Jesus connects things:
Like Sunday connects Saturday to Monday.
Like the rest connects two notes.
But not only does He connect things, he is also in the things he connects. He is in all, and yet he remains hidden to us.
It might be that our ability to see Jesus holding the world together at all, is precisely through His invisibleness at the fulcrum of things; at the hinge of events; at the transition points; at the center of the cross. Those places where life pivots are supposed to be pivotal, but they are often places we don’t notice (and ignore at our peril) because they sit in between one thing and the next. They are the valley between two peaks and the peak between two valleys—or as the Lord himself laments: “at every high place and under every spreading tree.” They are at the crossing of two events—two lines of thought. At the axis on which our world turns, although not visible or audible, He is nonetheless always there. Even in his body on the cross I can see his hands, east to west. I can see his crown of thorns and his feet—north to south. But at the intersection, it is his unseen heart that is truly on display .
When we disconnect—when we disconnect one event from another, one life from another, inside from outside, intellect from faith, church from state, emotions from reason, spirit from law, breath from prayer, news from good news, alpha from omega, first from last and last from first—we are leaving relics of idol worship at all those critical junctures, casting lots for Jesus’ clothes, trying to separate a seamless robe, desecrating the cross.
Strangely, Jesus is also the great separator: “brother from sister, mother from child”
In His moment of visibility to the soul; He cuts. He is both cut in two, and cuts in two. He is separated and separates. And in that separating, He joins anew what was previously un-joined. He connects again what had been disconnected.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
I have always been mystified by this verse. I have mostly read it as a description of God’s provision: a table set with mercy and blessing after a victorious battle; or something like a future hope to set my eyes on after a life spent battling the enemy. But this verse also has the echo of the ram prepared for Abraham; not in his presence; but just beyond, on the other side of his choice, in the presence of his enemy—which is Abraham himself—his “wanting.” And that lead me to reconsider: This psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd,” the fifth verse included, is about a lamb.
The purpose of the lamb is not be cared for—not to be guided—“for its own sake.” The purpose of the lamb is to be sacrificed.
I now imagine God preparing a table:
All is darkness; all is shadow; all is valley; all is enemy—eyes hungry—hearts devouring. Yet, in the center of the darkness, is a table. A lone figure stands in candle light; the only light in the valley; setting the table. It is the Shepherd. The Father. Waiting. In the presence of the lamb’s enemies—those hungry wolves and snarling lions leaning on their cushions— the shepherd clears the center of the table: the place the lamb will be laid. Like the cross being prepared for Christ. The lamb walks toward it. Accepting. Letting go. Listening. Following. Obeying. The Father, the shepherd, anoints the head of the lamb with oil—marking it—to reveal its purpose, like Jacob poured oil on the stone to reveal the center of the world. The center of the cross. It is time for the purpose of the lamb to be revealed. It is time for the king to satisfy his purpose—to take ultimate responsibility for his kingdom. The lamb lays in the center of the table and exposes his neck. The Father, the shepherd, raises his knife. Blood pours out; stains the wool, covers the threshold between darkness and light; protects, saves—cup after cup—guards all portals from death, opens them to life—to freedom.
And all this done in full view of his enemies— the Philistine, the Pharisee, the Saducee, the Roman, the Pharoah, the king and the governor, the Caesar, the slave, the zealot, the Jew, the gentile, the pious, and the pagan—crowded around the table. What a powerful image! And goodness and mercy follows. THEY FOLLOW. They ensue as a result of lamb’s willing acceptance of the Shepherd’s plan. A plan for victory over the powers of darkness through living sacrifice.
Am I a “young” person or an “old” person? Are you young or old? Today—right this moment—which are you? Young or old? The answer is, interestingly, not immediately clear. Like many things it depends on something like, “compared to what?”
In John 21, Jesus told Peter what being “young “ was like; then what being “old” will be like. John, the one whom Jesus loved, watched Jesus possibly closer than anybody. The gospel writer then compressed Jesus’ life—the full account of which could never fit in all the libraries of the world— into a cosmic diamond. Each word part of a crystalline structure. Natural, yet no less perfect for its naturalness. Its hardness only outmatched by its beauty. Held to the light, Jesus’ own words; his own questions and answers; surprise at every turn. They are packed and folded with such density, that should I be granted a thousand more lives to live, I would never be able to fully unfold them and, must often simply gaze at the cross-shaped kaleidoscopic lights that shine forth. In verse 18, one small example is the lesson of “young and old.” Notice the absence of what a person’s life looks like who is neither young nor old. (Or…uh oh…are you like me—smack in the middle of your lives?) Jesus is making the point to Peter, and to us all, that there is no in between—you are either aiming up or down, reaching for heaven or hell, walking in light or dark, following Jesus or Satan, proclaiming curses or blessings—being young or old. As you gaze into this facet, you must ask yourself: just when—exactly—and how, does that transfiguration occur—where is that inflection point between going where we want and being led? Jesus describes it—like a compass describes an arc—he describes this continuum from “young to old” with his life. He tells Simon Peter—the same Simon Peter who thought he knew…what? What was best? He thought he knew more than Jesus? As we also are; he was always quick to step in front of his Master:
“Our victory—my victory—will surely not have to go through suffering and death!” says Peter. And Jesus’ emphatic answer: “Get behind me Satan!”
Jesus tells that same Simon Peter on the shore of Capernaum—at the end of their journey—at the very end of John’s gospel:
“I am telling you the Truth: when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
Jesus was always going to the cross. That is what made him the ultimate leader; He always knew exactly where he was going. He goes there still.
Relent control. Become old. Let go.
“The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship