Our group had already experienced a full day at the Bethany beyond the Jordan baptism site. It was here where the prophet Elijah ascended to heaven on a chariot of fire, where John the Baptist preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and where John baptized Jesus.
We visited the ruins of early churches built to commemorate the baptism of Jesus and saw contemporary churches and guest houses for those on pilgrimage to the site.
Soon we would head south to enjoy a meal overlooking the Dead Sea then on to Aqaba on the Red Sea for the night.
We paused to celebrate a brief service of communion on the banks of the Jordan. A Lutheran pastor presided over an open table. We read the account of Jesus’ baptism from Matthew’s gospel. The elements were Jordanian wine and pita bread. We drank from a common cup.
When we had shared the bread and the cup, we sang a hymn and walked down to the river one last time before departing.
It was a simple, beautiful service in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice.
We were not alone in that moment. The spirit was in our midst but that was not all. There were flies. Lots of them. They settled on the bread and the edge of the cup despite our best efforts to cover them. They nipped at our heels and buzzed around our eyes and ears. We shooed them off and they just kept coming back. They were persistent, determined to partake of the same elements as we, determined to partake of us.
The flies gathered at the river for a very different reason than we, as I am sure they gathered in the stable when Jesus was born and again when he broke bread and blessed fish to feed the multitudes.
They gathered at the river, as they gathered in the boats when Jesus told the disciples where to cast their nets and the catch was almost too great for them to handle.
They gathered at the river, as they gathered at the wedding when Jesus turned water into wine.
They gathered at the river, as they gathered as often as Jesus said, “follow me.”
They gathered at the river, as they gathered at the foot of a cross on a lonely hillside outside of Jerusalem and again outside a borrowed tomb.
The flies that gathered around Jesus were no doubt as persistent as the flies that joined us beside the Jordan.
If we take seriously that Jesus is Lord of all creation, then Jesus is as much the Lord of the flies as Lord of you and me. That is not a comforting thought so much as it is a reminder of the mystery of God’s economy and of the fact that the creation waits to be set free from its bondage to decay.
Our part is to bear witness amid that creation to the goodness, justice, mercy, and steadfast love of God made known to us in Jesus, remaining focused on the one who broke bread and shared a cup, and asks us to do the same in remembrance of him—flies or not.
Curtis Ramsey-Lucas is editor of The Christian Citizen. He participated in a 2017 religious press tour of Jordan. First published October 14, 2017.
Photograph by Curtis Ramsey-Lucas