Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Years ago, my older brother was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia when he was just 26. We had already been through a lot, as a family, so this sudden and devastating news about my favorite brother (okay, it so happens that is he is also my only brother, but that doesn’t make the favorite any less true) was almost more than anyone could bear. It was August, and I had planned a camping trip before heading back to school for the fall. I diverted, driving to Atlanta to hang out with my brother and his wife in the hospital room for a few days instead.
To be with them. I couldn’t do anything for them. I couldn’t fix it or make it go away. I couldn’t remove the discomfort nor even, if it came to that, donate bone marrow. To my profound disappointment, I was not a match. I was helpless, and it was horrifying. But I was with them. Even when I returned to school, I remained with them, standing in the dark waiting for a dawn, which statistically had a tiny chance of coming, at least of looking the way I wanted it to look: full remission and recovery. But his doctor refused to let him focus on statistics. Sam was either going to live 100% or die 100%, and he wanted Sam focused on living, not worrying about some bleak percent. And so I did what I could: I was with them. Much of the time in life, that’s all any of us can do. It turns out, that’s the most precious gift any of us can give one another.
Diana Butler Bass, noted author and speaker, writes about how Jesus’ passion reveals that how he not only suffered for us, he suffered with us, and she reflects on why that notion of with is so important:
In my regular life, I am a writer. I choose prepositions carefully. There is a huge difference between for and with. For is a preposition of distance, a word that indicates exchange or favor, it implies function or purpose. I do something for you; you do something for me. Notice: someone does something on behalf of or in another’s place. For is a contract. Jesus suffered for us—means that Jesus did something on our behalf, he acted on behalf of a purpose, in place of someone else. “For” always separates the actor and recipient, distancing a sacrificial Jesus from those for whom he died. At the Cross, Jesus is the subject; we are objects.
By way of contrast, with is a preposition of relationship, implying accompaniment, or moving in the same direction. Rather than something done for you, with makes you a participant in the action or transaction. With is the preposition of empathy, of sympathy, of being on the same side, of close association. “No, you needn’t go for me; I’ll go with you.” With is about joining in, being together.
My brother Sam did ultimately recover from leukemia and continues to live a beautiful life of with-ness today, and for that I am deeply grateful. But I know other dawns which didn’t come, or at least not the way any of us wanted them to. I know in my own life, the times when I have had the privilege of journeying with someone have been the most precious, having given life its richness and meaning. Journeying with is a way of life.
This coming week is Holy Week, when we as the church walk with Jesus in and through his Passion. Many of us will gather and take the journey together, listening once again to the story and affirming our desire to be with Jesus through the very real darkness and horror we can experience and into new life. Others of us are away or for other reasons are unable to share the liturgy’s invitation to journey with. Wherever you are, near or far, I hope you’ll find some way, take some time, to reflect on the incredible gift of God, our Source, choosing to be with us even in the face of suffering and death, saying with his whole being: I’ll go with you, no matter what. How can and do we choose, in the way we live our lives each day, to be joined with God and each other, to allow others to join with us. I look forward to hearing your reflections.
Peace and hope to see you on Sunday!