The God of the surprise (5/4/12)
I never thought these words would pass my lips, but here they are: I suspect that simultaneous funerals and meetings aren’t complementary.
This morning was our weekly Projects Coordination Group (PCG) meeting… where the tradesman and technical folks at the Hospital get together to discuss and plan our ongoing projects. Immediately outdoors of our meeting room is the gathering place for the hospital morgue, where mourners meet to view open caskets and grieve before a trip to the cemetery.
In Australia and the USA, grieving at funerals is private, calm, with quiet tears. In Africa? Public, energetic, tears accompanied by wailing and screaming.
Hence our meeting was at times punctuated, at others totally drowned out by loud screams and wails from the mourners. When I used to facilitate workshops or seminars in Australia, I looked for spaces conducive to creativity and comfort: natural light, space, good coffee. Now…I look for the room that isn’t immediately adjacent the morgue.
It’s been quite a ride the last few weeks…the normal controlled chaos of life at a mission hospital, family members back home making big decisions, and Mardi taking on the role of head of paediatrics. Last week I was asked to serve on a local Kijabe Water Committee, and we were given 3 whole weeks to do investigations and prepare recommendations regarding short and long term solutions to the water crisis that Kijabe is experiencing.
But now…it’s Holy Week. I love this week…it has special significance for the church; concluding a season of reflection and fasting with a week of events which culminate with the celebration of Christ’s resurrection and our promise of new life on Easter Sunday. One of these events is Palm Sunday, when the church remembers Jesus entering into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and being hailed as a conquering king by the residents. The lectionary reading for Palm Sunday included John 12:16:
“At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.”
I was deeply moved by this reading and really felt for Jesus’ disciples; perhaps partly because of our last year here in Kenya. They must have experienced some extraordinary whiplash travelling with Jesus.
After five centuries of suffering one overlord after another–Persia, Babylon, Egypt (again), Alexander the Great, Rome–if you were a Jew living in the ancient Near East at the time of Jesus, at the top of your wish list was the coming of the expected Messiah. Someone who would defeat the occupying Romans and restore Israel to its former glory.
Enter Jesus…who spends 3 years of public ministry doing extraordinary signs and wonders (healings, exorcisms, etc) while repeatedly counselling his followers not to focus on the them, but instead to listen to him and what he was teaching. He even asked some of those he had healed to keep it a secret.
High hopes for a triumphant, conquering Messiah, which were starting to be met in this Jesus who performs extraordinary miracles…and then, after nearly 3 years of apprenticeship, Jesus begins to teach his closest apprentices that while he is in fact the Messiah, he will be betrayed, suffer and die. Surprise!
And then, he enters into Jerusalem and is hailed as a conquering king? Surprise again! I can empathise with the disciples, who ‘did not understand all this’.
I heard a preacher say once that she reckoned one of key aspects of God’s character as revealed in the person of Jesus is that he is the “God of the surprise”…you were expecting the Messiah to liberate you from the Romans? Surprise! You get liberation from being-dead-while-you’re-alive, but you still have to pay taxes to Rome.
The last few weeks has given us a bit of whiplash also…some high highs and really low lows, with little space in between for recovery and reflection.
But in the midst of it, I’m learning to hear the calm, strong voice of Jesus calling us to trust him, follow him, to not require guarantees, or a 5 year plan before we will take action. To relinquish our tightly held control over our lives to him and trust him. To be willing to be surprised.
Even if, like the disciples, we don’t fully understand ‘all this’.
Are you willing to put yourself in a place where it is okay to be surprised? Or do you have it all figured out, with no room for mystery? When you have it all figured out, there’s no need for faith, for trust…we pray, this Easter season, that you are able to make room for the God of the surprise to move in your life in unexpected ways.