We have been looking at a series of letters written by Henri Nouwen to his nephew, Marc, discussing his Christian faith. In the first letter, Nouwen talks about how Jesus is the very heart of his existence. In the second, he talks about how Jesus is the God who sets him free. In the third, Nouwen's focus is on the compassion of Jesus. Today, we continue our reading of his fourth letter to Marc, in which he examines the significance of Jesus "descending" to be with us. If you happened to miss any of the previous devotionals, they can be found in the previous posts on Facebook and are also available under the Pastor's Desk tab on our church website (irvingtonumc.org
Letter 4: Jesus: The Descending God (Pt. 2)
The fourth letter expresses Nouwen's desire to share with Marc the love of God made visible through the life of Jesus. Last week we read how Jesus chose, over and over again, what Nouwen calls the descending way - that is, at every critical moment in life, Jesus deliberately sought the way downwards, opting for compassion, poverty, humility. Now we get to the cross.
"Here we're confronted with a mystery which we can appreciate only in silent prayer. If you try to speak about it, you fall into absurdities that can only sound ridiculous. Who is going to condemn himself to torture and death if he can prevent it? .. But he does no such thing, for God's way of making love visible is not our way. God's way can only be grasped in prayer. The more you listen to God speaking within you, the sooner you will hear that voice inviting you to follow the way of Jesus. For Jesus' way is God's way, and God's way is not for Jesus only, but for everyone who is truly seeking God. Here we come up against the hard truth that the descending way of Jesus is also the way for us to find God.
Jesus invites the disciples to become like him. He will continue to speak in this way to the very end. Jesus never makes a distinction between himself and his followers .. In all things, Jesus is their example, and even more than that: he is their model.
It is so difficult to express the richness of the gospel. I would really like to write down every saying of Jesus because again and again .. he presents to us the great mystery of the descending way. It is the way of suffering, but it is also the way to healing. It is the way of humiliation, but also the way to resurrection. It is the way of tears, but of tears that turn into tears of joy. It is the way .. that leads to the light that will shine for all people. The descending way of love, the way to the poor, the broken, and oppressed becomes the ascending way of love, the way to joy, peace, and new life.
You are probably wondering how, in imitation of Jesus, you are to find that descending way. That's a very personal and intimate question, and in the end I don't think anyone can answer it but you .. Each one of us has to seek out his or her own descending way of love. That calls for much prayer, much patience, and much guidance .. and to pray is to make free time for God - even when you're very busy with important matters of one kind or another .. What's fascinating is that the first step invariably makes the second one easier. You begin to discover that love begets love .. and you feel yourself drawn to descend deeper and deeper on the way Jesus walked before you.
If you are seriously searching for the specific way which you must walk to follow Jesus, then I beg you not to do it on your own, but within a community. I feel more and more certain that the way of Jesus can't be found outside the community of those who believe in Jesus .. Often enough, you see that people who abandon the church have trouble holding on to Jesus.
It is time to bring this letter to an end. I hope that I've been able to bring Jesus a little closer to you. Until next time .. Henri."
After each of these weekly devotions, I have challenged you to write your own letter using Nouwen's topic as a template. I hope that at the very least you are thinking about what you might say after reading Nouwen's words. If you are writing letters, this will end letter #4. What does it mean to you that Jesus could have come to earth as the greatest king/ruler the world has ever known, but that he chose another way? What does it mean to you that you are called to follow Jesus' way of living? How are you succeeding and where are you struggling?
Next week: Jesus: The Loving God (Letter #5).