Russian tanks are rolling into Ukrainian cities, the global death toll from COVID-19 surpassed six million, and Australian east coast cities, where I live, are recovering from major urban flooding – the worst in recorded history.
These are a few of the global headlines and unsettling realities as I sit down to write.
Each of us also carries the weight of personal crises – health, employment, unwelcome change, uncertainty, fear, doubt, betrayal. It’s not easy being human.
Such burdens, whether global or personal, aren’t new – and they aren’t growing exponentially worse, as though the world is lurching perilously toward the edge of an ultimate cliff.
In our darkness, a gentle voice whispers, “All will be well.”
Take Abram, for example. Most of us come to know him as Abraham, the great progenitor of the Hebrew people and preeminent ancestor of Jesus. We view Abram through specific cultural and theological lenses, but he was also an ordinary, flesh-and-blood person not unlike us.
In Genesis 15, we meet Abram at a turning point. He is materially blessed and a leader of his community but has no heir. According to tradition, his estate will be inherited by Eliezar of Damascus, his chief servant.
This does not accord with what Abram believes God has told him. His inner world is shaken, his anxiety rises and doubt creeps in.
Then, in a vision or dream, Abram hears the gentle voice of God assuring him, dispelling fear and anxiety, promising that all will be well (Gen. 15:1).
His faith grows, even though — now outside the dream — a “deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him” (Gen. 15:12). God smiles on Abram and confirms a covenant of mercy and grace that will be fulfilled by his greatest descendant.
Despite the encouragement of such stories, it’s not easy being human – even for Jesus of Nazareth, who most fully expresses the character of God and makes those covenant blessings universal.
In Luke 13:31-35, we meet Jesus as he learns that the tyrant Herod wants him dead. In response, Jesus instructs the messengers to tell Herod, “Today and tomorrow I will continue my work of healing and exorcising the sick and the troubled, and on day three I will finish my work.”
It’s not easy being human, even for Jesus. Amid criticism, hatred and mortal threat, Jesus focuses on his purpose and looks to the future, remembering God’s promise to Abram and to all the faithful, confident that all will be well.
For some, the life and teaching of Jesus was beginning to make sense, although everything was far from clear.
Earlier, in Luke 9:28-36, as Luke the historian records events, Jesus headed up a mountain — possibly Mount Tabor, six miles from Nazareth — to pray, accompanied by three of his disciples, Peter, James and John.
Jesus begins to pray, and they promptly fall asleep. Then Jesus experiences a mysterious, temporary transformation: “The appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29).
Suddenly, the three men awaken. They witness the strange sight and observe that Jesus is listening to two ancient prophets, Moses and Elijah, also clothed in dazzling white, briefing Jesus on his imminent departure.
It’s not easy being human in such a situation. Glory and ancient prophets aside, the word “departure” is the word “exodus.” Definite, final, permanent.
In Luke for Everyone, Tom Wright makes the parallel between Moses leading Abram’s descendants out of slavery in Egypt and home to the promised land, and Jesus leading all of God’s people out of the slavery of sin and death, and home to their promised inheritance — the new creation in which the whole world will be redeemed.
For Jesus, betrayal and suffering is inevitable. But out of tragedy will come triumph, glory and peace – a time when all will be well.
But Luke’s story is not done. Suddenly, the mountain is enveloped in a thick cloud, and Peter, James and John’s senses are dulled. They cannot see, and sounds are muffled. They are terrified.
From the cloud comes a voice, authoritative, compelling, warm, filled with love: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him” (Luke 9:35). The cloud lifts, and there they are, in prosaic Galilee, standing beside Jesus.
Only much later did they fully appreciate what they saw and heard that day on the mountain. John writes, “We observed his glory … and have all received grace upon grace from his fullness” (John 1:14, 16).
With the promises made to Abram, and another Palestinian mountain in mind, a later follower of Jesus writes, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20).
Put another way, it’s not easy being human, but all will be well.
But for Jesus, between the glory of transfiguration and the greater glory of consummation lay a deep valley of anguish and suffering, a time of darkness, forsakenness and finally, incomprehensibly, death.
And yet, through the life and death of Jesus, people of every generation find ultimate meaning and hope, experience divine mercy and grace, and draw strength to stand firm in testing times.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom should I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — whom should I dread? Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart be courageous. Wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:1, 14).
It’s not easy being human, but all will be well.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a lectionary-based series for the season of Lent. One article will be published each week, offering reflection on one or more of the lectionary texts for the upcoming Sunday. The previous articles in the series are:
Lenten Lectionary | Returning to God, Returning to Self | Molly T. Marshall
Lenten Lectionary | Wilderness Living | Merianna Harrelson