Throughout winter in this part of the world, ice covered waterways, thick and sure, provide passage for snowmobiles and even pickup trucks with gear for ice fishing. But as temperatures start to rise and the ice thins, it is no longer safe. Frozen waters once able to bear the weight of moving vehicles now vibrate with the landing of a light seagull.
To remain on the ice at this point is to choose a frigid baptism with the warning of impending death unless soon retrieved from the water. The signs are all there. We see dark inky blue just below shallow layers of melting pools. We hear raging waters rush and churn with the momentum of a furious thaw in the background just beyond our sight.
And we step back from the edge.
When the ice of healthy community is solid, we move about confidently in the week to week responsibilities of leadership. When its easy to tell that the desire for peaceful strengthening of the body of Christ is the undergirding reality, we glide along in commitments of compassionate service in the world together. When the well of trusted support and mutual care runs deep with an overall tone reflecting a congealed choice to serve as one in solidarity, we can run for miles of ministry as did Jesus across his three years of public preaching, teaching and healing.
But seeing the signs of thinning ice in a melting consensus of mission leaves even the greatest servant heart with a chill of what may lie ahead when core values diverge; when we are threatened by rising waves of dissent causing a likely death to what has been, of what could be.
And we want to step back from the edge of emerging trouble.
Should we be set adrift on floes of ice not strong enough to bring us to the end of thawing peace, we will be invited to enter the baptism of willing death to a superficial understanding of servant leadership by firmly resting in the course of God’s love while marking the channel of his saving grace in rapids of rapidly changing contexts to rise above it all in him.
Perhaps you have walked on open waters with Christ by faith in the past and seen amazing movements of the Spirit during peaceful summer days when getting wet would not have been so bad … but now you see the aching cold of exposure to true danger should faith give way to fright at waters edge. You may wonder if there is another way to cross channels where deep divisions land on thinning unity and shake its fragile connection to the receding shores of common ground.
Rising above it all may be the farthest thing from our minds as we first dive below the wretched cold of what may seem to be the end and feel this dangerous grip of grace from which we’ll never be the same. But it is here we learn to take the plunge of faith and rise yet closer to the Son. We are never beyond his strong grasp of rescue.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)
On this holy week of Jesus’ passion leading to the empty tomb beyond the cross, may we encourage one another to reject the fear of walking on thin ice when he has placed us there. Our resurrection story is up ahead, downstream from what we face today.
On Sunday, palm branches of praise and prayer waved through a gathered crowd as Jesus arrived at Jerusalem. Cloaks were laid upon the ground of his acceptance as the Messiah. Hope was palpable as he entered on a donkey, a humble animal reserved for serving and carrying the burdens of others, a Servant-King who came in peace, gently and with open arms to rescue and to save.
But the ice of solid support thinned. The din of betrayal broke through thick friendship as Judas warmed to the thought of managing the Saviour of the world his own way. Religious leaders saw their chance to throw stones of accusation which would break apart the crowd and condemn him to his death. And the holy God of the universe put his reputation on the line. Would it survive going under the greatest assault on love ever mounted?
While Jesus stood at the edge of the turning point of history staring into the abyss of pain he would endure for us, he cried out to the Father, ‘Is there not another way? Yet, not my will but yours be done.’
And so he chose the cross standing tall in front of thinning ice to show that love is stronger than death, stronger than sinful pride, giving us a way to be moored by his mercy.
What will we choose?
“Lord, we bless you as the One who came in the name of the LORD. We love you as the One who bore through our icy hearts and drew us from the waters of spiritual death by passing through the raging waters of judgement to meet us where we are that we might rise again with you.
As we learn to live out your love in the contexts of our leadership roles, engulf us in your peace where human strength is thinned by heated waves of assault against our soul’s desire to be always known as yours. Help us trust your resurrection power when called to persevere under trial. Lift up each one submerged beneath a furious flood floundering in the throes of death to self in ever deeper ways to become yet more grounded for the good of all and the glory of your name. Mighty, merciful Saviour, shelter us in your love. Amen.”