Do you remember the spiritual disciplines you committed to practice at the beginning of Lent this year, way back in late February? With all that’s happened with the coronavirus, it seems like a lifetime ago!
My commitment was to renounce worry. Through worship, Bible reading, and a constant focus on the Holy Spirit, I would rest confident in who I am in Christ and edge worry out of my life. After I made that commitment, I found out I would need ankle and foot surgery that would leave me disabled for over a month. Would I have made such a commitment knowing that was coming?
And then, the virus came. The world has been blanketed by this virus that seems like nothing we have ever seen. We are living in a time none of us, none of us, could have imagined. We don’t know when “social distancing” will end and stay-at-home orders will be relaxed. We don’t know what life will be like when this crisis passes. The unbearable uncertainty leaves us isolated, speechless, and frustrated to name just a few of the feelings.
Now put yourself with Jesus and the disciples. As you turn the page to Matthew 21:1, put yourself in the story. He knew the cross lay ahead of him. He had forecast his death numerous times (Matt. 16:21; 17:22; 20:17-19). The disciples had no idea. They could sense, I am sure, something was coming. But I am equally convinced they had no idea what, and did not know if it would be good or terrible.
For his part, Jesus moves forward with purpose. His certainty may not inspire confidence in his disciples, but they follow his instructions without hesitation. “Go into the village ahead of you … you will find a donkey and a colt … bring them to me” (21:2). They do exactly as he directs, and events proceed exactly as he says they will.
Jesus’s stoic posture does not mean he was emotionless. His fury in the temple (21:12-13) and anguish in the garden (21:38) indicate how deeply he felt and how heavily he carried the burdens of the world on his shoulders. His death, the need for it, the disciples’ misunderstanding, the crowd’s rejection – it all mattered to him more than we can comprehend. If anyone ever had cause to worry to the point of madness, Jesus did. But, he didn’t.
Thus, is the conclusion that in order to practice the discipline I committed to, renouncing worry, I must just find in myself the resolve Jesus demonstrated? Not at all. That would be impossible. The fierce focus of Jesus isn’t in me. I cannot will myself to it. The disciples couldn’t. No one can. Uncertainty drives us to disillusion, panic, and despair. Then how do we proceed? In the face of life’s horrors, including the current pandemic pounding fear into the hearts of people the world over, how do we step into the future?
The disciples could not have answered that question. They did the only thing they could do. They kept their eyes on Jesus. They only fell completely apart when he was arrested, taken from them in the Garden of Gethsemane. When they lost sight of him, they scattered. They came back together after the resurrection, when they again were able to see him.
That story now moves into our story. He has risen; he has risen indeed! This truth enables us to inhabit the story of the “triumphal” entry, the “cleansing” of the temple, the Gethsemane abandonment, and sorrow of the cross. We live each chapter of the story, eyes fixed on Jesus, knowing that the cross can’t keep him down because he is life.
Thus, in our story, when stepping forward is terrifying because the ground might crumble beneath our feet and the earth might swallow us, we set our eyes on Jesus. Are we scared? Of course. Is it tempting to curl into the fetal position or, paralyzed in defeat, simply await the final catastrophe? Sometimes. But we don’t do that. We do not withdraw from life. We do not give into fear. We do not obey dread as if it were our master. We already have a master. With all our insecurities and, yes, worries, we step forward with our eyes on him because he is life.