“. . . Worthy is the lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” Rev 5:12.
That Jesus overcomes by dying certainly challenges our way of doing things. We prefer to approach God from a position of strength. We prefer to win on the basis of our talents, not God’s grace. Through the slain Lamb, however, we learn that true victory comes in sacrifice and weakness. The sacrifice of Christ compels us to depend on God’s vindication rather than on our own abilities or efforts. Jesus sets the example of true victory and we are called to follow Him.
Most writers jealously protect their schedules and their privacy. But toward the end of his life Henri Nouwen broke down such barriers of professionalism. Trained in Holland as a psychologist and a theologian, Nouwen spent his early years achieving. He taught at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard. He averaged more than a book a year and traveled widely to give lectures. But in the process, his own spiritual life was dying.
Ten years before his death he made a radical break with the past and became priest in residence at a home for the seriously disabled in Toronto. He lived in a simple room with a single bed, one bookshelf and a few pieces of Shaker-style furniture. No fax machine, no computer, no PDA or Daytime calendar; he found spiritual serenity amidst the cast-offs of society.
Philip Yancey visited him one day. He watched Nouwen serve communion to Adam, a retarded 26-year-old man, unable to talk, walk or dress himself. Adam gave no sign of comprehension, drooled throughout the ceremony, and grunted loudly a few times. Nouwen confessed that it took him nearly two hours each day to bathe and dress Adam, brush his teeth, comb his hair, and guide his hand as he tried to eat breakfast. For Nouwen, these hours of “holy inefficiency” became a chamber of prayer and meditation.
Was this the best possible use of a great writer’s time? Couldn’t someone else take over the manual chores? Nouwen did not think of these acts as a sacrifice. He insisted, “I am not giving up anything, it is I, not Adam, who gets the main benefit from our friendship.”
It had been difficult at first. Physical touching, affection, and the messiness of caring for an uncoordinated person did not come easily. But he had learned to love Adam, to truly love him. In the process he had learned what it must be like for God to love us– spiritually uncoordinated, retarded, able to respond with what must seem to God as inarticulate grunts and groans. In Adam’s face he learned that one did not have to achieve to be loved by God, one could rest in His love. Nouwen followed the Lamb’s path to victory.