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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No Crying In Basketball.

Jesus wept.  —John 11:35

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So…you foul out with :36 left on the clock.  Down by 5.  You watch, helpless, as it all slips away. This is the hardest you’ve worked in your life, and it’s come down to this:  A loss.

It’s enough to make you want to cry.

And so you look around the arena for your mother.  She’s sitting over there with your family.  As your bottom lip begins to tremble, you run across the court, climbing up into the stands, and you throw your arms around your mom.

As an astonished venue looks on, you let loose with a gut wrenching sob.  WAHHHHHH!!!  All the mental and physical exhaustion you’re feeling, plus the deep disappointment at not making it to the championship comes gushing out of you in great big torrents for all to see and hear.

Oh wait.  Scratch that.  That’s not right. That’s not how we do things. It’s perfectly acceptable for 15,000 fans to scream themselves hoarse rooting for a game, but to have one player show a few tears can somehow seem uncouth.  Even embarrassing.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’d be that guy burying my face in a towel.  I don’t want my anguish broadcast on TBS and around the world.  To me, painful emotions are private, intimate things.  But why?

Many people (especially men) have been raised to view showing sad emotions as a sign of weakness and a cause for embarrassment.  If you’ve sneakily brushed away tears after a sappy commercial, you may know what I’m talking about.  And I can’t tell you the number of people I see at a funeral, doing all they can to clamp down on those pesky feelings.

I wonder.  What would it take for you or I to come out of hiding and let our tears be a public statement of grief?  It would have to be for a very good reason, even more significant than losing a basketball game.

Well…it is Holy Week.  Kind of the epicenter of anguish for the Christian year.  What if we allowed ourselves to truly experience the depths of Holy Thursday or Good Friday?  What if we opened ourselves up to the brokenness of the world and the suffering of our savior?  Could we let it move us to tears?

All of our personal turning away from God.  All the pain of betrayal and denial and crucifixion and death and darkness.  Talk about a loss! This is no game–it’s the light of Christ snuffed out.  If there’s ever been a week for crying in public, isn’t this it?

Yes!  So here’s what you do.  You push your cart up and down the aisles of the grocery store, sniffing and blubbering. Every time someone asks you if you are alright, you say, “No.  Not this week,” and then tell them why.

Okay.  I’m dubious if any of us are going make that much of a scene, but I challenge you to feel something. If we can have our emotions stirred up by a basketball game, surely we can travel these last days of Lent, giving our whole hearts to Jesus.  There’s still time to discern, to reflect, and yes, to weep.  But know this…

in terms of days before Easter…

we’re down to the Final Four.

Have a Holy Week,

Mitch

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The Dump

Come with me, to the dump.

It’s a place you might just as soon avoid.

Did I mention, this is your dump?  Your dumping ground.

It stinks.

Over there, that pile?  That’s all the trash you’ve cleaned out of all your cars.

Back next to us is all the recyclable stuff that you didn’t recycle.

The huge, smelly pile in distance?  Leftovers you never got around to eating.

That’s not all.  There are piles of frowns that you caused other people to make.  And a big heap of opportunities you’ve wasted.

And look — towering over most of the rest of the piles is a mountain of lies you’ve told.

It’s all here.  It’s all laid out.  Every sin you’ve ever committed.

Every time you let God or your neighbor down.  Or yourself.

What a mess.  And believe me, I’ve got a dump, too.  Overflowing with disobedience and shamefulness.

What can be done with all of this?  Have we scarred the face of the Earth forever? Is this wretched dump the real reflection of who we are?

Wait.  Over there, coming over the hill, is a man.  Jesus.  Carrying a great big trash bag.

And as he walks, he scoops up your mess.   Great big gobs of it.  Way more than should fit in a single bag, but still he stuffs.

Rapidly he makes his way through your dump, shoving down broken promises, misplaced anger, even the grossest, wettest sins that lay hidden deep underneath the rest.

Stumbling under the weight of it all, Jesus passes by, a distant look on his face.

“Father, forgive them”, he says, heading off to another poor soul’s dump. “They don’t know what they are doing”.

And then we’re left in this empty space, once covered by your sin.

Underneath it all, there appears to be a garden.  I assume that’s true of my dump, as well.

A garden.

Are we prepared?  Are we prepared to tend our gardens?

Have a Holy Week,

Mitch

 

By Name.

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It’s strange, but I’ve been thinking this week about

Judas, Hitler, and Genghis.

Those three guys are so notorious they only need one name.

Like Hannibal, Nero, or Saddam.

Can you imagine?

Can you imagine wielding so much power?

Channeling it to such misguided purposes, and to such infamy, that future generations would abandon the use of your name?

Can you imagine becoming a near-eternal symbol of humans at their worst?

– – –

I can’t.  But I don’t have to.

I’ve never had my name “retired”,

like Stalin, or Mussolini.

I’ll never have to worry about sticking out with such damnable distinction.

I’m just one of the crowd, along with every Tom, Dick, or Harry.

Every Laurie, Tonya, or Mary.

One of the crowd.  The faceless crowd.

Lining the streets as Jesus carries his cross.

– – –

My moniker may not be synonymous with evil,

but on this week, I can’t help but be mindful that there is darkness that lurks in my soul.

Even mine.

And as Jesus passes by, he sees me,

and sees into me.

And I shudder to realize

that this man

knows everything I’ve done.

He knows,

and he knows me

by name.

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I WASN’T there.

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Can I make something clear?

I wasn’t there when they crucified my Lord.

Every year the song asks the question, and every year I think to myself:

Nope.  Wasn’t there.

Wasn’t there when they nailed him to the tree.
Wasn’t there when they laid him in the tomb.
Wasn’t there when the sun refused to shine.

I wasn’t there.  Wasn’t born.

Hadn’t a clue.

I’m very sorry that it happened.  I wish those people hadn’t crucified Jesus.

But I wasn’t there!

Last supper?  Not there.

In the garden?  Not there.

DO YOU HEAR ME, WORLD?  I WAS NOT PRESENT FOR ANY OF THESE EVENTS!

IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT THAT I MAKE THIS CLEAR, BECAUSE…

Because I want to put as much space as possible between that Holy Week and this one.

Okay? Clear?

I wasn’t there.

End of discussion.

 

(But why am I trembling?)

 

Have a HOLY week,

Mitch

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