Thursday, December 10, 2009

Crucified, Died, Buried, _____

Tonight was Intervarsity's last meeting of the semester, and we spent it in prayer and worship, which was definitely good. The leaders had good things to say about letting go of all the things that may come between us and God, and focusing on Him, and trusting Him. And of course, praising God always does my heart good. "How good and fitting it is to sing praises to God," we heard (Ps. 147). Amen.

But something later on confused and troubled me. The night was split into times B. titled "focus," "reflection," "worship" and "love." Focus and reflection were so on target. To start the worship section, B. read Phil. 2:9-11 and Isaiah 53: also good. But then B. launched into a graphic and painful description of the physical agony of the cross. The nails, the blood, the suffocation, the splints, the scourging. I began to feel sick.

I don't watch zombie movies or suspense movies, and I do not know if I will ever bring myself to watch "The Passion." There is a reason for this: I have a very low gore and distress tolerance. Granted, a 3 minute verbal description is nowhere near as intense as a 3 hour movie. But still, it's disturbing. And I was disturbed, partly on a gut level, that twisting sensation. But partly also because I felt bad that I was feeling sick hearing about the crucifixion, that I wanted to get up and leave, that I wanted him to stop talking about this, stop! This was the "real worship"? I had this interior debate--
"I don't want to hear about these details. I know them. It's not good to meditate on disturbing and wrong things."
"But what about the Good Friday service? That's all about the crucifixion."
"But... that's different."
"Is it?"
"I don't know! ...I don't want to hear this."
I didn't get up. I agonized in my seat and waited for B. to talk about the triumph at the end: that Christ suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried; but that on the third day he rose again! I waited for the good news.

But B. never got to that part. The entire "worship" section focused on the crucifixion with absolutely no mention of the resurrection.

Is it just me, or is that screwy somehow?

Moreover, B. only invited us to meditate on the physical suffering of Christ. But the physical suffering and death of the crucifixion were nothing special. Hundreds or maybe thousands of criminals experienced that torture. Christ's suffering is different because of its spiritual dimension: the devastation of being separated from the Father with Whom Christ had been in perfect union for all eternity.

And even more important, Christ's death matters because He was innocent. Unlike all the other people who experienced the nails, the whip, the blood, the cross, Christ did not deserve his punishment. He bore our punishment. "The chastisement for our peace fell on him. And by his stripes, we are healed." Our healing: that's the point of the cross. "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, [...] if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things." The torment of cross was not good. But forgiveness and reconciliation to God certainly are! Think about these things--who Christ is, why He died, what His death accomplished.


Or am I just shrinking away from the pain of truly contemplating Christ's pain? Am I citing Phil. 4:8 just for my own ends, to block a difficult emotional encounter with God?

Or maybe it's both. I need to die to myself and be willing to experience emotional turmoil. I need to be willing to be in pain for the right reasons. But B. also should have placed the focus elsewhere. Most of all, B. shouldn't have left us at the cross, Christ's blood dripping on us as we stare in horror. He should have led us down from Calvary and taken us to the empty tomb, or to the closed room into which Jesus appeared, or to the road to Emmaeus--or back to Phil. 2:9-11. Christians are supposed to be a joyful people (not that we can't or shouldn't mourn, but that Jesus came "that your joy may be full") because we rejoice over God's triumph. God is the victor in any and every circumstance, and my mind should be fixed on Who God is, more than anything else.

What do you think about B.'s focus / message / section title? What would you say a Good Friday service is for?


Anonymous said...

Joy like the joy of the Lord is my strength :)
Definitely with you that its about triumph over the sin and pain. Something that came to mind for me was how the disciples (and basically everyone) didn't know what in the world was going on when Jesus died. We know the whole story (hmm, weird to think that I don't remember the first time I heard the Jesus story...) Maybe something to take away is how lost we are without a savior, the pain of carrying our sins - but then, of course, how amazing it is to be FOUND! It would be interesting to look at how did Jesus talked about his death. (He did tell his disciples and us to drink and eat as symbols of drinking his blood and eating his body in remembrance of him.) But when he talked about dying, I'm pretty sure he didn't leave us with the cliffhanger. One other thing - someone talked before about God wants everything to his glory, and that even hell (and its suffering) is part of that...
Sorry for how scattered it is, but you know how my mind works : )

Anonymous said...

right, it may not be good to talk about the suffering without showing the triumph. the cross loses meaning without the resurrection. paul says that if the dead aren't raised, then we are the most hopeless of people. i remember it was said of the passion of the christ that it was like watching the hours of a woman in labor without showing her joy as she sees her child. and it's interesting that none of the biblical writers discuss any of the details of his execution. throughout 1 peter the sufferings of Christ was the dominant theme, but peter still doesn't focus on specific physical agonies, perhaps because doing so would distract his readers from the point of it all. the specific physical agonies weren't what they wanted to leave their readers with.