Monday, December 23, 2013

Pilgrimaging Towards Joy

SCRIPTURE READING:  Matthew 11.2-6 (NRSV)  When John heard in prison what the Messiah  was doing, he sent word by his disciples  and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Pilgrimaging Towards Joy

The thing about pilgrimaging towards joy is that in the journey itself, we often cannot even imagine the joy that awaits us at our destination . . . and thus do we all too often lose our joy in the journeying.

So it was with John the Baptist. . . sitting in jail awaiting his sentence of execution by beheading at the hands of those who have power but no scruples . . . the ability to carry out the sentence with no understanding why they even would. . . John is on death row and death row is no place for joy.

John asks of Jesus . . . are we still awaiting our Messiah or are you the one?  Jesus’ answer isn’t much comfort for John . . . the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 

John already knows all that.  What John’s question is saying, in effect, is this: But what about me!?!  They are going to kill me!  What are you going to do about that!?!

Jesus’ literal answer is nothing.  Jesus does nothing about John’s execution.  There is no last minute reprieve.  John must travel, as must we all one way or another, through his own death to find his paradise.

And at some level, that just seems so very unfair.

The pilgrimage that our Messiah takes and invites us to join is, like old age, most definitely not for sissies.  If we have an expectation that our prayers are like ransom demands God must meet in order to have our allegiance, we expect in vain.  If we condition our faith on certain outcomes, we believe in vain.

Yet it is joy towards which we journey . . . always . . . whether we know it or not . . . believe it or not . . . live it . . . or not.

It’s not the joy we expected, this present gift-wrapped in a baby’s skin only to be opened to find there lying a cross.

But it is joy.

It is the joy of Job standing speechless before the Lord.

The joy of Adam and Eve no longer in a garden but God walking alongside nonetheless.

The joy of Thomas seeing his risen Lord still bearing the wounds.

It’s the hard-scrabble joy of eking out a crop from unwilling ground. . . the joy of hoping against all hope that this journey we call life actually has a destination . . .

In the movie Empire of the Sun, a Welsh lullaby, Suo Gan is sung three times by a boy tenor . . . at the beginning, at the climax of the war and at the end.

At the beginning, life is good for this little boy of wealthy parents.  At the end, there is reunion, but we don’t know what will happen after.  In the middle is the crucible of life in the midst of great upheaval and death, when everything of before is overturned and rewritten.

In the beginning, the lullaby is merely a performance piece sung by boys of great privilege who happen to have lovely singing voices.  There is joy there in the doing of the thing well.  But this is not the joy that is our purpose, our journey.

In the end, the lullaby is the reassurance that there remains the possibility of hopes realized even after the greatest of sufferings imaginable.  And this too, is joy – great joy – the joy of a child reunited with parents thought lost forever.  Yet, even as great as is this joy, this is not the joy of our pilgrimaging.

In the middle is where the song finds its most poignant, most expansive, most damning, most condemning, most heart-breaking meaning . . . with no loving parent to hold, guide or protect any of them, a group of boys meet across a barbed-wire fence: Jim, the English boy in the camp stands on one side and on the other are a group of Japanese boys in uniform about to depart on kamakaze missions . . . these boys are the only ones left to send . . . in the midst of their warrior ritual sending comes the lullaby song of one lone English boy on the other side of the fence . . . singing his heart to these boys of the nation which holds him captive, he sings the song of the young everywhere . . . the lullabies once sung to them by their mothers, the only song they’ve got left . . .

It is the distant memory that things can be other than how they are, for they once were . . . there, in the singing, lies the joy of our journeying . . . the joy of walking alongside no matter how hard the journey . . . the joy of recognition as eyes meet across so many divides . . . the joy of the pilgrim, whether he flies or dies.

This is the joy of our journeying and it is holy ground.

Boys are sent flying away into a sky that will not save nor hold them.

The end, of course, gives us a hint of hope at the full circle of things as the little boy now not a little boy, rests in the arms of the mother who lost him in the crowd.

But life is the in-the-meantime part . . . the part sandwiched between all the beginnings and endings of every movie ever watched, every book ever read, ever life ever lived.

And in life, moving life, the full-circledness of it is scarcely hinted at, let alone seen or experienced.  Each joy is its own.  So too each loss, each arrow of pain or slight or fear or anguish.  All of them must be lived.

So it is.  That it is so with God as with us is beyond words remarkable, that out of this grand love affair with our kind, the God of All would empty God’s very self in order to become sufficiently small to be not just a human being, but a human baby. . .it is an act of self-sacrifice beyond my reckoning . . . this pilgrim journey Jesus took from deity to humanity and back again.

And lest we forget, in his very humanity rests the best exemplar of divinity . . . the giving over of self that all may have life and have it abundantly . . . and so it is in every house in every moment on every street . . . there stands . . . lays . . . walks . . . loves . . . lives . . . and dies . . . Jesus . . .

In the arms of a mother loving or indifferent . . . in the fields of the farmer industrious or lazy . . . in the schoolyard bully or bullied . . . in the hospital and the gymnasium . . . at the tables of peace and upon the fields of battle . . . in the dying of a child and the living of a man . . . all wrapped up into one, like the world-weary inspired salute of a child to fellow children gone off to a war not of their own making they can scarce understand . . . carrying with them the whispered memory of a mother’s lullaby . . . and there, at the crest of the sun, to die.

In the longing for Eden in this fallen garden of an earth . . . there remains an echo of a song once heard . . . almost forgotten . . . ours for the claiming . . . even when enemies stand across the barbed wire of their differences . . . even when children are sent to war . . . for even when we no longer know the words . . . the melody of a distant song calling our hearts to home remains.

Oh yes, John . . . he is most definitely the one.

*English translation of the verses sung in the clip above of the lullaby Suo Geer

Sleep child on my bosom
Cozy and warm is this;
Mother's arms are tight around you,
Mother's love is under my breast;
Nothing may affect your napping,
No man will cross you;
Sleep quietly, dear child,
Sleep sweetly on your mother's breast.

Do not fear, nothing but a leaf
Knocks, knocks on the door;
Do not fear, a small lonely wave
Murmurs, murmurs on the seashore;
Sleep child, there's nothing here
Nothing to give you a fright;
Smile quietly in my bosom,

On the angels white yonder.

No comments:

Post a Comment