Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Theft and Loss in Holy Week

Well, I don't know about anyone else, but my Holy Week started off with my bicycle getting stolen from our carport, and the reality as I filed my tax extension that my business hit a big bump in the road this past year resulting in a loss of income.  The two are not necessarily related, except that they are.  I had been intending to sell my bike to recover some of the income I lost traveling to and from New Hampshire.  It was in good enough condition that I could ask a good price for it.  Now it's gone.

The theft happened while I was at St. John's leading Morning Prayer.  As I pulled into our driveway, I noticed my partner's motorcycle helmet and my bike helmet on the pavement of the carport.  I thought, "That's strange."  Then I realized that the bicycle, which had been holding these two items, was not there.  I ran into the house to ask my partner if someone had come to pick up the bike, or borrow it, or something.  "No?"  And so, a call to the police, a report filed.  And I was told I'm not likely to get it back.  Ever.

I was angry, not just about the theft, but that I had so stupidly left the bike unlocked (they also took the lock with them).  I was hurt that someone would just come up into our carport and take what was not theirs.  And I was frustrated that this happened just as I was making arrangements to put it up for sale.   My partner suggested that maybe a homeless person took the bike, and perhaps whoever stole it really needed it more than I did.  If that were the case, I might feel a little differently.  But it is just as likely that it was stolen for the purposes of a joy ride, and a trip to the pawn shop, so the thief might get a few bucks.

Theft and loss.  Those were the words that bubbled up to the surface for me as I lay in bed contemplating the state of my mind.   And so imagine how I felt as I listened attentively to the collect for the Wednesday in Holy Week this morning:

O Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his back to
the smiters and hid not his face from shame: Give us grace
to take joyfully the sufferings of the present time, in full
assurance of the glory that shall be revealed; through the same
Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with
thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I thought about that line of taking "joyfully the sufferings of the present time..."  and lined that up against my past 48 hours.  I can't say that I take any joy in "the sufferings of the present time" at all.  This prayer sounded to me almost like those martyrs of the early church who earnestly believed that they had to endure a gruesome death in order to achieve glory, a mentality that, in my 21st century ears, sounds an awful lot like the mindset of a religious zealot turned suicide bomber.

I then thought about this idea of Jesus being beaten and whether he really "joyfully" accepted those sufferings.  I somehow doubt it.  I believe that Jesus felt the injury, and while we don't know from Scripture if he cried, or shouted, or had any emotional response to being abused so badly.  I believe that each strike to his back could be seen in his face, even though he did not hide his face in shame.  How terrible to think that his hurt was so visible, and yet his abusers continued to beat him.  Those who are abusers, sometimes, seem to lose track of the humanity of those they are injuring.

So, what could be meant in "taking joy in the sufferings of the present time?"  I'm going out on a limb here, but I'm thinking that "joy," in this particular context,  is not meant to be "happy" or "light-hearted" or even having any kind of enjoyment and pleasure in what's happening at all.  "Joy," I'm thinking, may be a notion of letting go of fear or trepidation in times of trouble and sorrow, and recognizing that there is some truth in the old adage, "This too shall pass."  This collect has its roots in much of Isaiah 53 and the feelings of being "cut off" during the Babylonian exile.  But the prophet  notes that the suffering of Israel was not in vain and, despite what they may have thought, God has not abandoned them but is redeeming them even in the midst of their woe.  This, I'm thinking, is where "joy" might enter the picture. 

Put this along side my feelings of "theft" and "loss."  There is no pleasure in my bike getting stolen or the economic vagaries of being a self-employed massage therapist.  But to dwell in the hurt or anger or fear or trepidation will not get me anywhere.  A bike is a thing.  And my business goes through cycles of economic downturns and upswings.  But "theft" and "loss" go deeper for me at this time than either of those two things combined.  As I contemplated "theft" and "loss" I found that it took me back to my grief.  I have had to grieve the death of my mother, changes in some friendships, and the continuing sadness of leaving a church family.  Examining those things has pointed out to me how my grief, or more accurately, my hurt and my anger has been cutting me off from God.  How can I be reconciled to God when I am wallowing in the sufferings instead of  letting go?  I can shed tears, but I shouldn't drown in them.

Certainly, Christ is aware of the theft and loss that happens in life.  He knows about death, and he has been in that dark place of grief.  But Christ's life and death also point to his resurrection and ascension.  I'm counting on Him to be the reminder to me that the meanness of the world will hurt me, but it will not break me.

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