the long defeat

Sara Groves, the long defeat, the kingdom of heaven is like, the way of the cross

A good friend of mine spoke this week at a church for a lenten gathering. He described the nature of the cross as being the doorway into the kingdom, and that the crucifixion must come before the resurrection.

The story felt close by as I heard it told: Jesus has been drawing a crowd as he spoke to their hopes that he would indeed be the king of the kingdom, and ready for his seat on the throne they were. But all of his incessant stories made the kingdom anything other than what was expected. And in every story, there is great cost to inherit it, to find it, to move into it, to be moved by it.

And the crowd who was dripping with saliva over the thought of their king and his kingdom having come were suddenly less enthused; the shiny Sunday morning services that speak to his good reign and our infatuation with him will prove as ultimately truthful to our commitment as the branches we will guide back and forth as he rides across our coats on the donkey.

So the crowd begins to thin out.
Like it always does, when we listen for what he is actually saying.

There’s nothing slick about giving up everything to know that we will lose. But we must.
There’s nothing bold about doing whatever it takes to come in last. But we must.
There’s nothing ambitious about serving quietly and faithfully only to be pitied and scorned. But we must.

So the crowd begins to thin out.
Like it always does, when we listen for what he is actually saying.

Seeing the crowd wane to find the next shiny Sunday show of sorts, Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “Are you gonna leave too?”

And for all the ways they were always doing anything except get it right, and for all the times they wanted everything except what they needed,

this time, they spoke the shattering truth…maybe realizing it themselves for the first time themselves.

“Are you going to leave too?” he asked?
“Where else would we go?”

“The way of the kingdom is the way of the cross” my buddy said the other evening. Of all the things Jesus talked about, he never spoke of success or ambition or happy lives. He spoke of the good news of the kingdom, and then told stories that drove us mad about what it is like, and how it is nothing like we’ve expected.

Every story of the kingdom includes the story of the cross.

Loss. Suffering. Grief. Humiliation. Last. Long. Defeat. Everything.

But we must.

However it does not make sense––and of course it doesn’t make any sense––we know to much to do anything else, to go anywhere else, to try anything else. Where else would we go?

Pine Tree


I have joined the long defeat
that falling set in motion
and all my strength and energy
are raindrops in the ocean

so conditioned for the win
to share in victor’s stories
but in the place of ambition’s din
I have heard of other glories

and I pray for an idea
and a way i cannot see
it’s too heavy to carry
and impossible to leave

I can’t just fight when I think I’ll win
that’s the end of all belief
and nothing has provoked it more
than a possible defeat

we walk a while we sit and rest
we lay it on the altar
I won’t pretend to know what’s next
but what I have I’ve offered

and I pray for a vision
and a way I cannot see
it’s too heavy to carry
and impossible to leave

and I pray for inspiration
and a way I cannot see
it’s too heavy to carry
and impossible to leave
it’s too heavy to carry
and I will never leave

+ Sara Groves, “The Long Defeat”
from Tell Me What You Know

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5 thoughts on “the long defeat

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