Ten Years Ago on Good Friday.
1 Peter 3:18 “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit…”
Brought to my senses by a phone call at 6:30 am, I answer the regular, morning call from my wife who will, no doubt, give me an update of the night’s activities as she continues in her recovery from surgery six days earlier. Rather than hearing the refreshed morning voice of my bride, I hear the concern and the tiredness–a tone I have heard all too frequently over the past two months. I learn a new word, “dehisced” — one of several I feel more competent using and one of many I’d rather not have a personal acquaintance with. She told me that the sutures from her surgery had failed, and she was being taken back into surgery to repair and bolster the incision site.
Moving with the quick urgency of adrenaline, I make arrangements to get to the hospital. One of the numberless angels we have called upon, comes to the house to watch our youngest while I rush to the hospital hoping that I make it there before she is wheeled into surgery. I make it in time, and after kisses and prayers I find my way back to the Surgical Waiting Room to sit it out with other shell-shocked family members of other unknown patients and stories.
Though this a repair, it’s this surgery that brings me to the end. The fear and what my wife calls “catastrophizing” finds a foothold, and I am brought low by the fragility of our human frame and the ridiculous presumption that my body has and always will work as it should. That is foolishness. Breathing is a miracle so too is digestion. Our frailty coupled with my own powerlessness makes all this hard to swallow.
This is the second time in as many weeks that circumstance has brought me to this room. The previous week, on Good Friday, a surgeon, named Jennifer was brought in to consult with my wife on the possibility of surgery should the Remicade she had received a day earlier fail to send her ulcerative colitis into remission. A mere 45 minutes after the morning’s x-ray, sent to measure the progress of healing or to alert to the onset of what her doctors referred to as “megacolon”, Dr Jennifer was back in my wife’s room suggesting that the pharmaceutical treatments thrown at my wife’s disease had failed and that surgery was necessary to avoid a perforation which would likely happen, and if it did, would be deadly.
Dr Jennifer is a straight shooter, and we were looking for straight shooting. So much of the previous month, had for me, the ambiguous qualities of abstract art. Lot’s of activity, but not much in the way of clarity. Dr Jennifer said, that it was “time to cut bait”. I know the expression, “fish or cut bait”, and I appreciate the metaphor. But in this particular circumstance? I know there will be cutting. But who’s the bait? And to what is she being offered?
So, in a matter of two hours, we went from waiting for medication to bring the hoped for relief and remission to the urgent alacrity of emergency surgery. Good Friday. I sit alone in the Surgical Waiting Room and keep vigil for one who suffers, and I await the news. Because there is nothing I can do, all I can do is receive. I hope to receive good news, a report that surgery was successful, that healing is immanent, that my wife’s discomfort has been dealt with. But I am an object of grace, I can do nothing, and I can only watch and wait for God to send and for others to bring what I do not have. He did and they did. God sent messengers. He sent them through emails, phone calls, texts, and visitors — all of whom I received as angels and whose comfort and company I needed. Though this wasn’t the news that was most pressing, it was important news. That though powerless, I was not alone, nor was Jennifer.
God had shown Jennifer that he was present. Just as he had sent the friends, physicians, and nurses, he had sent Stan, the transportation orderly from ER who wheeled my wife down. He had a simple manner about himself. When he said he would pray for Jennifer as he was leaving the ER staging room, Jennifer asked if he would pray then and there. He boldly and gladly prayed. He prayed that Jennifer would have faith to trust Jesus as the woman who reached out and touched Jesus and was healed, he prayed that she would have the submissive graciousness of Mary, who when she was told that she would bear the savior, she replied, “Let it be unto me as thou hast spoken.” And on that Good Friday, he remembered Jesus, who when given the cup of affliction to empty on our behalf and who would have rather had it taken away, nevertheless, he submitted and took that cup for us, for me, the powerless husband, and for my wife, the bait.
As we arrived in the ER, next to appear was Christy, the niece of a dear friend and herself a childhood acquaintance of Jennifer’s. She was scrubbing up to assist in the surgery who as it turns out, now lives in our neighborhood. For Jennifer these presences were evidences of God’s presence in her illness which was now culminating in this angling end game.
