I do not like heights. I like heights even less coupled with fast moving objects. Think composite tube at 35000 ft….so you can imagine when Brooks told me that the main event at the Confirmation Retreat was the Plunge at Wintergreen. For those of you that do not know the “plunge” it is a ride on an innertube down an icy shoot, with the second hump being the “plunge” as place where you go uncontrollably down the icy sloop. Spinning. Turning.
Do I come out and say that I am scared to go? Do I wing it?
Down the icy sloop, the first hump is fun, then the plunge and you drop. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth, then at the bottom, I felt the adrenaline rush, and stood up and shouted “wow, let’s do another one.” Of course, by the time I made it back up to the top, I was looking for ways to not go down. In fact, I was spending all of my energy trying to get out of going down, again.
This confession points to the fickle and unpredictable nature of our existence and hits straight to our desire to control our next moves. For me, this fear of heights amounts to the lack of control as I am plunging down this ice path on my way to the bottom. The moment of peace, either at the top or the bottom is eclipsed by the horror of the plunge.
Attempting to hold onto our “ups” and staying away from “downs.” This is life and the tension of Palm Sunday. The juxtaposition between singing “All glory laud and honor on one side and “crucify him” on the other.
The polarity of human life, the ups and down, the mountains and valleys, the triumphs and the defeats, have never been more exposed than in the passion story. A story of suffering for one man told opposite the actions of many trying to avoid any and all “plunges.”
The characters in our passion (suffering) reading know this, too. The result is a natural extinct and tendency is the survival of the I. To protect themselves, to bob and weave and try to stay out of trouble to stay away from the “plunge.”
Was it the aggressive disciple who tried to defend Jesus by swiping at the Roman Soldier? An old friend and business colleague, Ken Whitescarver, taught me an important modern term for this move – “Offense is always better than defense.”
Was it Peter, the loyal friend, who at the very end, was nervous about the plunge and gave up his friend in order to stay warm by the fire and protect his own position?
Or Maybe Peter, James, and John – three friends, unsure about what to do with their leader – the one they have come following – “they did not know what to say to him.”
Do you remember a time when you were in a when you came across a friend who was in a free fall and you wanted to reach out – you wanted to help – I remember being with a friend in the fall, she had been in a hospital room. Hospitals are places of plunges. One after another. She was in the worst of it, and a friend was coming from out of town to visit with her. I met up with my friend later, and she explained how this out of town guest spent lots of time looking at the molding of the hospital and talking about Greenberry’s. I have been there. Visiting with someone without the words to express to them – so I dodge and weave. I talk about sports, or something, else.
Was it Judas, making a play for your power and choosing sides in an ever complex game of king of the mountain.
Maybe it’s the impatient High Priest? You have made your judgment and you are frustrated by any further deliberations, after all we have heard the evidence? Swift action is your name. Blasphemy!
Maybe it’s the crowd? Bonding together as a means to stay away from the plunge. As a means of hiding fears, and vulnerabilities.
Or maybe, Pilate, maybe you felt like you are the judge like you are an arbiter each day and night. You want to do right, it seems; but you have to have control. You know that you must placate the powers of the world -your constituency to maintain your position. So you let the guilty go free and prosecute the guilty.
I am not sure where you find yourself, or maybe, like me, you feel a bit of each of the characters. The subtext that happens with each of the characters is remarkable, and it points us towards the story of…humanity. The story of you, me, your neighbor, and all of the old Adams and Eves. Our fickle nature. Our sinful nature.
The Good News is that there is another character in this story. A character both fully Human and fully God. who steps into our shoes and experiences this life for us. A character who begins in the Garden, and full of anguish, knowing that the elevator he must ride is the loneliest, most isolated, ride of the life. It is our worse fear, the one we bob and weave trying to avoid each day – isolation, humiliation, and death.
Jesus, as he heads towards the Cross, does not bob nor weave nor duck nor dive. Jesus sits. He expose his vulnerability in the garden. he exposes his inability to answer the questions and his raw nerves about what will happen at this place of the skull. He stands in silence as he is falsely accused, not trying to play to the crowds or the power structures, and neither inflaming them nor attacking him. He takes it for you and for me.
From Isaiah: All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.
He stands in silence as he is beat, as he is robbed, as he is spat on, as own friends turn on him, he then hangs in silence, with blood dripping down his broken and tattered body, with the crown of thorns ripping his skins, and his breath slowing, he will cry out to his father and breathes his last.
Jesus’ final plunge. Silence.
Yet, that is not the last word from this character, who takes the worst plunge for you and me and in doing so shows us the “tender love of God. No this is not the last word, rather the last word comes from the risen Lord “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.”