From the Desk of Pastor Olsen
What I find remarkable about the gospel story is this: the few people who seem to "get it" are the last you would expect. Faith is found in the heart of a Roman commander; a pagan mother; a Samaritan leper; a woman reputed to be a "sinner." By contrast, the disciples remain pretty much clueless throughout the whole of Jesus' ministry. They become fearful whenever a situation spins out of their control. They fail repeatedly to understand Jesus' parables, grasp the meaning of God's Kingdom and recognize the struggle that lies ahead in Jerusalem. In the end, the disciples all fail Jesus spectacularly, betraying him, denying him and deserting him. The truth about Jesus was clear only to a few folks well outside the church (such that it was) while the insiders remained blind to the very end.
This has always troubled me, as well it should. As a clergy person, I am about as far inside the church as a body can get. I am acutely susceptible to ecclesiastical blindness and unbelief. So I try to compensate by looking for faith outside the church at every opportunity. Literature is one of the places I look for faith. I found it once in Eli Wiesel's book, Night, in which he recounts his experience as a Holocaust survivor. Wiesel relates a story about the gruesome hanging of a young boy by the SS in the camp where he was interred. An old man witnessing the scene kept muttering, "Where is God?" Wiesel tells of how a voice deep within answered, "God is there, in the noose." This profound recognition of God present as a suffering victim from the lips of one who is not and does not purport to be a disciple of Jesus rings truer to the gospel than any theology of atonement I have ever studied.
Robert Frost wrote a wonderful poem called "The Death of the Hired Hand." It is the dialogue between a farmer and his wife about a seasonal worker named Silas that they had hired over the years to work on their farm. Silas has grown old. He can no longer work as he used to. He frequently cannot finish a day's work in the field and sometimes has to quit working before the end of the season. Silas has come back to the farm once again old, tired and so sick he can hardly stand asking if there might be some work he could do. The farmer's wife takes him in and puts him to bed. When her husband comes home she tells him,
'Warren,' she said, 'he has come home to die:
You needn't be afraid he'll leave you this time.'
'Home,' he mocked gently.
'Yes, what else but home?
It all depends on what you mean by home.
Of course he's nothing to us, any more
then was the hound that came a stranger to us
Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail.'
'Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.'
It strikes me that Frost's definition of "home" is a pretty good one for the church. At least that is what we ought to be. Not a bastion of morality, not a community of the well behaved, but the one place on earth anyone can come to be loved, accepted and cared for. Sadly, I find too many people who see us as anything but that and probably the last place they would go to find love and acceptance. Again, it sometimes takes somebody outside our number to remind us who we are and how we ought to conduct ourselves.
That is the whole point of Holy Week, it seems to me. For one week we are challenged to focus our attention fully on Jesus so that he can remind us who we are. More important than that, however, is the Easter reminder of who Jesus is: the one who seeks us out after we have failed miserably, coaxes us out of our hiding places and reveals to us that he has gone out into the world before us awakening faith in places we could never have imagined. Such is the glow of Easter that nothing can obscure it-not even the church!