Go! for Lent: Matthew 2:7-8
When I was in seminary, I had the great opportunity to travel to Liberia to learn about the relationship between the Episcopal Church of Liberia and The Episcopal Church. I had never been to Africa, and I knew very little about Liberia past what one finds on the internet before I found myself on the airplane, but I remember clearly coming with so much hope, curiosity and expectation as our plane landed amid palm trees on the coast of Liberia. Like the Wise Men, I came bearing gifts, tokens of my home in Colorado. I too came into a place that was unsettled, we arrived in Liberia in January of 2008, just a year after President Sirleaf was elected and just under five years since the Civil War ended. Liberia was covered in the scars of the war but blanketed in hope. During my week there, we attended many meetings and visited many sites. Each place we visited we would hear a presentation about how they were trying to rebuild after the war, we were given a sense of the dreams and hopes of what Liberia wanted to become. Each place we stopped, I would find the hand of a new friend in mine and would be told the story of their time during the war. These stories were never easy to receive, and being early January I often found myself thinking back a few days to the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and its collect: “We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love and peace…” I found that I was starting to get stuck in the past, stuck in the lament associated with Holy Innocents in spite of being surrounded by dreams of what would be. It’s difficult to see the hope of transformation and resurrection if you are only looking behind you.
On Sunday morning, I was invited to attend Good Shepherd Episcopal Church. Good Shepherd is an amazing church, in spite of being in a busy area; the church members were able to protect the church building from any major harm during the war. They had also started an orphanage, Good Samaritan, to give children a safe place to be in a dangerous part of town. There was an enormous nativity scene out front, because that Sunday was Epiphany and the Gospel was about the Wise Men coming to see Jesus. The sermon that day was preached by the Rev. Emanuel Sserwada, a Ugandan who worked for the Presiding Bishop and was travelling with us. He said, the important thing to remember about Epiphany is that when the Wise Men come and see Jesus they were so moved by drawing close to Christ that they had no other choice but to go home a different way. I realized as I sat listening to that sermon that this is what had happened to me, six months before I was ordained, I found myself in Liberia meeting Jesus and I had no other option but to go home a different way. In looking back, I was missing that resurrection was just up ahead of me. We must honor the journey that we have gone through in life, we must name and claim the past, but we, like the Wise Men, must pay attention to those moments when we meet Jesus and are never quite the same, we must pay attention to the holy and to the call for transformation and resurrection.
The thing that I continue to find most refreshing about following Jesus is that he never shows up where you expect him to, often he shows up in the unexpected places and faces in our lives. If we are truly following Jesus, then we have to seek him out, we have to go about our days looking for where Jesus will show up, and when we find him, we cannot continue with our day as we already had. It’s easy to get busy, easy to get caught up in the pain and suffering that are very, very real in our world, but if we don’t go and find Jesus in the midst of those places then we will never be given the opportunity for transformation. We must go and find Jesus, and come back differently than the way we arrived. What I learned on the red dirt roads of Liberia is that the only way to go forward from the times when you get to see Jesus face to face is to go differently then you came. The world is desperate for transformation and resurrection. Holy Innocents and Epiphany remind us that change doesn’t come easily, but it will only come if we bravely go and meet Jesus and then bravely go back a different way then we came. We must go back changed and willing to participate in what Jesus is already doing among us and in spite of us in the world.
This Lent, where will you meet Jesus and how will you be different from the experience? How will you go forth from Jesus different then you came?