Getting down on Jesus’ level
Changes in elevation seem to play an important role in the Christian salvation story. People are frequently described as “going up” to have an encounter with God:
- Abraham and Isaac ascend Mount Moriah to offer a sacrifice.
- Moses goes up on Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the Law from God.
- Jacob doesn’t do any mountain climbing; instead, he’s provided with a vision of a stairway between heaven and earth.
- The Temple of Solomon – that place where God promised to be present – is built on top of a mountain, said to be the same one that Abraham and Isaac climbed.
- The prophet Elijah calls down divine fire on Mount Carmel.
- In the Gospels, Jesus leads Peter, James, and John up onto what becomes the mountain of his transfiguration and Jesus’ crucifixion occurs on a place called that was called “Skull Hill.”
Anthropologists observe that this appeal of high places as locations of encounters with the divine cuts across human culture. It’s like everyone has an intuitive sense that, if you want to get close to God, you’ve got to go up. So St. Paul, standing on Mars Hill, observes that the Athenians mark that location with an awareness of the reality of God, even if their notion of God isn’t fully defined.
Even here at Valpo, a place reserved for the most intimate encounter with God – Holy Communion – is elevated. People who enter the Chapel of the Resurrection seem to instinctively know that the high table, under the enormous cross and surrounded by the light of the rising sun as it streams through multi-colored glass, is a sacred place, a place of encounter. When we’re feeling good about our identity as beloved children of God who live in a world of beauty and joy, that light-filled nonagonal (nine-sided) room beckons us to dwell in that joy.
Yet, the reality of our lives is that we’re not always on the top of our game. We’re not always capable of the climb. The Israelites told Moses, “You go up and meet God. We’ll just stay right here at the bottom of the mountain. If we go up, we will surely die.” They might have added, “We feel like we’re dying a little right here.”
Graciously, God isn’t elevationally rigid. Psalm 23 sings “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you, O God, are with me.” Further, the point of Jesus becoming human is this sort of expedition to lowness. Not that being human itself is a humiliation, but lots of humans feel humiliated by who they perceive themselves to be, by who they’ve been told that they are, by what they’ve done, and by what’s been done to them. So a child is told that she’s stupid. A friend discovers that he’s been betrayed. A competitor is laid low in a crushing defeat. Jesus is made to be our brother so that he might come down to these low places to be with us.
Luke relates the story of a meeting between Jesus and a man who is brought low. The man is paralyzed so completely that he is incapable of moving. Jesus is in the vicinity. He is teaching in someone’s house and he’s effortlessly healing the diseases of all who approach him. The place is packed with people and there’s no way that those who carry the man on his cot will ever be able to work their way to the front of the crowd. So they take drastic action and climb onto the flat roof of the house to dig a hole in the roof and lower the man down into Jesus’ presence. It must have been quite a sight, a combination of audacity and embarrassment. He is lowered down to the low place where Jesus has come to be with desperate human beings. Jesus’ first words to the man lying in front of him are words of forgiveness. This is the essential miracle needed by all of us. He only declares physical healing for the man as a sign of the forgiveness that is already real for this man who has sunk to Jesus’ level.
The Chapel of the Resurrection provides us with such places of descent. Walk the spiraling stairs that circle like the water in a drain down around the baptismal font. This is a place of the new birth. It is a place of death and resurrection. When life is spiraling out of control, at the bottom of it all is the death of Jesus, breaking our fall. It’s best when we sink to Jesus’ level.
Underneath the glorious high altar of the Chapel with its soaring Christus Rex (The Chosen King) is another table anchored to the wall as in a cave. In this darker place is another representation of the body of Jesus. This one hangs full of holes. There is no victory here, no sign of strength. This body seems fragile. Yet, this room is named for the glory of God’s Chosen One (Gloria Christi). When we sink to our lowest point and it seems like we are all alone, we find that Jesus’ reputation is based on being lower than we are and awaiting our arrival in that place of death so that we might reinterpret our sadness and sense of defeat and shame in the light of his great love for us and solidarity with us.
It’s best when we sink to Jesus’ level.
Oct. 23, 2019
- Archives of Devotional Writings from our Pastoral Staff
- “Some Lent!”
- (Your vocation here) of people
- A Point of Privilege
- A season of anticipation
- Advent = Hope
- All will be well
- Are we willing to cross the road for one another?
- Better Together
- Can we learn to be happy?
- Carrying the COVID Cross
- Come and See
- Did Jesus really suffer?
- Doing without in a life of plenty
- Don’t miss this moment
- Exiles with Vision
- Fear not!
- Feeling at Home
- Finding Purpose in the Journey
- Finding Words for Times Like These
- Forgiving others – and ourselves
- Getting ahead with Jesus
- Getting down on Jesus’ level
- Have yourself a merry little Christmas — somehow
- Holy Week and Taking Out the Trash
- Holy Week: The aid station late in the semester
- Hopes & Dreams vs Life in the Wilderness
- How glad we’ll be if it’s so
- I almost slipped
- In a time of uncertainty, these things are certain
- In praise of plans B … C … D …
- In Praise of Skeptical Disciples
- In the midst of grief, God will bring life
- Is there such a thing as being too forgiving?
- It’s a Three Day Weekend!
- It’s In the Bag
- It’s What’s Happening
- Killing off our future selves
- Lessons in fire building
- Let us work for real wellness in our communities
- Life Is a Highway
- Lilies and leaves and whatever else is beautiful
- Living in the Present
- O Lord, you know I hate buttermilk
- Of Fear and Failure
- On Christian Unity: When we’re not one big happy church
- On the Bucket List
- Pray and Let God Worry
- Preparing for the world to be turned rightside up
- Recovering from an Epic Fail
- Reformation calls for examination
- Remembering among the forgetful
- Seeing beauty in brokenness
- Signs of Love
- Starting Small
- Still in the storm
- Taking a Break from the Relentless
- Talking ourselves into it
- Thankfulness leads to joyfulness
- The Art of Holy Week
- The Funny Business of Forgiveness
- The Greatest of These is Love
- The Magi: Exemplars of Faith and Learning
- The Power of Small Conversations
- The Power of Taking a Sabbath
- The Spiritual Gift of Hindsight
- This can’t be done alone
- To be known
- You will be in our prayers this summer of 2020
- Ventures of which we cannot see the ending
- We had hoped
- What do you do with your anger?
- What is your base reality?
- What to do after you find your voice
- What to do on the day after
- What we know and what we don’t know
- When bad things happen
- When joy and sadness live together
- When the promise of resurrection is hard to believe
- When you offer up your broken cup
- Where God will be found
- Where is the good shepherd carrying you?
- Wilderness Journeys
- Year-end time management: Keeping the main thing the main thing
- Your Valpo roots will help you grow into your future