Holy Week Meditations: Monday

Over a hundred years ago in the Deep South, a phrase commonplace in our Christian culture today, born again, was seldom used. Rather, the words used to describe the breakthrough into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ were: "I was seized by the power of a great affection."

It was a profoundly moving way to indicate both the initiative of almighty God and the explosion within the human heart when Jesus becomes Lord. Seized by the power of a great affection was a visceral description of the phenomenon of Pentecost, authentic conversion, and the release of the Holy Spirit.

In March 1986 I was privileged to spend an afternoon with an Amish family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Jonas Zook, a widower, is eighty-two years old. His oldest daughter Barbara, 57, manages the household. The three other children, Rachel, 53, Elam 47, and Sam 45, are all severely retarded. When I arrived at noon with two friends, Joe and Kathy Anders, "little Elam" - about four feet tall, heavy-set, thickly bearded, and wearing the black Amish outfit with the circular hat - was coming out of the barn some fifty yards away. He had never laid eyes on me in his life, yet when he saw me step out of the car, he ran lickety-split in my direction. Two feet away, he threw himself into the air, wrapped his arms around my neck, his legs around my waist, and kissed me smack on the lips.

To say that I was stunned would be an understatement. But in the twinkling of an eye, Jesus set me free. I returned Elam's kiss. Then he jumped down, wrapped both his hands around my right arm, and led me on a tour of the farm. The Zooks raise piglets for a living.

A half-hour later at a lovely luncheon prepared by Barbara, Elam sat next to me. Midway through the meal, I turned around to say something to Joe Anders. Inadvertently, my right elbow slammed into Elam's rib cage. Hi did not wince; he did not groan. He wept like a child. His next move utterly undid me. Elam came to my chair and kissed me even harder on the lips. Then he kissed my eyes, my nose, my forehead, and my cheeks. And there was Brennan, dazed, dumbstruck, weeping, seized by the power of a great affection. In his simplicity, Elam Zook was an icon of Jesus Christ. Why? Because his love for me did not stem from any attractiveness or lovability of mine. It was not conditioned by any response on my part. Elam loved me whether I was kind or unkind, pleasant or nasty. His love arose from a source outside of himself and myself. Jesus came as the revealer of love. Jesus reveals God by being utterly transparent to him. What had been cloaked in mystery is clear in Jesus - that God is love. No man or woman has ever loved like Jesus Christ. Therein lies his divinity for me.

Jesus was seized by the power of a great affection and experienced the love of his Father in a way that burst all previous boundaries of understanding. And it is this Jesus, the wounded Jesus, who provides the final revelation of God's love. The crucified Christ is not an abstraction but the ultimate answer to how far love will go, what measure of rejection it will endure, how much selfishness and betrayal it will withstand. The unconditional love of Jesus Christ nailed to the tree does not flinch before our perversity. "He took our sicknesses away and carried our diseases for us" (Matt. 8:17).

-Brennan Manning (1934-)

(Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone.)


Anonymous said...

That was special!! Mom