Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. (John 3.14-15)
My Great-Uncle Grady was the stuff of family legend. He pastored a large, well-heeled Memphis congregation, but you’d never know that by his demeanor. He was extremely comfortable in his own skin and a magician at turning phrases. In the pulpit or at the dinner table, he could conjure a wry remark that put the perfect button on the topic at hand. In a family known for its gifts of gab, Grady’s knack for distilling a complex situation into a few words proved mighty handy.
In addition to shepherding his flock, Grady stepped into pastoral shoes whenever sickness and death overshadowed our family. He steered us through our dark valleys, overseeing arrangements and accommodations, running errands, scheduling meals, completing paperwork—tending to all the details so the rest of us could focus on what really mattered: finding comfort, processing pain, and regaining our strength. In times of crisis, Grady was a very busy man. While he was off, finishing one to-do list, a new one was waiting for him when he returned. On one occasion (as the story goes), he walked in the door only to be told he needed to turn around and see to a fresh set of needs. To which Grady sighed, “I can’t get anywhere for going someplace.”
I always reach for this story right about now, near the midpoint in Lent’s progress. The initial blow of being jettisoned into a metaphorical wilderness has long been absorbed. The reckoning with repentance and coping with new changes that Lent inspires in us is underway. And in the middle of all this emotional and spiritual sorting-out, matters of practical living keep rearing up. There are jobs to go to, bills to pay, errands to run, spouses and families needing attention. Time is at a premium. Frustration is high. And we may feel like Grady: we can’t seem to get anywhere for going someplace.
It’s a fine time to take a deep breath and remind ourselves where we’re headed. This desert road steers us to a hillside, to the foot of a cross, and to a Savior Who waits for us there. When Nicodemus came to Jesus and asked, “What’s this all about?” Jesus evoked a famous legend, in which Israel’s wilderness trek was suddenly stopped by an influx of poisonous snakes. They had been released into their camp because God’s people had become overly concerned with pragmatic issues. They’d lost their faith in God’s power to sustain them and began to complain about being stranded in the middle of nowhere. God told Moses to fashion a serpent, raise it on a high standard, and anyone who’d been snake-bit needed only to look and live.
The rigors of Lent are no match for the majesty of the cross. When we’re feeling disoriented, fatigued, frustrated—when we’re tempted to complain about being stranded in the middle of nowhere—we have only to look toward the cross and we will live. Keep Calvary in sight. There is healing there. Love is there. Grace is there. We are going someplace. And we will get there.