Committing to a higher power
I was recently re-watching the American political drama series, The West Wing. In one episode the White House chief of staff, Leo McGarry (played by John Spenser) who is a recovering alcoholic offers comfort to the deputy chief of staff, Josh Lyman (played by Bradley Whitford) during a period when Josh is suffering with PTSD.
McGarry tells Lyman this story: There was a guy who one day when walking along a footpath fell down an open manhole and was trapped in a deep trench. Several people walked by and, despite his calls for help, none paid him any attention.
Eventually a friend of his came along and, recognising his pal he called, “Hey Harry! Can you give me a hand? I am stuck in this trench and can’t get out!”
Harry immediately leaps down into the trench. His friend looks at him incredulously and sputters, “Harry, what are you doing? Now we are both trapped!”
Harry turns to his friend and says, “Hey! It’s ok! I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out!”
The point of the story was that McGarry, as a recovering alcoholic, knew exactly what it was like to suffer mental anguish and hopelessness. As someone who had found a ‘way out’, he could offer Lyman empathy, support, and direction as Lyman tried to navigate his depression.
The potency of the Easter story is that Jesus has been there before us. He has suffered the worst that life can dish up; and has, not only found a way out, but has become our ‘way out’. His death and resurrection are the guarantor that, as the Psalmist proclaimed, “The Lord hears when I call out” (Ps 4:4).
The Easter story is neither a simple sop for broken hearts, nor an empty reassurance that God will rescue us from our troubles. As today’s gospel demonstrates, Jesus was raised still bearing the wounds of his suffering.
God did not spare Jesus the cross despite his “agony in the garden.”
Similarly, the character of Leo McGarry in The West Wing was a “recovering alcoholic.” He was not cured of his alcoholism. Through his participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, McGarry had committed his alcoholism to a “higher Power” and, thereby, found the strength to “not take the next drink”. But he also found the wisdom and charity to offer Josh Lyman the support he needed to begin the process of recovery from depression and hopelessness.
For us too, the story of the resurrection is one that can bring hope and encouragement; but by committing ourselves to the “higher power” of the actual person of the resurrected Jesus, we can find the strength to begin a new journey of recovery – to find a way out.
And more! In bringing our sufferings to Jesus, we also find the wisdom and the charity to empathise, support and lead others who need a “way out” of the darkest trenches of the human condition.
Ian J Elmer
© Majellan Media 2021