Your Holy Week Retreat, Part VII – Before the Wilderness

Tonight’s Holy Thursday gospel begins with one of scripture’s most stunning passages:

“Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that His hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved his own in the world and He loved them to the end . . . fully aware that the Father had put everything into His power and that He had come from God and was returning to God . . . ”

Jesus knew what was about to happen to Him. He knew too what His crucifixion would do to His disciples. It would ravage them. It would knock them into a wilderness so dark they would be unable to remember light. His death would drag them into a wilderness of severe loss, heart-breaking sadness, terrible self-doubt, ridicule and desolation. His death could incapacitate each one of them.

Loving them as He did, Jesus did what He could to prepare them for the wilderness. “On the night of that Last Supper, gathered with His chosen band,” He instituted the Eucharist, washed the disciples’ feet, argued with Peter, and affirmed the community. In these four actions, we can see Jesus preparing the unsuspecting disciples to survive the wilderness.  On the night before He died, the night the disciples would remember most vividly, He honed their abilities and wills to pray, to console others, to challenge others and to build community. His devotion to them moved Him to deepen their abilities to be priests, prophets and kings, knowing that these deeper abilities could get them through the wilderness.

Jesus the priest taught people to pray throughout His public ministry, but He saved the institution of the Eucharist for the night that the anguished disciples would recall most intensely. His healing, teaching and preaching consoled others for years, but He saved for that last night a way of consoling that everyone could imitate. He challenged others from the start of His public ministry, but on His last night He engaged Peter in the loving, respectful challenge about “the inheritance.” His efforts to build community never wavered, but on His last night He referenced the Exodus story and its claim “If a family is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join the nearest household in procuring one and shall share in the lamb.”

What does all this have to do with us, 2000 years later, loving people who are not currently barreling into a dreadful wilderness experience?

The lamentable, post-Eden truth is that every human, including every one of Christ’s disciples, experiences wilderness. Every person we love, and every person we don’t, will spend time in a wilderness.  Some of those wilderness experiences will result from efforts to know, love and serve God. Many will not. Regardless of the causes, our loved ones will spend time in the wildernesses of loss, sadness, self-doubt, ridicule and desolation. Maybe not now, but eventually.

For some loved ones, we will be there to help them find their way out of the wilderness. For many, we will not. But for each, we can try to do what Jesus did for His wilderness-bound beloved, help them to pray, console others, challenge others, and build community – knowing these pursuits enable them to survive the inevitable days of “howling, pathless wilderness.” In helping them to be priests, prophets and kings who pray, console, challenge and build community, we “nurture the strength of spirit that shields them in time of sudden misfortune.”

So what are the three main pieces of your story? First, who taught you to be priest, prophet and king – to pray, console, challenge and build community in ways that get you through the wilderness? More specifically, who nurtures your love of the Eucharist, your commitment to service, your inclination to challenge wrongs kindly, and your ways of building up community? Have you grown well?

Second, for whom are you called to do that now? Chances are you are doing a terrific job of helping your loved ones to cultivate the habits that render the wilderness manageable. For whom are you doing a great job of encouraging affection for the Eucharist, commitment to service, the promotion of fairness and a dedication to community? For whom might you be in a position to do more?

Third, are you connecting the dots? Are you seeing and reverencing the connection between (a) what He did on the night of His Last Supper as He readied his most beloved for their agonizing wilderness days and (b) what you do day in and day out to help your loved ones to be priests, prophets and kings who make choices in the wilderness that lead them to peace and fulfill Christ’s hopes?