Contemplation and Good Friday

I’ve been wanting to dwell on art that depicts Christ lately. There’s something about it that helps me focus. It helps me leave wherever I am sitting, usually at a desk in front of a computer, and place myself somewhere else. It allows me to stand before Jesus in a new way. For the most part, the only way I’ve ever been taught to come into Jesus’ presence is through prayer—a certain type of prayer, the kind of prayer that is dominated by words. I encounter Christ by going through everything like a list: “Lord, help me with this;” “Jesus, forgive me for that;” “Lord, please be with ________.”  And that kind of prayer does have an important place.

But if I think about my relationship with my wife, some of the most important moments in our relationship have been beyond words. They have taken place in silence. They have happened with glances, with held hands, with smiles, and sometimes through tears. Whatever they were, those moments defied words. And in those moments Rachel became more real to me.

I guess I’m seeking out some of those moments in my relationship with Jesus. I want him to become more real to me just by sitting with him. I think John would call that “abiding” in him (see John 15:4 in the King James Version). I also think (though I’m not sure) that this is partly what is meant by “contemplation.”

Likewise I’ve found that I can, if I’m not careful, go too long without noticing Rachel. Life becomes all about accomplishing tasks. We move from one chore to another--getting kids ready for school, figuring out what to do for dinner, scheduling events. And before long I have failed to pay much attention to her.

I think I’ve done this even more with Jesus. My relationship with Him has become (has always been, really) so task-oriented. But to work beside someone is just one way of getting to know them. The other way is to sit with them and look them in the eyes.

So today I would challenge you to sit with these images from Good Friday. Click hereClick here.  Click here.   Finally, click here.  Just a warning, though--they are not very comforting.  Especially the last one.  I find them challenging because they remind me of the severe ramifications of the cross. Like I said last Sunday, we move too quickly from Jesus’ crucifixion to his resurrection. But isn’t it possible that, in doing so, we somehow temper the joy of Easter? I’ll let you react to them in your way. But to me they are reminders of the death, the very real death, of the Son of God. May we have the courage to face the awful consequences of our sin, and then celebrate all the more God's immeasurable grace.

Not Fit For Church

Today you will hear a story not fit for church. Which is ironic, because if it weren’t for this story, our church would not exist. Neither would any church, for that matter. But honestly, in some ways the story of the crucifixion has very little place in our church atmosphere. Think about it. Just stop from your reading for a moment and take a look around you. What do you see?

I’m imagining you seated in a pew before the beginning of our worship service. Light from the three large windows fills the room. Perhaps there is a buzz of conversation taking place around you, punctuated by the occasional squeal from a baby. People are laughing and greeting one another with hugs and slaps on the back. Children are talking to each other while their parents are herding them to their seats. Colorful slides are rotating on the screen at the front—pictures of parties and baby showers and other joyful events.

What in the world does this place have to do with Golgotha, the place of the skull, the scene of the crucifixion? How can we possibly be expected to confront the savagery of a place like that while seated in a place like this? How can we possibly hear the screams of agony that come from Christ, and the screams of derision that come from his persecutors, and the cries of sorrow that come from his family and friends while we are here in this room filled with gentle voices?

And I will not mention the horrible sights. There is a reason that Mel Gibson’s movie was Rated R. These sights are difficult to process when we are surrounded by neatly manicured people dressed in vibrant Sunday clothing.

Nevertheless, today I will talk about the crucifixion. Not in grisly detail. Actually I don’t plan on dwelling on the physical aspects of Jesus’ death at all. I’m much more interested in the spiritual nature of it and what that means for us.

But don’t be fooled. The spiritual details aren’t pretty either. They, too, are hardly fit for church-at least the spiritually sanitized church that you and I generally prefer. The spiritual situation that brought about the events of Jesus’ death are not easy to talk about or sit with. In examining the crucifixion, we are confronted with the worst of human nature. If we sit back and ask ourselves, “How did it come to this—the execution of an innocent (a perfectly innocent) man?” then we are confronted by the sin that we all carry around with us.

But there is good news. In the midst of the spiritual and physical horror there is more than enough love. If there weren’t, then Jesus would have never been crucified. We’ll talk more about it this morning.