A few years ago I was at a meeting in New York City--huge, overwhelmingly busy, and extremely confusing to someone not used to its eccentricities. Take the subway system, please. If you know where you're going, you can figure it out easily enough. If you're not sure, you may never escape the bowels of the city.
I was staying in a hotel on the border between Soho and Chinatown, and had to make a relatively short subway ride to the Rector Street Station, just behind Trinity Episcopal Church on Wall Street and a block of two away from Ground Zero.
I knew which letters of the subway I could take to get there--N or R--and the direction to go. The signs outside the subway stop at the top of the stairs descending from the sidewalk assured me I was in the right place. But once I paid my fare and got to the waiting area, I realized that none of the signs there indicated that the train I wanted would be stopping there.
I panicked. I've found New Yorkers can be friendly enough to provide directions to hapless out-of-towners like me-and I have benefited from that generous tendency more than once. But this morning I was harried, anxious about the day's meetings, and feeling too insecure to ask. So I started wandering. Up and down stairways, along grimy tiled corridors, trying to find a subway sign that made some sense to me.
After some minutes of crawling around underground, I finally found what I thought was the right platform. Still feeling anxious and lost, surrounded by busy, unaware New Yorkers heading to work or wherever, I glanced behind me and saw a friend who I knew was heading to the same meeting I was.
Was I glad to see him! I greeted him warmly and told him that because he-a guy who was much more expert in the vagaries of the New York subway system-was here, I knew I was in the right place. That friend, in a small but not inconsequential sense, was Jesus to me in that moment.
Jesus tends to pop up unexpectedly in places where we desperately need him, as he did to the disciples, fearing for their lives in a storm and then fearing for their sanity when they saw him walking toward them on the roiling surface of the angry lake to reassure them of his presence:
In the evening his disciples went down to the sea, got in the boat, and headed back across the water to Capernaum. It had grown quite dark and Jesus had not yet returned. A huge wind blew up, churning the sea. They were maybe three or four miles out when they saw Jesus walking on the sea, quite near the boat. They were scared senseless, but he reassured them, "It's me. It's all right. Don't be afraid." So they took him on board. In no time they reached land-the exact spot they were headed to. (John 6:16-21 The Message)
The disciples weren't expecting him to show up, especially like that. But that is often Jesus' way. He pushes his way into our most stormy, frightening, lost moments to show us the way, to give us hope, to hear him say,
"It's me. It's all right. Don't be afraid."
He does that because he loves us, and he wants us to know it.
We can find him in those moments when we need him. And perhaps we, like my friend in the subway station, can also serve the presence of Jesus for someone else in need.