Soon it will be Easter season again; spring colors, hats and dresses and ties and dyed eggs and baskets. It is the special time of year when flowers come up and trees bud (here in the northern hemispheres, at least). Since I was a kid I have marveled at this phenomenon of rebirth and renewal. It is a beautiful and elegant and complex dance of nature; an explosion of color and life; a virtual riot of activity.
Here in Texas we get the annual blooming of Bluebonnets, which always captures the attention of drivers and pedestrians. People pause their journeys, pull over to the side of the road, park, and get out of their cars to take photos. Some folks even venture into the midst of the flowers to get close-up pictures, while traffic speeds by. It can be quite a captivating visual.
At springtime, in churches everywhere, we are also reminded of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In all honesty, I have trouble with the death part. I am thrilled with the resurrection part. That part feels like a victory party in my spirit. I suppose that’s exactly what it is. But the torture and death part… doesn’t feel like victory or a party.
The passages in the Old Testament that record the ordinances and rules associated with offerings as directed by God to Moses remind me it was an extremely messy, very bloody, ultra-strict sequence of events. And the penalty for doing it incorrectly was death, for the cleanest one in the bunch: the priest. Those passages also remind me I have never watched the movie, The Passion of the Christ. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it. Let me explain…
I have what you might call, a little bit of a criminal history. That’s right, I am a former criminal. Reformed criminal sounds better, I think. Anyway it’s a label I’ve been given, resulting from my past actions. Such a label has the power to generate immense shame, completely pegs the guilt-o-meter, and it can destroy all hope for the convicted. Can you see the spiritual parallels?
Recently it occurred to me that the One that redeemed me was also labeled a criminal. He was innocent, of course. Wasn’t He? According to the Bible, it depends on who you asked. But Jesus was convicted, tortured, humiliated, and brutally killed. This is the ”torture and death” part that I don’t like to think about.
I had to do some soul-searching to get to the real reason for my resistance to watching The Passion. I found the cause: I don’t want the penalty for my sin to be so… bloody awful. If it were up to me it would be a slap on the wrist, or a substantial fine. Maybe some community service. Even probation. Anything that I could do myself, without too much sacrifice, would be OK. Can you see the spiritual parallels?
That kind of thinking, it seems, was the stumbling block that led the old religious leaders to turn murderous and kill God. Jesus told them, in no uncertain terms, their community service and their idols of atonement and penance and self-sacrifice would not be their ticket into paradise. It rankled and riled them, they were extremely agitated. Jesus went on to inform them that the hookers and the thieves and the diseased would get into to paradise long before these leaders could even hope to get in.
And they came to the conclusion: obviously, the rebel Jesus had to be dealt with.
So I invite you to consider the same questions I am pondering today:
When you look at the cross… what do you see?
Is it a vision of the dying Savior of the world? Is it what sin really costs? Is it the ultimate price of being a holy rebel to the world? Is it the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end?
Or do you see Love Himself, on display as the most visceral, attention-getting, brutally-real proof that self-inflated and self-righteous sinners could ever demand?
Jesus invites us to pause from our journey, pull over, get out and look. Really look. Take some time to marvel at the beauty, the intensity, the immensity of the love and passion of the Christ.