Lenten Reflection: Last Laps

Mar. 5, 2023

“Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”  Luke 9:51

A silver-haired man, eyeglasses nearly falling off the end of his nose, leaned toward me with intent and purpose.

“I figure I’ve got one more good lap,” he mused, with a soft chuckle. “One more lap to do something that matters.”

In his early 70’s, Bob recently retired as a high school chaplain. Family called him to relocate from New York to the Philadelphia area. But hanging up his professional sneakers wasn’t in the cards. He still had energy. He still had time. He still had an ember of idealism in his soul.  And he still felt God had one more job for him to complete.  Yes, a little tread still graced his proverbial shoes—enough for another lap.

So I shared our dream of starting a non-tuition-driven, private, Christian elementary school in East Camden. Still just a dream. Still needing someone to lead the charge. Bob’s eyes lit up.  This was the kind of last lap he wanted. He took the bait.

Was Bob qualified? Not really.  Did he have the expertise? No. His only credential was willingness…and a mustard seed of faith. Prior to leaving my office, he uttered a prayer I’ve not forgotten. “Lord, thanks for giving us tasks that are bigger than our own abilities.” A school—built from scratch—certainly fit that criteria.

For the next 16 months, Bob zealously applied himself to raising money, finding teachers and building an administrative foundation for our elementary school. That following September, the CamdenForward School (our elementary school, now educating children for over two decades strong) opened its doors. As the first class of kindergarteners bounded up the front stairs—armed with oversized backpacks and superhero lunch buckets—I noticed tears streaming down Bob’s cheeks. His last lap was successfully completed. He was ready to pass the baton to younger leadership.

Bob’s “last lap” has stuck with me over the years. Its urgent truth becomes more meaningful as each year passes. Time is finite. Sobering. Our “laps” are limited.

Jesus, too, had a final lap. There’s a lesson in it for you and me. Interestingly, the gospel of Luke disproportionately spends nine of its 24 chapters on Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem—his last lap. Jesus, well aware of how his trek would end, commits with “resolution”. Another translation: “…Jesus gathered up his courage and steeled himself for the journey to Jerusalem.”

Many of us have read those nine chapters of Luke and know what’s coming for Jesus. Personally I want to warn him—yell at the pages and cry, “Turn back, run to the mountain top, write your book….before it’s too late!” Opposition, rejection, betrayal, exhaustion, loneliness and distractions will hit him at every turn. His heart will be broken. The exhilarating highs of Palm Sunday will juxtapose the demoralizing lows in the garden of Gethsemane. Certainly not a journey for the fainthearted. And we need remember that Jesus is not just a word on a page. He is human—fully susceptible to emotional and psychological stress.

Yet Jesus commits to his last lap with resolution. And it’s because of his resolve that we witness the remarkable, counterintuitive, transformational power of a life committed to giving every ounce of itself away. A much needed message for today.

I meet a lot of people who love the idea of a good last lap—or just a good lap. And it’s not just the aged. They arrive in my office, sharing ideas of how to change the world. While I admire their earnestness, few actually begin the journey. Changing direction is hard—and staying the course is even more difficult. The dream of changing the world can be more appealing than actually doing it. We need resolve.

“It is God who says ‘Behold, I create all things new’,” said the late Yale University Chaplain, William Sloan Coffin. “Therefore God’s most persistent enemies must be those who are unwilling to move in new directions.” He adds, “If you choose, you’re sometimes wrong; but if you never choose, you’re always wrong.”

Bob chose a challenging final lap. He could have relaxed, hung up his sneakers and taken an easier path. I’m grateful he did not—as are two generations of students and families. Jesus chose the arduous and painful journey to Jerusalem. I’m grateful he did. He reminds me that humans can live faithfully, compassionately, joyfully and courageously in the face of bitter opposition. That’s hopeful.

Blessing –

Bruce Main
Founder & President