Kicking the helmet

The quest has fallen into almost total disaster.

The fellowship of 9, allied to bring the essence of evil (the one ring) to the heart of Mordor to destroy it, had shattered.

The leader, Gandalf, had fallen in an underground mine just when it had looked as though he’d won his fight with the balrog demon.  The once honorable Boromir had become overcome by evil, and, in desiring to steal the ring for himself, caused the ringbearer to flee.  And Boromir had died trying to make right what he’d done wrong–bringing the fellowship down to 7.

The rest of the fellowship had crumbled.  Aragorn, the new leader, was an unlikely choice.  He was heir to the throne of Gondor, but wanted nothing to do with any kingdom.  He was a ranger, a fugitive from Sauron’s eye, and he wanted to stay that way.

And what of the others?  Legolas and Gimli, feuding elf and dwarf, had a history of racial distrust between them.  Two of the hobbits, Merry and Pippin, had been captured by the enemy and kidnapped to who-knows-what end.  And the other two, Frodo the ringbearer and his gardener–both hobbits and as such the smallest of the peoples of Middle Earth–had escaped into Mordor with the one ring that could destroy the entire world.

So the quest has fallen into almost total disaster.  The fellowship is split up and the plan is unraveling.  Aragorn has no idea how to bring the fellowship back together, or if there is any hope that naive and timid Frodo–oh, yes, and his gardener, as if that could matter-can possibly outwit Sauron, sneak past droves of orcs, elude the nazgul, and survive in the wastelands of Mordor to complete the quest.

Aragorn–with dwarf and elf with him–struggles to catch up with the uruk-hai who have captured Merry and Pippin.  Aragorn refuses to stop to eat or even sleep.

Just when they’ve narrowed the gap and it looks as if they might catch up, they learn that the entire band of uruk-hai was killed the night before by a band of men.

They rush to the sight of the battle and find it abysmal: carcasses piled high for burning, and the head of an uruk-hai on a stake to mark the death scene.

On the smoldering death pile, they find a belt of one of the hobbits.

In a rage of frustration, Aragorn yells and kicks a helmet from the pile.  In that moment, it looks as if the whole quest was worthless.  There’s no way Merry and Pippin are alive.  Boromir’s brave death was useless.  It doesn’t even matter if the elf and dwarf get along.  And what chance does Frodo and his dim-witted gardener have to make it through the fierce iron gates of Mordor, anyway?

. . Anyone who knows how the story ends can smile here.  Merry and Pippin have actually escaped into the forest and met up with Gandalf, who did not die from the fall but fought the balrog and won.  Boromir’s change of heart did matter.  Legolas and Gimli are becoming lifelong friends.  Frodo’s “dim-witted gardener” will rescue him from a spider so monstrous it could frighten away an uruk-hai.  Aragorn will draw Sauron’s eye to himself so that Frodo can slip past the enemy without notice.  The ring will be destroyed.  The quest will be completed . .

But when Aragorn kicks the helmet, he doesn’t know any of that.  He, like us, lives in the present.  He doesn’t have foresight or any such gift.  All he sees is the frustration of seemingly bad luck and the anger of personal failure.

He could have, at that moment, disappeared back into the wilderness and become a mysterious ranger again.  Or he could have even fallen on his own sword.  He could have kicked more helmets or cursed his friends or just laid down to rest after days of traveling without sleep.

But instead, he pauses, just for a second, and he notices something he did not notice before.

A slight slope in the ground in the shape of a hobbit.

Realizing one of the hobbits lay on that exact spot, he begins to do something he hadn’t been dreaming of doing when he kicked the helmet.  He begins to search again.

And this time, he does not stop at the burn pile.  He tracks the path the two hobbits took.  And he discovers that the path leads him to the brink of a forest.

And on goes the quest that, only a few moments before, he’d just about given up on when he kicked the helmet.

.          .          .          .          .          .          .          .

We all have times in our lives where we feel like kicking the helmet.  Times where it feels like evil is just going to win, and there is nothing we can do about it.  Times where our lives feel worthless and useless.  Times where we want to throw our hands up in despair and give up.

But at that very moment, there is always, always a trail that leads us to Christ.

The question is not whether or not it is there, but whether or not we will look for it.

The difference between hope and despair is that hope looks for the trail . . despair is too busy kicking at the rubble of something dead.

In all times, there is a way that leads to Christ.  And it isn’t clues that only a ranger could pick up.  The way that leads to Christ is unmissable.  It’s at the foot of a cross.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5, NIV)