Sunday, April 14, 2019

A Reflection for Holy Week

One of the interesting parts of parenthood has been exposure to children's bibles. I'm incredibly appreciative of authors who can distill the biblical stories into a form that grabs children's attention; the times I've attempted to read to my kids from the actual scriptures were over very quickly, toddler attention spans being what they are.

Yet, for the variety of bible story books we have, there's a particular trend that jumped out at us:

When telling the story of Jesus, many of these books go from the Triumphal Entry straight to the Resurrection.

There's a sense in which this is perfectly understandable. It would be irresponsible not to curate the content of scripture to your child's maturity level. A pre-schooler is probably not ready to hear about Sodom and Gomorrah, David and Bathsheba, the book of Judges . . . take your pick.

Still, while I certainly wouldn't show my children Passion of the Christ, there are ways to explain the death of Jesus in an age appropriate manner. We have enough books which manage to do so.

Note the page numbers
Perhaps the issue isn't with the children, then, but with the adults. So many of us don't hide the crucifixion only from our children. We live out a faith that treats it like an embarrassment, or perhaps a temporary bump in the road. A necessary evil to get to the good part.

We admire Jesus the teacher, dispensing timeless wisdom about good morals and better living from the hillside. Jesus, meek and mild, caring for children, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, champion of the downtrodden . . . a paragon of idyllic goodness.

We like the picture of Jesus in the triumphal entry: The king coming into his city! See how his lordship is proclaimed and celebrated! Yes, there is always the shadow of betrayal right around the corner, but for a brief period of time, everything is as it should be, and will be again.

To be fair, Jesus's death does not go unmentioned, but it is certainly over before it began.
We love the Jesus of the resurrection. If death is the oldest enemy of mankind, then God has shown that it can be overcome. The power of God on display for all to see, the promises of ages fulfilled, the new creation set into motion!

Yet in a theology that lacks the crucifixion, we are left with a single question: Why?

I've heard so many sermons over the years talk about our need for Jesus. In trying to explain why you should follow the way of Christ, the preachers would say things like, "Because he is Lord and the resurrection proves it! Because his way is better than man's way! Because your life will be so much better with Jesus!" It's all true, but it's incomplete. It skips over something crucial.

We are lost in our sin. By ourselves, on our own, through our own means, we cannot be right before God. To fulfill the Law, to atone for our sins, to provide a righteousness isn't our own, Jesus came to take the penalty of sin on our behalf. It was our sin, my sin, and the mercy of God, that led Jesus to the cross.

We dare not pass over that too quickly.

Lent, as part of the liturgical calendar, is a time of preparation for Easter. It's not terribly popular with Evangelicals, for various reasons. As a historical practice, Lent has changed much over the centuries. Although it has always been a period of fasting, it was also a season of repentance. In order to prepare for the celebration of the Resurrection, of our freedom from bondage, we must first pass through the desert of remorse, culminating on Good Friday where we remember the work of the Cross.

This isn't guilt-stricken self-flagellation, because Christ has already received our punishment. Instead, sober awareness of the state from which Christ has saved us. The scriptures promise that we are no longer in bondage to sin (see Romans 6). There is, after all, no longer an condemnation for those in Christ. The good news of the Gospel will always fall flat if we don't know how much God has done for us, and we can't know that without seeing just how great our need is.

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