I find it striking that Jesus spends time preparing his disciples for his departure and death on more than one occasion. Of course, like any of us, the disciples did not want to hear it. As much as Jesus prepared them for their anticipated grief, not one of them was ready for the trial, torture and execution of their Master. John, who reportedly managed to hold space with Mary at the foot of the cross, was the only exception.
Nevertheless, separation is a painful experience—beyond what the mind can comprehend and what the spirit can sometimes bear. There are no words to describe the agony and angst.
We are held speechless in the abyss of grief. Those of us who have lost grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, spouses, friends and children know only too well. The train we were riding on comes off the track and our life is never the same—not meaning that life cannot be good again, but that it’s never the same as it once was.
Jesus attempts to place hope within the minds of the disciples by explaining something to them that could not be comprehended by explanation but only by experience. Sometimes repeating a phrase helps to keep us afloat during times that we’re feeling like the title of the song by the Yardbirds in the 1960’s: Over, Under, Sideways and Down. It’s good to have a few of these watchwords practiced so that we may readily recall and use them in difficult times to help us find our balance when our world seems to have lost its gyroscope.
I am wondering if you have a watchword or phrase that you can repeat to yourself to help stabilize your spirit, mind and heart when the seas get rough. Can you think of one? I’ve heard some use, this too shall pass. Another is Jesus Christ have mercy on me or just plain, help.
Personally, I have found some scripture passages helpful. I use them frequently. My favorite from which I feel the power of God stir within me is in the Aramaic words of Jesus, I am the resurrection and I am life. I find the Aramaic to be much more powerful. If you’re interested, I’ll be glad to stop by, mask and all, outside your home and teach it to you. You’ll have it down in ten minutes. A proclamation of our Master that brings Eternal Life to you in the present in the matter of moments is well worth the ten minutes to learn it.
To understand the mindset of the disciples in their time and culture is necessary for us to begin to comprehend why Jesus would endeavor to mitigate their despair. When a man died in the Middle East, the family became disorganized. The mother either returned home to the family of her father or brothers. The children, if they were fortunate, are cared for by relatives, which did not guarantee the quality of care. If there were no relatives, the children would roam the street, destitute. If that doesn’t put a fear of abandonment in someone, nothing will.
Even when we’re not orphaned, to see orphans running about would put a sinking feeling in most us. I often wonder what goes through minds of the orphans or children placed in homes such as Legacy Ranch and this is why reaching out to them is so important. The children drink up kind attention as the words of Jesus play through my mind: Blessed are the merciful….
I had a strange childhood memory return to me while praying the gospel for this Sunday.
I was mid elementary age at an Easter Egg Hunt. We filled our baskets with sugar and chocolate and took our booty to a place to assess our take. I unwrapped a chocolate Easter egg and as I opened my mouth around the expected pleasure of God’s gift of holy cacao, my teeth bit into it and the egg collapsed, with the thin shell folding in on itself. The egg was hollow! The lack of substance was disappointing. To this day, I check Easter candy boxes to ascertain if the chocolate egg or bunny is hollow or solid. And guess which ones I choose?
The point of my story, is that when we take a bite into life, and what we bite turns out to be hollow, with no substance, there is a feeling of abandonment that life isn’t delivering something real.
How easy it would be easy for the disciples to fall into despair—that after three years, the teachings, miracles and comradery, the whole thing turned out to be hollow. And would God turn out to be hollow too? What happens to trust—to open up when we taste what to us appears to be abandonment. We perceive abandonment at the age level and development we are at the time and the experience can remain fixated like a ghost from the past.
I studied grief for twenty some years and worked in the field for a decade beyond the grief counseling a parish priest does. I read a book called The Orphan Effect and learned no matter how independent an adult is in their lives, even at the ages of 50 and up, when a parent dies, it is possible to feel abandonment like an orphan. I felt orphaned when my father died 18 months ago. Sometimes I still do. The point is—is that it’s natural and an experience that I have learned to sit with and take into prayer. Both God and the presence of my father come to me after a short time and a feeling of wholeness follows.
Even though Jesus was not the chronological age of a father to his disciples, he was still a rabbi-like father to them—offering instruction, support and attachment.
To have this jerked out from underneath them as it was on Good Friday, left them feeling like an empty shell on the inside.
The Advocate Jesus sends, is Himself—in the form of Holy Spirit. Advocate means that one stands with another. The beautiful thing is that Jesus does more than this. Not only does the Advocate stand with us, but that Jesus makes his home within us. Jesus is closer than our next breath.
So when life jerks you around, like it has lately—remember. Remember—we have an Advocate on whom we can call—a sure and present help as the psalmist would say (Psalm 46).
Our Advocate isn’t hollow—but is solid. And remember to ask our Advocate’s help to love one another. Having an Advocate and learning to love is a matched set.
Let Jesus complete you.