Friday, March 29, 2013

Walking through the Fear

     I was afraid of flying to Hawaii over the Pacific.  I had flown before, but I just couldn’t seem to get the fear of flying over all that water out of my mind.  At first, I tried the intellectual approach.  I looked up plane safety on the Internet.  I understood that I was far safer in an airplane than I was in my own car driving in my hometown, but I was still afraid.  I talked to a coworker, Paul, about it.  His helpful advice was, “Hey Rick, if you hit water going 580 mph, you’re just as dead as if you hit the side of a mountain.”  Cheerful. 

     So, the intellectual approach didn't do it for me.  I was still afraid.  I decided instead to trust another human being... the flight attendant.  I figured if she didn’t look worried, with all her experience flying, I shouldn’t be worried either.  Friends on the flight with me noticed how calm I was, even though I had been afraid earlier, and asked me about it.  I explained my thinking.  So I was doing just fine until we hit a little bit of turbulence, and the flight attendant who was walking by dropped to her knees and grabbed both arms of the seats on either side of the aisle and exclaimed, “Oh, my God!”  No, there wasn't a real emergency… my friends had gotten her to prank me.  She reassured me immediately, but I don’t think my heart stopped pounding the rest of the way.  It’s good to have friends.  You know what finally got me over my fear of flying over the ocean?   Nothing really... only getting to Maui.

     It's the last week Jesus's life, and as the Psalmist said, "fear is all around." The disciples are terrified: They are afraid of being in Jerusalem. They are terrified of the religious and government leaders. They are even frightened by the one they love most, Jesus, as he repeatedly predicts his own death. And nothing is working to get rid of that fear.  They tried to think their way out of it… to understand what Jesus meant.  But it didn't work any better than me trying to think my way out of being afraid of flying over the Pacific Ocean.  And it got even worse when Jesus established what we call the Lord's Supper.  He predicted the person who would betray him would be one of them.  Now the trust the disciples had put into other human beings crumbled… the man they loved has told him he's going to die in a short time, and now, they can't even trust each other.  Just like when I lost my trust in that lovely flight attendant over the Pacific Ocean, the disciples had all of their trust of other human beings ripped away.

     Fear makes you do stupid things.  Before supper, Jesus had given them an example of humility, by kneeling before them — even before Judas Iscariot — and washing their feet.  But the disciples are so afraid, what did they do in response?  They got into an argument about who was the greatest among them, and Jesus had to pull them up short by saying that Satan had demanded to sift every one of them like wheat.  In another gospel, he predicted all of them would abandon him that very night.  So what's the connection between fear and the kind of pride and arrogance the disciples displayed that night?  In what way is pride a type of fear? 

     Part of every healthy personality is having a bit of pride — pride in our abilities, in our health, knowing our gifts, etc.  But unhealthy pride is a protection against losing face or position — fear that someone will take advantage of us; fear that somehow we will get hurt… that someone else will get ahead of us.  What Jesus was showing his disciples, and what he challenges us as Christian to do today, is absolutely radical.  It’s natural to recoil from what we are afraid of.  But Jesus asks us to walk through the fear until we lose our human pride that so insulates us from one another.  Jesus calls us to be vulnerable, be willing to be hurt, be willing to be taken advantage of, be willing to lose our place of privilege — all in the service of others.

     It wouldn't have done much good to say to the disciples, "Just don't be afraid."  The only way out was for them to walk through the fear.  They had to walk through the garden.  They had to walk through the trial.  They had to walk through the crucifixion.  They had to keep walking, even when fear choked the very air they breathed.
This week we walk alongside them.  We walk through Maundy Thursday and remember our Lord's humility.  We walk through Good Friday and breathe in the fear of the crucifixion.  You know, I did get to Maui, and at night under a full moon I sat on warm black volcanic sand and listened to the gentle ocean waves lap on the shore, and gazed out at the beauty of the island of Lanai in the distance to my left and Molokai to my right.  The only thing that got the disciples over their fear was, walking through it, until they were finally sitting on the bright warm shores of Easter… then… then it was all worth it.  At the end of all the fear, there's hope, there's resurrection, there's second chances, there's new life. There's Easter.

     Finally, Saturday night and the Easter Vigil comes.  The new flame shoots up, and we carry a candle lit from it.  By being there, we shout to the whole world that light and love beat out darkness and hatred every time!  Easter day dawns and we celebrate the destruction of fear, and our Lord's great victory over the greatest of all our fears… death.

     It's okay to be afraid in life.  But if Jesus taught us anything by this last week, it is that if we keep walking, surrender our pride, live to serve others… we're going to make it.  An author, Kathleen Norris, wrote: "Fear is not a bad place to start a spiritual journey. If you know what makes you afraid, you can see more clearly that the way out is through the fear."

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