Saturday, March 30, 2013

the most beautiful butchering

If I'm honest, I've always liked Christmas better than Easter. Christmas made me feel good. Easter made me feel bad. Because before Easter always had to come Good Friday, when my family would watch the Jesus movie. For all its happy happy beginnings, the story comes to such a horrible climax as they beat, mock, and kill the Christ. What made it all the worse was that I knew he was enduring all this because of the bad things I had done. I couldn't blithely detach myself from the horrors of the crucifixion, because I knew it should have been me up there. It was suffering that directly involved me. I was filled, perplexingly, with both indignation and guilt, revulsion and pity. The unpleasantness of this solemn day never really lost its bitter taste, even on the flower-and-candy-filled Sunday.

This Good Friday, the Lord brought Friday's pain and Sunday's joy together for me, as they centered in himself. I was reading Psalm 18, which like many Old Testament passages seemed to come in some mysterious way from the mouth of the Christ. I came to this:

"The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
and have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his rules were before me,
and his statutes I did not put away from me.
I was blameless before him,
and I kept myself from my guilt.
So the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight." Psalm 18:20-24 ESV

This is what the righteous Galilean had more right than David to say. And yet by the will of God it was turned into solemn irony: the Lord dealt with me according to his righteousness. And according to the dirtiness of my hands He rewarded him. Contemplating the cross, that horrid spectacle, that pinnacle of all that is unjust, gruesome, and ugly, I began to see no sulking victim of my sin, but an Agent--not just wounds, but power. The dying Lamb was not looking out on those for whom he died and saying, "Look what I've had to go through for you. You'd better feel bad," which, I guess, is sort of what I've usually felt on Good Friday. He was looking to his Father and pleading for our redemption. His sacrifice was no pity play. He didn't do it to impress us. We could never be impressed enough to make it worth it. He did it to save us.

This event that really ought to have compounded our guilt--our sin killed God in the flesh--is precisely what absolved it. Someone who could accomplish that, who could turn things so on their head, whose joy could not be quenched by death, whose love triumphed--this was someone glorious. Instead of fear, shame, and guilt at the embarrassing spectacle of Calvary, I knew the love of Jesus for me, in all its bloody tragedy. A love outside of myself, the love of someone real. The strongest, most humbling and terrifying love, sweeping me out of my self-centeredness and up into new life beyond guilt.

At the cross we do see ourselves, how bad our sin is. Let us contemplate the wickedness of sin, that it prompts such fearsome fury from our holy God. But let us remember that the point of Good Friday, even in its convicting capacity, is not to turn our eyes upon ourselves, but toward that just and holy God whose wrath is so terrible. I was prepared, uneasily, for my familiar narcissistic guilt this Good Friday--feeling bad to have imposed on Christ with the inconvenience of my mistakes. But now, as I saw Jesus in Scripture, I was tasting real, heart-broken, adoring grief. Because the point isn't us; it's God. It was his love and his holiness, not my guilt, that ultimately drove him to this extremity. He could have punished us, and we would have known how bad our sin was. But instead, in one terrible moment, he showed us both our badness and his greatness. In doing so he did not downplay the horribleness of my sin; he engulfed it in his majesty.

That the violent death of the Founder is at the center of our faith has sometimes unnerved me. Nothing can be carefree in a religion like this. All our joy is built on pain.

I guess, yesterday I saw that even deeper into the mystery of things than the pain is love--Love Himself. I had not realized that this is what love looked like. That it was quite this potent.

What a beautiful, beautiful Savior. Strong in his meekness. Unfathomable in his glories and sufferings--oh, the mystery of the Cross! Blessed, wounded head. How deep and heart-breaking his sorrows! How deep and heart-remaking his love! I shut my mouth. I contemplate my unworthiness, and then I forget myself to marvel--as we will marvel forever--at Him: he in whom love and pain are so mingled.

1 comment: