One of my favorite bits of 1990’s slang is the phrase “don’t go there,” with “there” usually being an undesirable turn in the conversation — a thorny issue, a dire speculation. The three words became a trendy retort in sitcoms, cable news debates and even a few songs by such diverse artists as British rapper Giggs and Neil Diamond.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve found myself using the phrase in a rather unexpected context: prayer.
As the coronavirus has seethed across the globe, killing some 144,000 and infecting more than two million, I find myself pleading with God to suddenly, miraculously end this nightmare: “No more, Lord. Don’t go there.”
Of course, speculating about the mysteries of God’s will is well above my pay grade. None of us can fathom why he permits evil and suffering, through which (as the Catechism candidly states) “faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 272).
Job took a worthy shot at sussing out divine logic, but after a detailed (and deserved) rebuke from God, he ultimately conceded that he had “spoken but did not understand” (Job 42:3) and “(repented) in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
On a journey of both penance and pandemic this Lent, the Scriptures have seemed to stress more than ever that Jesus has every intention of going “there.”
He did just that when Lazarus lay ill, waiting two days to act after receiving word from a bewildered Martha and Mary, who couldn’t believe their brother’s sickness had gone “there” and ended in death (Jn 11:1-44).
When Jesus announced that he planned to travel at last to the sisters’ home in Judea, the disciples warned him against going there: “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” (Jn 11:8)
Horrified that Jesus would ask the stone to be removed from Lazarus’ tomb, Martha gave a practical reason why the Second Person of the Trinity shouldn’t go “there”: “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days” (Jn 11:39).
Jesus went “there,” to Jerusalem, knowing the palm branches and cries of “hosanna” would quickly turn into Roman whips and demands for his brutal execution.
He went “there” in the Upper Room, transforming bread and wine into his Body and Blood, uniting himself with humanity beyond comprehension.
He went “there” in his Passion and Death, destroying sin “in his body upon the cross, so that free from sin, we might live for righteousness” (1 Pt 2:24).
And he went “there” by rising in glory from the tomb, assuring us of his unbounded love and power.
We all have “theres” in our lives where we’d rather not go: disease, loss, loneliness, poverty, confusion. But in Christ, we know that if those places are on our earthly itinerary, we do not travel to them alone. He walks with us every step of the way, and beyond every “there” waits a home we long to call “here” — forever.
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