Have I been discounting Jesus’ pain?

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Rank the following in order of importance to your faith:

a.  The Life and Teachings of Jesus
b.  The crucifixion of Jesus
c.  The resurrection of Jesus

It’s amazing to me how varied people’s answers are, when I ask this.  What’s your order?

Mine is a, c, b.   Even though I know  resurrection is the gift at the heart of my relationship with God, I can’t help but think about how much Jesus has taught me to walk in the light.

I suppose I go back and forth between a and c.  But b, crucifixion, never makes it out of the 3 spot.

I was reading about crucifixion, about how extremely painful a form of execution it was.  How the nailing of the hands, which was not always done, would have added another layer of agony.  Add to that Jesus’ scourging, whipped until he was bloody, and there’s no discounting the suffering he encountered.  It was unspeakably bad.

And yet I do not give it the attention I give the other parts of the story. Have I been discounting Jesus’ pain?

I’ll admit, it occurs to me that there have been many others to die on a cross.  Many to be tortured, punished, put to death in cruel and unimaginable ways.  I’ve seen the pain of warfare and the harm of disasters.  I am aware that these human bodies are mortal, and fragile.  It’s all part of being human.

Jesus died among the worst ways possible.  But there were two thieves hanging there with him, enduring the same fate.  There have been saints who have been martyred in the same way as Jesus.

Crucifixion?  It’s a terrible way to go, but for me, it’s not the showstopper of Holy Week.

Until I think of this:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  —1 Peter 2:24

The physical pain of the cross would pale in comparison to the spiritual weight of the world.  He “bore our sins” in order to heal us, an unthinkable feat.  Without Jesus’ pain, the Easter story would be very different.  The entire Jesus story would be very different.  The pain of the crucifixion anchors Jesus as our champion, taking on all the sin the world can throw at him.

And still…I can’t stay there.  I can’t give the crucifixion the same due I give the resurrection, or Jesus’ ministry.  Here’s why:

Whereas there is a place for me in the crowds that followed the life and ministry of Jesus, and a place for me inside the wondrous empty tomb on that Easter morn, I find no place for me on the cross of the crucifixion. It’s too powerful, too dark, too dangerous.

I can look at the cross, and pray at the cross, and pick up my own cross, but I cannot climb up and embrace the burden of this kind of pain.  There is only one who ever could.

And so, this Holy Week, I invite you to spend some time with all 3 parts of Jesus’ story.   .  There’s a reason it is referred to as the Greatest Story Ever Told.  If some parts are more painful to watch than others, just do what I do:

Take a good long look,

 

But keep a safe distance.

 

In Christ,

Mitch

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SPOILERS

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It may be the darkest scripture in the whole Bible:  “My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” My goal last Sunday was to preach it as is — without spoilers about what comes next.

But I couldn’t do it.

I wanted to let this part of the story stand on its own.  I didn’t want to soften the words, or cheapen Jesus’ suffering.  But I couldn’t let this darkest of moments remain pitch black.  I couldn’t just leave him hanging there.

There, at the end of my sermon, I had to throw in a little bit of Easter.  Without even a “spoiler alert” I revealed the big surprise:  Hope, Triumph, Resurrection.

I’m not alone in this. In my reading about this tough verse, not a single writer was willing to just sit with Jesus’ pain.  Nobody could resist spilling the beans about the happy ending that was to come.

Another example — My choir sings a cantata on Palm Sunday every year.  No matter how deep into Holy Week the music takes us, the last song — a long standing tradition — is “The King is Coming!” It’s a great song, but I have mixed feelings about it, because of all the spoilers!  Maundy Thursday and Good Friday have yet to come, and already we’re promising Easter.

I wonder if a new Christian would find themselves annoyed to have the big Easter Surprise revealed just at this agonizing climax?  I know I’d have been mad if someone spoiled the ending of the 6th Sense, or the Usual Suspects, Or The Empire Strikes Back.

Should we treat the story of the cross (and beyond) as a sacred mystery, only to be unveiled on Easter morning?  If we did, how would we handle passages such as this?

17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”  Matthew 20:17-19

Umm….SPOILER ALERT, Jesus!

Jesus couldn’t have been any clearer about how this story ends.  In fact, Jesus’ whole life is a spoiler alert.  If we pay careful attention to how Jesus lives, we’ll have all the clues we need to find out how he dies.  And lives again.

I’ve decided it’s not necessary to just sink into “Why have you forsaken me,” and stay there.  The whole point is that Jesus DIDN’T stay there.

He had more to reveal than Keyser Soze, Bruce Willis, and Darth Vader combined.

Have a good week,

Mitch

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Easter People, Raise Your Eyebrows

Easter-2-500x250Happy Easter!

It’s a week and a half after Easter. How do you feel?

Did you leap from your bed this morning like a bunny? Are your hard-boiled eggs still all the colors of the rainbow?

Most importantly, did you feel like an Easter people?

A week and a half is not a very long time but in that span many of us have forgotten that Easter ever happened. Oh, we will still remember that Easter happened, in history, but we tend to forget that it happened to us.

I don’t know about you but many times it’s only after the fact that I begin to understand how important something is. The deep meaning of a conversation. The symbolism of a book or movie. That’s how it should be with Easter, too.

That certainly is how it would’ve been for the disciples, understanding more and more what this miraculous event meant for themselves and for the world. It would take a good 10 days just to get over the drama and shock of it all!

I could go so far as to say that if you and I aren’t pondering the miracle of Easter here and now, then we may have reduced it to a spectacular encounter with ham and pie, jellybeans and chocolate.

You and I know it’s more than that.

Easter people, raise your eyebrows. Ponder what it means that Christ is come back from the dead, and into your life. Reflect upon how your life is different. It is, isn’t it?

If you’re not sure, don’t stop reflecting until the stone has been rolled away from your heart.

Go on…

Hop to it!

Have a great week,

Mitch

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