Christ before me,
Christ behind me…
The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)
Christ is with us indeed, but not only as an abstract object of faith or a historical figure we remember learning about in Sunday School. Jesus, the Christ, is the Word Made Flesh, the Living Word of God who speaks all things into existence. The Word was there in the beginning and the Word is already present at the end of days. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Christ has been with you on every step of your journey and Christ has already walked the path ahead.
Christ before me. This is what I mean when I say Christ has already walked the path ahead. This is what we mean when we say Christ is the Omega, the end, the consummation of all things. Christ before us cuts much deeper than the old cliche preachers use when they shout, “I’ve read the back of the book and we win.” It’s not just about some final victory in heaven. Yes, Christ went to prepare a place for us in his Father’s house, but Christ before us is also much more immediate.
Sometimes it feels like we are playing follow the leader with Jesus through the gospels, trying desperately to keep up with all he is trying to teach us, and then all of the sudden we hit the beginning of Acts and whoosh, he’s off in the clouds like Mary Poppins when the wind changes. Of course we know that is not the end of the story. God continues to be present with the disciples and later with the church through the Holy Spirit, but if we’re honest, most of us would prefer a “Jesus with skin on.” We’ll come back to that Holy Spirit issue in the next line of our prayer, but for now, how do we follow Christ up into those clouds?
Answer: We don’t. At least not yet. This is the problem we find in Acts 1:10-11 when the angels find the disciples staring dumbfounded into the sky when Jesus clearly told them to go and wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit’s power and then to go into all the earth to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom on earth.
This is where the “Christ behind me” part comes in. There are days when it seems like Christ has gotten just a little too far ahead. We were following along just fine and then we hit a fork in the road and we’re not sure which way he turned. We choose a path and after awhile we have made so many turns we don’t even know if we’re still going the same direction.
Yes, Christ went to prepare a place for us and in one sense, Christ is so far ahead we cannot see clearly the trail he has blazed. But just when it seems all hope is lost, we turn around and look back to discover that the very Christ we were chasing aimlessly through the wilderness of life is standing right behind us. We look back over our journey and realize he was with us every step of the way and we didn’t even know it. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus we ask, “Were not our hearts burning within us when he spoke to us along the road and explained the scriptures” (Luke 24:32). Something deep within us knew we could not possibly have been alone. Jesus would not have abandoned us. And yet we felt alone and abandoned. We didn’t know which way to go and we felt lost and afraid.
Maybe you’re in that place right now, feeling lost, alone and afraid. You know Christ has gone ahead of you and is calling you to something greater, but you have no idea what. This is a far more common experience than we would like. Running ahead in a state of panic rarely gets us where we need to go. It only creates more panic. Maybe we need to stop, take a breath, and turn around. We’re not turning around to go back to the way things were or to wallow in the nostalgia of the good old days when everything seemed more clear. No, we’re simply glancing back to get our bearings, to see where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.
And there we will see Christ, who has been right behind us the whole time encouraging us along the way. We will realize we were never alone and we were never really lost.
Christ before us. Christ behind us. It’s always both. He is never too far away.
1. Reflect on a time when you felt lost and couldn’t see the path God had for you. How did you feel and how did you respond?
2. Reflect on a time when you turned back to see the ways Christ had been present all along.
3. Where do you most need to see Christ right now, before you or behind you, and why?
Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:
Christ in me…