When Jesus Meets Us Where We Are
Among the treasures I found in my late mother’s library is a book of sermons for Holy Week, written by William Dau, the first president of Valparaiso University as a Lutheran institution. It bears a stamp indicating that it was part of my grandfather’s library in the 1940’s – years he served as a pastor in Waterloo, Ontario. From the preface, we learn that Dau wrote these sermons for a series of noon-time Lenten services that were held at the Woods Theater in the Chicago Loop in 1919-1920, six years before he would begin his service at Valpo.
I settled in to read, enchanted by the thought that my grandfather held the same book when he was about my age and read the work of someone connected to us here at Valpo.
In the second-last sermon, “My Pilot” – a meditation on the events of Good Friday – Dau contemplates the blessings of the death of Christ,
[Jesus] has entered the dark unknown that lies ahead of everyone of us, and has filled its shuddering gloom with His presence. To Him earth’s pilgrims rightfully look for direction and support as they set their foot into the mysterious valley which lies just at the end of their journey. He alone is recognized as the experienced guide that can bring the weary wanderer safely home. 1
Perhaps Dau’s observation struck me because, since my mother’s funeral (and in the context of COVID and the continuously tragic news from Ukraine), I’ve been thinking about mortality a lot. The thought that the death of Christ not only provides humanity with an atoning sacrifice for sin, but also gives us one who, in some way, accompanies us in our own experience of dying is welcome, given the inevitability of it all. But there’s more going on here than Jesus being a tour guide through death – like some mythical ferryman.
Andrew Root sees it this way:
When God perishes with Jesus, death and nothingness itself is filled with God’s being, surrounding it in love, turning it to serve God. …giving God’s very being to death, death cannot hold God. God enters time… through barren wombs (Genesis 20) and the cries of slavery (Exod. 3:9), but when the eternal enters through death (the impossible), death is taken into the eternal and life bursts forth.… And while the being of God experiences the fullness of death in the perishing Jesus, this God is eternal, raising the dead Jesus into the eternal. Through death, life springs. 2
The place where God meets us with life is precisely the place where life has become impossible for us. This insight from Scripture is echoed in interviews that Root describes with people who have had some experience with the reality of God in their lives. In every case, the awareness of divine grace came in times of life where all else was exhausted – where the possibilities of human flourishing were at an absolute dead end. It’s not just that Jesus meets us in his Good Friday. It’s that we meet Jesus in our own Fridays – our own worst Fridays.
Good Friday isn’t just a stop over on our way to Easter Sunday. It is the point of Easter Sunday.
April 6, 2022
1 Dau, W. H. T. 1920. He loved me, and gave Himself for me: for the quiet hour during Holy Week. St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House. p.71-72
2Root, Andrew. Christopraxis: A Practical Theology of the Cross. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014. p.112.
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