Follow the Leader

Do you remember playing Follow the Leader as a child? The "game" can become quite daunting and complicated if the leader goes where the followers don't want to go – up a high ladder, through mud puddles, squeezing through a dark, tight space (remember, I'm claustrophobic) – or when it means, as in the case of Jesus and his disciples, going to Jerusalem to suffer beyond imagining, to be killed in a public, humiliating way; and to be ultimately raised. It wasn't until after our recent trip to Israel that I reflected on the significance of the path Jesus took on the night he was betrayed, arrested, and tried of blasphemy and treason against Caesar. After his last supper with the disciples, he walked down the Mount of Olives, prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and was led as a prisoner through the Kidron Valley on the eastern side of Jerusalem. The Kidron Valley for Jesus and his disciples was the very valley of the shadow of death. The challenge to Peter and James and John and the other disciples after the Last Supper and the subsequent intense time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was “Will I follow Jesus across this valley and into the hands of the powers that seek his death?” “Will I follow Jesus even when the way seems hopeless and there is only darkness ahead?” During the Last Supper, Peter and his disciples had assured Jesus that they would follow him anywhere. But we know that after Jesus’ arrest, when Jesus was led by soldiers out of the Garden of Gethsemane and across the Kidron Valley to the home of the high priest to be judged, Peter vehemently denied knowing Jesus three times while the other disciples scattered and hid out of fear. Following Jesus across that valley of the shadow of death was more than they could handle. Contemplating the challenge the disciples faced in crossing that dark, foreboding valley with Jesus, I thought of a very familiar psalm of David (a psalm I recited over and over as my claustrophobia afflicted me body and soul while touring the tunnels of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem). David had two great roles in his life. One was as a King of Israel. But the role he grew up with, the role that shaped his heart more than any other role was that of shepherd. The 23rd Psalm is written by David from the perspective of a sheep following its shepherd, its leader. I’ve taken this psalm and rewritten it, imagining the perspective of one of Jesus’ disciples on that night when their Shepherd Jesus asked them to trust him even as he led them toward the cross. Jesus is my Shepherd; with Him I lack for nothing. He has fed my soul with truth among the green hills of Galilee, He has quieted the stormy waters of the sea and restored my soul. He himself is the right and true path and I will follow that path for his name’s sake. He prepares a table in the very presence of his enemies and invites all of us, unworthy though we are, to sit and feast with him. He washes our feet. He declares bread to be his body, wine to be his blood. Though we did not, could not, understand his words and actions, I know the One who has the power of death and the grave will be with me all the days of my life. On this, the night of his betrayal, I walk with him through the very valley of the shadow of death. Though the evil of that valley overwhelms me, I will fight my fears and the evil threats that lurk in the shadows; for he has promised to never leave me; that his rod and staff will guide and comfort me forever. Surely his goodness and grace will follow me wherever life may take me, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Following Jesus the Leader requires a soul anchored in God's Word. On the night of his betrayal and trial, Jesus said that whenever we eat the bread and drink the wine of communion, we are declaring to the world our faith in his redemptive death and his promise to be with us always. Another way of putting it is:  when we share be bread and cup of communion, we are blowing our cover… revealing our faith in the madman of Galilee… letting the world know that yes, we do believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God, given for the sins of the world. We are telling the world that, for us, he is the only Leader worth following.