As I sat in the Surgical Waiting Room, I was a witness to how the suffering of one person, was bringing into my life friends from almost every part of my life. Friends, from high school, college, seminary, ministry, family members from across the state and country and globe. Friends who had moved out of my life and friends who were mostly my wife’s friends but who were relegated to engaging with me because my wife was often too weak or in too much pain to text let alone talk. God brought all sorts, and because of their love, and because of our need, we asked them to pray and they received those requests and brought them to God. I cannot adequately describe the expansive sense of gratitude which has frequently squeezed tears out our eyes as we received. The thinly veiled venier of keeping it together was often wrinkled and torn through by the offer of a seemingly insignificant service or thoughtful duty.
Three hours later, Dr Jennifer appeared and gave me the news. My Jennifer did great, and was doing well. I know that I asked other questions and that she shared more information, but I had fixated on the most pressing news that once I heard that news, all other news was only a curiosity. Good Friday.
What was it that brought Jesus to Jerusalem during the Passover that spring when Tiberius ruled the Empire? He might have brought an army with him to Jerusalem, but in the end he only brought eleven disciples and three of them would keep vigil with him as he entered the heart of his mission. And having been worn out with the day’s expectation of an unforeseen glory, the disciples would fall asleep not knowing that in twenty-four hours their worlds would come crashing down in catastrophe.
One of those disciples, Peter, came to the Garden ready to fish or cut bait. He brought a sword and thinking he would strike the first blow of the revolution and cut a path to glory found that the one whom he was willing to strike others for was still healing the stricken. And so Peter watched Jesus heal the cut Peter himself had given Malchus. As the guards bound Jesus and took him to the Sanhedrin, Peter, quite literally, would cut and run.
You probably know what happened then: that the religious elite of Jerusalem brought Jesus to Pilate and Pilate sent him to Herod (Antipas), that he was brought to the Roman guards who flogged and mocked him and handed him over to the executioners who brought him a robe and a crown of thorns by which they intended to bring this Galilean to his knees before them. They had their way with him, and they brought him the final and greatest token of his mission, the wooden cross of his execution. And to Golgotha, Jesus took that cross, and the sins of the whole world (1Jn 2:22). and he did as Isaiah foretold: the punishment that was upon him, brought us peace.
But on that day and the two that followed, there wasn’t peace–there had been and was, catastrophy. And so the disciples gathered in the Upper Room which would become for them, a waiting room–a room to sit out the time until hope against all hope someone brings better news.
Early on Sunday morning, Mary brought the spices by which she would do the last thing left to do for the one who had brought her so much. When she arrived at the tomb where Joseph and Nicodemus had brought the body of her Lord Jesus, Mary found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Mary’s arms, full of what she brought to offer, were stripped of the remaining honor, devotion, and service she could give because the body of her Lord was not there. And so, all that she had left to give, she gave–the tears of grief and the great sobs of loss. Having witnessed the shame and degradation of public execution, the loss of death and hope, even now must she bear the pitiless ignominy of a grave desecration? A question brought her back, “Woman, why are you crying, who is it you are looking for?” With a word of personal address, “Mary!” In that moment, the worst possible circumstance gave way to the best imaginable news. The waiting was over.
As I sat for the second time in as many weeks in the Surgical Waiting Room, fearful and catastrophizing. recalling the circumstances that had brought my wife and my family to this, I was bolstered by the news of One who brought me. I brought my wife to the ER. In the rooms of our waiting, Jennifer and I were brought to tears in pain and weariness. I was brought to the end of my rope. But as I sit in that room, I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude for the one who came to bring us to God.
And how about you? Do you know the events which have brought you here this morning? How is it that you got here? What did you expect to find? This room is not unlike that Upper Room, or the Forsyth Hospital Surgical Waiting Room. You can keep yourself occupied, you may divert yourself with the t.v. or your smartphones, but the fact of the matter is, you’re waiting for news and it is the most urgent news. Either the one who has suffered is alive, or that all hope is lost. On Good Friday, those many years ago, the news seemed to be of the most tragic: the just one was condemned, the healer was dead. But on that Easter morning, Mary brought news that the restorer of health and life and the world was alive.
“For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit…”
The Good News which gives all my circumstance meaning, is not that I must bring this or that so that I might come to him, but that I, having been brought to the end of myself, have been brought by him, to God — the righteous for the unrighteous, once for all.