Gordon Hayward was playing his debut game of a four-year, $128 million contract with the Boston Celtics. Less than six minutes into the game he suffered one of the most gruesome and graphic injuries seen on a basketball court. He came down badly on his left ankle. The ankle dislocated and the tibia fractured.
Hayward says he will never forget looking down and seeing his foot pointing in the wrong direction. The crowds were covering their faces in horror. He could see his mother weeping. And then the pain hit. Seated on the court, Hayward grabbed his head in agony.
While everyone else, including Hayward, seemed frozen in place, before the horror, one doctor, from the other team, was dashing across the court. Before anyone else moved, the doctor reached Hayward.
He pushed Hawyard to the ground and looked him square in the face, forehead to forehead. He held that position as others arrived, as the ankle was popped back into place. He kept hold of Hayward, until he was carried off the court, into the locker room, into surgery, and into months of rehabilitation.
When the view is gory, when we are afraid, a touch, a look deep into our eyes, can help. It centers us. Grounds us. Keeps us connected. Stops us from being entirely lost. Assures us that we are not alone. The touch of another, helps us keep moving forward into whatever is going to happen.
Peter, James, and John experienced fear. On a mountaintop, they suffered a mouth-drying, heart thumping, knee-buckling fear. They weren’t terrified because they had seen something gory, though. They were terrified because they had seen glory. They could not comprehend the magnificence of the divine presence gathered there with Jesus transfiguring him with the law and the prophets and with light.
All this glory comes soon after Jesus has been teaching about his approaching suffering and death. He has invited the disciples to follow him into self-sacrificing living. To lose their lives. Now when a divine voice says, “This is my beloved son, Listen to him!” it must have been too much gore and glory for the disciples to take in. They fall to the ground, overcome by fear.
We may not be able to relate to the terrible injury that caused Gordon Hayward to be terrified, but we can probably relate to the gory and the glory that felled the disciples with fear.
I know my heart still races with a spurt of fear when I hear Jesus say, If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Oh, I can try to rationalize it, generalize it, contextualize it, tame it, scale it, domesticate it, but if I just let that clear call to lose my life for Jesus’ sake sink into my heart, I can start to hyperventilate a bit. I am pretty sure that taking that earnestly means part of my life going in a direction it has never gone before.
Maybe it’s the same for you. You want to follow Jesus. You may give a great deal of yourself to his work. You may find your identity as a Christian, but still – losing your life? carrying a cross? If that means what we suspect it means, it is frightening. Too real, to bloody, too gory. If we are not a little bit afraid I suspect we haven’t taken the call of Jesus seriously.
No wonder we can be shocked and disbelieving before the glory of the Transfiguration. The event shines as brilliantly today as it did for those disciples nearly 2000 years ago. The entire experience is a mystery to us as it was to them. But, we do get the point of the story. Jesus is the culmination of the law and the prophets of the Lord God Almighty; he is the very Son of God, the beloved child of God. If we hear that the voice of God say, “Listen to him” and we remember the gory pathway that this beloved Son of God has just laid out for us it is a genuinely fearful reality. Our lives are headed in an entirely different direction.
While the disciples lay prostrate on the ground, covering their heads in fear, Jesus goes to them. He touches them. He says to them, “Get up. Do not be afraid.” We can imagine that his touch, his presence, grounded them. Assured them they were not alone. Centered them.
Those terrified disciples, touched by Jesus, did rise up into a new life. When they came down off the mountain, they had been reborn into a life of courage and confidence, able to continue the ministry of Jesus. They aren’t perfect citizens of God’s kingdom at all times of course. But they are no longer paralyzed with fear and act with the compassion and mercy of the Son of God.
How much do we need to be touched by Jesus? How much do we need his healing, life-giving, transforming touch? Jesus comes to us – prostrate in our fear of what is gory and painful, comes to us when the glory of his true identity terrifies us. He touches us. He bends down to us and says directly to us, “Listen. Get up. Do not be afraid.”
His touch, the presence of Jesus centers us. Grounds us. Keeps us connected. Stops us from being entirely lost. It assures us that we are not alone. The divine touch gives us new life.
If we listen, we can keep moving forward into whatever will happen. We can head back out into a world where so many are wounded and injured. Like the disciples before us, we are now called to offer that divine touch to others. We don’t have to be glorious; we just have to be human beings who will touch scared, anxious, hurting people with healing and life-giving concern.
The day after the gruesome injury, the former Los Angeles Lakers great, Kobe Bryant, sent out a message to Hayward. It just might be relevant to disciples who have been touched by Jesus: “It’s a long journey but if you focus on the mini milestones along the way you will find beauty in the struggle of doing simple things that before were taken for granted. This will also mean that you will have a new perspective. You will see the belief within you will grow…”
We do have crosses to bear, pains to endure, crisis to face. We have people and places that are set before us to take care of, to tend and to set free. As we move into Lent, our crosses and Christ’s cross will become even more vivid to us.
But we do not carry our crosses alone. We do not endure our own injuries or witness the needs of others alone. Jesus – the very glory of God – has come to us. He touches us. In the gory and the glory, he tells us do not be afraid. Get up. Get up into your new life.