Election Day Love
Inspired by Matthew 5: 1-14
My daughter was in Kindergarten the first time she saw a crucifix. We were sitting in a cold, wooden pew in an empty sanctuary at St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church in Denver. My daughter looked up at the stained-glass windows, pointed to the scene closest to where we were sitting, and asked me who that man was on the cross.
As the daughter of a pastor, my daughter had seen her share of bare wooden crosses, but never, until that day, had she seen a cross where Jesus’ emaciated, limp body remained nailed and on display.
I’ve read the Beatitudes many times, but never, until this week, have I noticed where Jesus was standing when he spoke fresh truths of the bigger picture to his dearest friends.
Matthew 5: 1-2 reads, “When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions.”
Gathered on the hillside, Jesus offers a few breathless followers a new way of seeing the brokenness of the world, a glimpse of kinship present in a landscape of interconnectedness. The beatitudes that follow will blossom from a willingness to see the world from a different perspective, to understand the world from another point of view. From this view, no one is isolated and left locked alone in their home. From this view, no one is categorized as essential and treated as dispensable. Here on the hillside, Jesus offers a vision for beginning again faced in a new direction with a refreshed purpose that honors the sacred value and worth of all life.
This moment on the mountainside follows a notable rise in Jesus’ fame. Jesus has been traveling throughout the lands while masses of people begin to leave their homes to receive something for themselves from a man named Jesus. Crowds of people sick and in need of healing walk day and night with the hope that this prophet passing by would be the answer to their prayers and the solution for their suffering.
Matthew 4:24 tells us that, “More and more people came, the momentum gathering. Besides those from Galilee, crowds came from the ‘Ten Towns’ across the lake, others up from Jerusalem and Judea, still others from across the Jordan.” Crowds of people seeking mental, emotional, and physical healing, and in Matthew 4:24, we are told that “…Jesus healed them one and all.” Without meeting any requirements or making any confession of faith, Jesus heals every person that approaches him.
And, yet, when Jesus climbs the hillside so that those healed might see and understand a bigger picture of suffering beyond their individual experiences, only a few choose to follow. All the people gathered regardless of placement will hear the message Jesus preaches that day, but only those who have followed him up the hillside will see the bigger picture of which Jesus speaks.
If I am learning anything during this year of broken expectations, it is that it is not what we face that determines the severity of our suffering but how we choose to face whatever it is together. There is a stark difference in the suffering that comes from a culture formed by individuals pushing toward Jesus for their healing and the suffering that comes from a culture of people who climb the mountainside committed to holding more than just their pain.
While suffering is the open door for all deep transformations, it is where this suffering leads us that ultimately dictates what we see and what we do with the pain we endure. Do we huddle at the bottom of the mountain, expecting Jesus to return when we need an extra dose of healing so we can be quickly on our way? Or, do we take the time to climb with Jesus up the mountainside so that, seeing the bigger picture, our suffering may be transformed into blessing?
In my current experience with the pandemic, my personal life could easily feel immune and untouched. My daughter attends a small, private school that has been meeting in-person since September with no plans to move online. Our congregation worships outdoors with an average age of thirty years of age, according to our last worship gathering. I remain employed as a United Methodist Clergy full-time, supported by congregants who have yet to be impacted financially by the pandemic’s economic impact. I have a home to live in and people and pets surrounding me with love, warmth, and encouragement in this time of corporate challenge.
With the experiences of profound loss and suffering held a safe distance away, there is no personal urgency for me to follow the crowds flocking to find themselves at Jesus’s side. There is no dire need for me to climb a mountain to listen to an alternative vision of a system that, for me, at this moment, is working just fine. I could choose to close the eyes of my heart and remain comfortable with the view of the world seen clearly from the bottom of the mountainside.
I could rest in the grace of a God who will never turn me away, and I could ignore the sounds of suffering all around… if only my heart had not been broken open a million times before this pandemic arrived to break my heart open one more.
We learn to live into the bigger picture, not because we want to escape personal suffering, but because we believe nobody should have to suffer and live through it as if they were alone.
The big picture is not a polaroid snapshot. It is a process of carrying our suffering up the mountainside to join Jesus in living in solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, the misunderstood. The big picture is a theological exercise of connect-the-dots revealing pathways to new questions beyond whether we go to school in -person or online, whether we should vote for democrat or republican, whether we should worship in-person online.
We learn to live into the bigger picture when we hear the invitation to be born anew in the questions of reconciliation and resurrection, and we embrace the possibility of tangible salvation. The bigger picture denies dualistic equations that have no whole outcomes. In the bigger picture, Jesus shows us the intersections of realities in which our suffering, our acceptance of loss, creates new solutions where everyone can move forward together.
It is not pain and suffering itself that transforms; it is the labor of looking up to see our suffering connected to Christ’s suffering and understand that Christ’s suffering connects to all the suffering of the world. Salvation births in this acceptance that our personal suffering joins with the suffering of a Jesus crucified in a landscape in which all our suffering is connected, and thus none of us ever suffer alone.
Given our cultural reality, our placement as climbing companions resting beside Jesus on the hillside should offer deep comfort in a time of great isolation, division, and disillusionment. The image of Jesus climbing above the crowd is a poignant visual reminder that, amid mass chaos and unprocessed grief, if we look up, Jesus is waiting with his hand extended, prepared to pull us up and out of the deep division where we so often feel entirely lost.
Yes, we are in a time of great suffering, but it need not be our suffering that claims the end of our story. It is what we will do with our suffering, what we will allow our suffering to do to us, that will have the final word and reflect the fullness of our stories.
Whether we find ourselves seated as ‘losers’ or ‘winners’ after our new elected leader is announced, it will not change the opportunities before us.
Opportunities to connect our suffering with the cries of the world and with God’s call to solidarity with those suffering among us.
Opportunities bred in a collective story marked with blessings baked into burdens and suffering sautéed into each serving.
This is a feast served at a table with unlimited seating. This is a feast that is admittedly both nourishing and nauseating but most importantly, this is a feast during which we will never dine alone.
For blessed are we, the mountain climbers and the valley dwellers, for no matter what we see or where we climb or run or hide, we will know that wherever we are, when we look up, it will be the hand of Jesus that is reaching out that we will always see. Amen.