Safety and security is what we long for. We live in a world of power, and we use that power to keep us safe and secure. If you listen to our language, we talk about shoring up our places of vulnerability. Let me be honest. I count on that for my computer software and any business I encounter online (especially when I share financial and personal data with them). We want to shore up against vulnerability in our businesses, in our families, in our military, and in our churches.
We don’t like vulnerability and consider that kind of weakness dangerous.
Yet vulnerability is finally what defines God and the ministry of this Jesus whom we call Christ. There is no way to understand the coming week … Holy Week … without fully understanding the role of vulnerability.
But vulnerability is not the same as weakness.
That was what made the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, John Lewis and many other leaders in the Civil Rights Movement a true challenge for White Americans who benefited from institutions such as slavery, Jim Crow laws, and even churches that perpetuated white superiority. These were the people who non-violently led marches and sit-ins, and they were considered a greater threat than those who violently acted out.
These were people who spoke the truth. As John Wesley might have said, they spoke the truth in love.
Most importantly, these were people who were willing to be vulnerable.
As I read Jon Meacham’s book on John Lewis titled, His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope, I was inspired by the unrelenting way Lewis and so many others maintained their presence in a place that was anything but hospitable to them. Before marches or sit-ins, they would often gather at churches. They would sing and pray, and then they would recommit themselves to a non-violent demonstration against injustice.
Their way was not the way others understood power. They did not attempt a coup or an outright war, though others, including Malcolm X, were on their way to violence.
The leaders of the non-violent Civil Rights Movement knew something about Jesus that the people in white churches did not understand. Jesus was not the militant messiah people in power desired him to be. Jesus gave us the example of the ages for vulnerable, non-violent resistance.
As we come to this Palm Sunday and the week called Holy Week, the primary theme here is vulnerability. It is not just about our brokenness, but about our willingness to be broken.
When I was doing work for my doctoral degree on brokenness among the clergy, I asked a leader high up in our denomination to talk to me about his experience of brokenness. This leader said, “I don’t know that I have any experience of being broken. You don’t get to where I am by being broken.”
That statement said volumes to me. It said to me that there is no place for vulnerability or brokenness. There is no place to authentically experience suffering. What I experienced in that moment was that this inability to be vulnerable or to experience brokenness (which I’m sure existed, but was quickly brushed away or under the rug) was what was contributing to a growing morale problem among the clergy.
Without vulnerability, there can be no empathy. Without empathy, brokenness will never give way to wholeness. Without wholeness, we will not soon be able to experience a life that Jesus called abundant.
So let’s follow Jesus in the days ahead. Look for his capacity to be vulnerable all the way to the cross. See then how Jesus connects with our vulnerability and our brokenness. Then listen as Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”
God, who is willing to share our vulnerability: Teach us to walk your way, to speak your truth, to give you our brokenness, and to live in your love. Amen.