Monday, September 26, 2011

12.26.10 A Violent Grace

The night before Christmas Eve, I decided to re-watch The Passion of the Christ.  I was inspired by Chris' message the previous Sunday in church, in which he reminded us that the birth of Christ is meaningless without his death (and resurrection).

I remember when I first saw The Passion, in the movie theater.  I had expected to be more distraught at the brutal violence, more in tears at the close of the film.  Instead, I was moved to pray for the Christians around the world who don't have access to a Bible.  Throughout the movie, as I watched the actors play out scenes from Jesus' life, I was moved to thankfulness that I had access to such an epic visual experience.  I praised God that I could pick up his Word, any time I wanted, to read the words of Christ, learn about his sufferings, and be encouraged by the early church (as well as our rich history before Christ).  My heart broke for the thousands of men and women who have devoted themselves to Jesus but possess no Bible, in many cases no community in the body, and who often face persecution and death as a result of their faith.  Having the privilege of not only regularly reading about Jesus but also watching his life on screen before me, I could only pray that my brothers and sisters would be encouraged by the Holy Spirit in ways I couldn't fathom. 

This time, sitting alone on my couch, having just wrapped Maren's Christmas gift, I had an entirely different reaction. 

I definitely experienced more emotion that night, whether because I am now a mother and richly felt the pain that Mary must have endured or because I myself am more emotionally healthy than I once was - or maybe, simply, because I was sitting in the privacy of my home, warm and safe, while I watched the most painful crime ever committed.  But more than that, one thought kept pounding through my head, a truth that made what I was watching even more difficult to bear - the fact that, at any moment, Jesus could have stopped what was happening to him.
It is one thing, from a human perspective, to realize that an innocent and gentle man was wrongfully accused and mistreated.  Even people who don't acknowledge Jesus as God, for the most part at least define him as a peaceful, loving, wise teacher.  I therefore must believe that anyone watching this movie would quickly surmise that Jesus did not deserve the punishment that was dealt him.  I believe that humans are wired to desire justice, that we have an innate sense of right and wrong, and that, as a result, we can watch The Passion and feel quite certain that we are witnessing an injustice.

But as a Christian, as a person who believes that Jesus created the world, that he was present in the fire that left 3 men unscathed, that he gave sight to the blind and even raised people from the dead - because I believe all this and trust in the almighty power of the Most High God - the sight of watching God himself, the God-in-human-form have his flesh ripped from his body is unbelievable.  It's preposterous.  It is utterly and radically...full of grace.

Jesus chose his suffering and had complete power over it.  He stood before sinful, violent, greedy, destructive men and did not defend himself.  He humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross - so that I might have full and eternal peace with him, in this world and the next. 

Watching The Passion of the Christ put my life into perspective.  It made all the times I fought with my husband, all the times I was hurt by my partners in ministry, all the selfish desires I've ever had seem so meaningless and petty in light of my Lord.  Jesus came not only to reconcile me to him but also to bring peace to all my relationships.  The more that I allow his Spirit to invade my heart, the less I push for my way; the more I surrender to Christ, the less I take for myself.  And truly, the more joy I will have because I am living in unity with him rather than indulging my stupid flesh.

But this kind of life takes extreme humility, the kind that we humans are not prone to on our own.  This is why it is so important to continually preach the gospel to each other!  Please, dear friends, in the midst of shopping and cooking and cleaning and movie-watching and all the other cares of this world that so easily distract us, please consider Jesus.  Truly look on him and lean into his grace.  Enjoy him as your true satisfaction and give his grace freely to the rest of us.     

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