter.
So he leaves, quite abruptly, almost in the middle of their conversation.
And he doesn’t just walk away.
He doesn’t just take the twelve off to the side for a few minutes to regroup.
He hides from them.
I ache for him in his loneliness and fear here. I can practically feel his despair and disappointment, his wondering how he can possibly scrape together the courage to endure what lies before him when the people to whom he is gifting his life, which is all of us, remain so clueless.
Here we have Jesus at his most human, his most vulnerable.
He is alone.
Where is he going to hide?
If even Jesus, our Lord and Savior, can be this beaten down by fear and despair, what chance do we have of standing up to do what’s right when the moment of trial comes?
Well, now is actually one of those moments, and what happens depends on how we answer that first question.
Where can Jesus go to hide?
Where can he find respite when his strength and courage have run low?
Where can he find a safe place to renew himself?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel very brave right now. Do you feel brave?
There are such dark forces gathering around Jesus and around us as every hour ticks closer to Calvary.
And yet we’re here.
Something in us drew us to this place tonight, to a place where our celebration of the light would guarantee that we will be noticed by the darkness.
We were brave just to come to this church tonight and celebrate Eucharist.
We were brave enough to turn away from the noise of TV and internet and regular, safe life and say, “We know what’s coming and we choose to be here anyway.”
We are the safe place for Jesus.
All we have to do is invite him in.
He needs a place to hide. He needs a place to rest.
Tomorrow he will again be the Son of Man, fierce and brave and walking forward toward Golgotha and beyond.
But not tonight.
Tonight, he needs us.
So we will let our hearts be the place where he can hide.
We will open ourselves to his presence, share table fellowship with him at this altar, and tell him how much we love him.
Tonight, Jesus cannot be brave.
So we will be brave for him.
He says to us, “The light is with you for a little longer.”
So we invite that light in, guard that light, cherish that light.
And tomorrow, we follow the light toward the great darkness that awaits, knowing that our love has made a difference.
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