Monday, March 29, 2010

From the files: Good Friday '08

I came across this article I wrote two Easters ago, and thought I'd post it here just to get our hearts going in terms of what the upcoming "Passion" week is all about. If you were on my email distribution two years ago, you may have read it before, but since I could barely recognize my own thoughts and sentences, I thought you may enjoy a fresh read as well.

Yesterday was Good Friday. As much as it is common to happily anticipate the Easter season, it is hard to look forward to Good Friday. It is a somber day, and a time I usually commemorate by going to church to be reminded of the horror brought upon our Lord for our sake. Honestly, I like to go in a way one likes to get an annual physical – it is not something pleasant, but understood as necessary to stay healthy. Basically, I need to go to the Good Friday service because it keeps me in check. After all, Jesus tells us to carve out time to remember what He’s done for us on the cross. So I go every year, knowing there is no spoonful of sugar to make this medicine go down.

And every year, I am a little disturbed as the account of the crucifixion is retold. The brutal violence, the senseless and angry mob, the evil men in authority…really it is all hard to imagine. I am usually left thinking, “I get that this had to happen, but really how did this happen? Who were those people?” So much of the story is so shocking.

Then, the service always implies that WE are the ones who crucified Jesus because He died ultimately for our sins. Again, I understand the connection and have known my need for a savior my whole life. But in my heart of hearts, I try to put myself in the shoes of all the evil characters in the story and come up at a loss in terms of being able to relate. Would I have been Judas, betraying a friend for a buck? Never. Would I have been in the angry mob? Would I have been screaming, “Release Barabbas! Crucify Jesus!” Can’t imagine it. Would I have been the spineless Pilate, letting a gross injustice (the death of someone he found innocent) slip right by me? No way. I’m sorry, I just can’t identify with any of those people.

So let’s go to theology. This year, the screen in the service was slowly flashing up reasons why we are the ones who crucified Jesus. The first said, “We are sinners by birth.” I get that. We had no choice; we came out that way. (And here I go in my mind…Would I have really bitten into that apple like Eve? I think I would have been pretty content in the garden of Eden, and yet she slaps me with the sentence of a lifetime. Thanks.) Next reason on the screen: “We are sinners by nature.” I get that too. We are imperfect pieces of flesh, another sort of imposed sentence, in my mind, something I didn’t buy into and something I can’t cure as long as I’m on this earth. Then a third reason flashes up, the one that startles and stops me: “We are sinners by choice.” I immediately want to protest, “No, I have no choice because of Eve, because of my nature, because I was designed to fail.” All these arguments sound solid from a philosophical standpoint. But they are not telling my whole story.

I sat in my seat, now totally unaware of what was happening in the service, weighing my own heart. How much am I choosing my sin? A mother must similarly weigh the heart of her child when deciding how to discipline; is he or she simply making childish mistakes, or is the child being truly defiant? It is a very important question for a parent; the answer determines the consequence. But now I am in the position of the child. I do indeed make many mistakes based on my lack of maturity, but I also know there are times when my sin is truly my defiance, my choice.

I let this realization boil down in my heart: I am not a victim of my nature, I am a willing partner. Not only do I at times choose to sin, but if I am brutally honest with myself, I know there are times when my rebellion is bold and prideful and senseless and shocking and I can look at me and say “Who is that woman?”

Yes, I am sometimes the child who makes mistakes. But I am also a sinner by choice. I choose it, regularly, even if just in my mind. Sometimes it is an indulgent, horrific conversation in my mind that I never plan to have, sometimes it is an attitude of entitlement, or superiority, or self-centeredness. These are ugly things that I can freely embrace, partly because I know each person has his or her own things. I may not ever choose what Judas did, or any of the other evil people in the Good Friday scene, but turning my back on Jesus just once in defiance qualifies me for desperately needing His payment for my forgiveness. Let’s just face facts that my bad choices, and yours for that matter, put Him on the cross because He couldn't stand to live without us.

At the end of the service, I stood listening, absorbing the music. I closed my eyes and I saw a picture of myself standing on the earth. All my sins and weaknesses were ropes and chains connected to the ground. A tangle of them surrounded my legs. But my chin was tilted up toward the sky and I was full of joy because every single one of them was severed. My sins and weaknesses existed but I was bound by none of them. I stood there in the service, having been given this picture of my freedom, and it was a beautiful thing.

Tomorrow morning, Easter, I feel humbled and privileged to be able to celebrate God’s love for me, that while we were still sinners, Christ set us free (Romans 5:8). He didn't wait for us to change or come looking for Him. He just came, in our hour of deepest need. He paid the price we owed, and then called us by name. I pray today you’ll walk with me through this Easter season feeling a deep sense of gratitude that, if you know Him, you’re free indeed.

[photo from]

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