I was led to the room of a woman who had recently been admitted to Hospice care. This is never a decision that is made lightly and it wasn’t for her. She had recently fallen and broken her hip. Her physical well-being, already in a delicate balance, quickly declined. This injury exacerbated existing challenges and her family gently convinced her it was time for palliative care. I was invited to talk with her and offer a sense of peace about this momentous decision.
She was lying in her hospital bed, hands politely clasped across her abdomen. Her bare feet stuck out from the end of the covers. I introduced myself and asked her how she was doing. She answered clearly and honestly. Though much of her body was immobilized, her mind was very much alive. She acknowledged that she wrestled to accept her mortality, an inescapable truth when signing on to an end-of-life care program. She shook her head over the significant decline she had experienced after the fall. How could things change so fast? As we established a trust between us, she readily shared her Christian faith.
“You know, I’ve never felt as close to Jesus as I do now. I can feel Him in me—is that strange?” She had leaned toward me when she said this, lowering her voice as if she was sharing a crazy, delusional thought. Her self-revelation was vulnerable, an insight offered to a stranger about her spiritual well-being. “I’m not afraid of dying and I’m not angry about the fall because I don’t feel alone. I feel Jesus inside of me and that gives me a sense of peace.”
From the inside, flowing out, she felt the power of the great Healer she had always served but never met so intimately. Is it possible to be this physically broken yet so spiritually alive?
I visited a man who had lost his spouse of 47 years. He said he wandered through each day, lost without his longtime companion playing her part in the usual rhythm of their home. He wept as he extolled her gifts and entrusted precious memories to me. “What gives you strength for each day,” I asked him. Without hesitation, he answered that he stretches his arms above his head, holds his hands out in a receiving position and cries out to God. His eyes bright with intensity, he assured me that he always feels power travel through hands, into his arms, and flow into his body. From the outside, in, this influx of spiritual energy gave him enough strength to travel through another day.
Give us this day our daily bread. Just enough for today. That is sufficient.
I think of the strange language used to describe how Jesus arrived amidst our struggles to bring us peace. Ancient Christian writings affirm that Jesus condescended to live among us. Condescended is usually employed as an adjective in our culture and has a negative connotation. We’ve all experienced someone being condescending toward us, which can easily challenge our fragile self-confidence. If exposed to condescending words and attitudes long enough, this abuse can leave a damaging life-script in its wake. So what does it mean that Jesus condescended? He could have stayed in the far reaches of heaven, sending blessings from afar. Instead, He chose to leave His high throne and the glory of heaven to live as one of us. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “condescend” as “to stoop voluntarily and graciously.”
Everything about Jesus’ birth affirms this definition. He was literally born in a barn! He and his parents fled oppression and lived as refugees for several years. They lived and raised their boy in a backwoods town called Nazareth where they had no roots to anchor them. Leaving the safety of Mary’s womb, Jesus came out into the world entrusted to our care. He stooped from the time of the incarnation to His death on a cross.
The Church marks the beginning of Lent today with a smudge of ash across our brow. It is a mark of humility and solidarity. Unfortunately, many of us in Western Michigan tonight are unable to be together because a winter ice storm has cancelled worship services. I’m sad to miss that service. I need the reminder amidst a body of like-minded believers that Jesus is among us and in us. His power is sufficient for all our needs. He shows up when we cry out to Him and when we assume we are unworthy of His attention. In spite of wrong priorities and selfishness, Jesus begins the journey to the cross, voluntarily stooping to our power plays and graciously reaching out to each one of us.
Sometimes we sense Him deep within, then His grace extends out of us. Like the woman lying in a care facility, unable to look away from the truth of her mortality, we are warmed from the inside and we know it is God. Other times, perhaps in the congregational singing of hymns or the kind outreach of a stranger, the goodness of Christ comes from the outside. When we are open to receive His grace, Jesus moves in.
Over and over again, inside and out, Christ condescends to live among us. With or without the smear of ashes, we commit to walk alongside Him in the Lenten journey toward the cross.
God help us.