I Remember You And Suddenly

Sometimes late at night my roommate goes to bed.
Still awake above her, I’m warm, safe, and well-fed;
But fears shimmy up me from my belly to my head.

They pause there long enough to make my eyes wet,
Pressing repeat on bad ideas I’d rather forget.
In the quiet dark my balancing act is quietly upset.

But I remember you and suddenly I’m less likely to cry.

Sometimes in a room full of voices I cannot be heard.
Even with my organized thoughts, no one hears a word.
Everything I’m fearing, I guess, must be absurd.

Defeat shimmies down me from my chest to my pit.
In the middle of my body I can’t shake the weight of it,
But if it shoots out of my mouth, then I’m the hypocrite.

So I remember you and suddenly I’m less likely to yell.

At times I’ve lost my cool and given up the ghost.
Grief like television keeps my mind engrossed
And blank to the world outside, to what I owe the most.

A whirlpool of introspection drags me down into
Vague trepidation towards what comes out of the blue.
Cowardly doubt rains on me and starts to soak me through.

Yet I remember you and suddenly I’m less likely to drown.

The world outside threatens to kill, infect, or maim.
The world inside me is prone to more of the same.
My silent killers are tyrant gods like money, sex, fame.

Nothing cures what ails me like the memory of you.
“In remembrance of me” does what other gods don’t do:
Takes these dying insides and gives them life anew.

So I remember you and suddenly I’m less likely to die.
I remember you and suddenly I’m more alive.

worship & sacrifice

Every Sunday, Christians around the world gather together to celebrate and spiritually absorb the sacrifice that Christ made in the gospel, in his incarnation and crucifixion. We tear bread and pour wine into cups as a sacred ritual of remembrance and receiving of Christ’s broken body and spilled blood, the elements of the sacrifice which impart his indestructible life to us. We gather and remember so that we may worship the God who so loved, that he gave. In our Christian worship, we imitate Christ’s great sacrifice and offer ourselves back to God.

Before Christ, the purpose of the old covenant sacrificial system was twofold. The dead animals were given to atone as well as to worship. The different types of sacrifices had different names and different rules. Burnt offerings and sin offerings saved the sacrificer’s life on the principle of substitution, and cleansed the person’s moral conscience, while thanksgiving and freewill offerings were just that: optional expressions of gratitude and love to God.

Once, in his old age, David sought to build an altar to God and sacrifice animals on it, using another man’s nearby property to do so. The man offered David the use of his land, animals, and materials for free. By this point in his life, however, David understood, better than most of us, the stuff of which the worship of God consists. He responded, “No, but I will buy it from you at a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24).

The entire Mosaic religious system was principled on sacrifice. But then, so is religion everywhere. Deep in human nature exists an urging to sacrifice to God. Monks flagellating, Brahmans fasting, pagans cutting, Jews and Muslims slaughtering livestock. Religion tends to focus and codify this urging, but it goes deeper than religious codes. It’s more universal.

The dualistic urge to atone–to cover our shame and make good on our broken promises–and worshipfully love something greater than ourselves through sacrifice drives modern people along an unending pursuit of achievement and conformity (which gets billed as nonconforming originality, of course). Even without a demanding deity in the equation, we have created an urbanized version of law-keeping to what we imagine to be The Ultimate, accompanied by the required sacrifice of our actual, uninformed desires. Corporate ladder climbers, hipsters, gangsters, junior highers, moms. Everybody does it.

Now, back to Jesus. He gave up the riches of divinity for the poverty of humanity. He gave up his body to be smashed and disfigured by human cruelty. He gave up his self to be oppressed by the full load of human guilt and shame and to be ignited and consumed by the divine curse. In short, Jesus Christ made The Great Sacrifice to God. As with the old covenant animals, his death was both atoning and worshipful.

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:2

There it is. Christ’s death was a “fragrant offering” (worship) and it was “for us” (atonement). He worshiped his Father by obeying his will to the point of death, and he atoned for the sins of his people by suffering the consequence of their evil in their place and by offering a sacrifice of infinite positive worth to God on their behalf.

We celebrate Jesus’ death today because it canceled, once for all time, the need for us to sacrifice for atonement’s sake. The blood of Christ washes away all sin, and it is finished. We add nothing more to obtain forgiveness and vindication: not livestock corpses, not self-denial or self-harm, not the performance of good deeds, not conformity to a supposed standard of success. Our deep longing for absolution is at last profoundly satisfied. It’s done. Jesus did it for us.

The story about David remains, as does the worshipful aspect of the crucifixion. The other side of our drive to sacrifice, we find, is valid in Christ. Not to atone, but to worship. Worship to the God who so loved that he gave, it turns out, also looks like giving.

  • It is the sacrifice of our pride and self-justification, and the offering up of our broken hearts (Psalm 51:17).
  • It is the sacrifice of our money and possessions, given to spread God’s gospel among humanity (Philippians 4:18).
  • It is the sacrifice of our self-absorption and boasting, exchanged for talk of God and verbal praise of him (Hebrews 13:15).
  • It is the sacrifice of our time and energy spent in self-service, exchanged for the service of other human beings (Hebrews 13:16).

Ultimately we discover that our worship’s substance is the sacrifice of our selves.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1

David was right. There is no worship without sacrifice. The remarkable thing is that we never give to God something we didn’t firstly receive as a gift from him (1 Corinthians 4:7). We have nothing of our own to offer. Truthfully, all we ever bring to God is our need.

Yet he asks us to give–to give ourselves–anyway. It fulfills our deep urge to worship, and to do so by giving and sacrificing. It is the definition of love.

At the end of it all, we find that nothing is so truly ours as when we have given it completely to God.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” -Jim Elliot, 20th century Christian martyr

“I never made a sacrifice.” -Hudson Taylor, 19th century missionary to China

outside the camp

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:10-14
Follow the logic of the author’s train of thought here – it is beautiful.

We as Christians are entitled to eat from the altar of the holy communion, the bread and wine which depict the very body and blood of Jesus, an altar which the priests of the old covenant neither understood nor accepted. Just as they burnt their sacrifices for sin outside Jerusalem’s gates as prescribed by the law they idolized, Jesus, the only efficacious sacrifice for sin, also suffered his death outside the city. He was hated and excluded from their religion and from his people as a “blasphemer” – yet he volunteered for this. He did it to cleanse the consciences of sinners and to bring them in his wake to the Father.

Therefore, says the author, let us abandon our familiar territories, our safety zones, and our mundane desires. Let us claim the reproach and the ridicule that is ours by right, as people named after the great Outcast, the supreme Reject. The “city” we too comfortably habitate at the moment is on its way out. We aim for a different city altogether: the New Jerusalem, the breathtaking city of God that will be here before the world knows it.

The New Testament book of Hebrews is one of my favorites in the Bible. It is something of a commentary on the Old Testament, with a perspective, a realness, and an urgency that all revolves around the person Jesus. Here at the end of the letter, the unknown author beckons his very persecuted, very human, very real recipients: “let us go to him outside the camp.”

Of people who would answer his beckoning, several things must be true.

Jesus must captivate them. Not in a passively impressed way, like observing an interesting specimen behind a glass. Nor simply in an ethereal, indefinably spiritual way, like being drawn by the Spirit into figurative clouds of heavenly understanding. As a person with a particular personality who lived a particular life, Jesus of Nazareth must inspire awe in them. No one can imitate someone, to the point of self-denial, whom they do not know, or do not cherish.

Jesus’ love for these people must saturate them. They must unshakably believe that he is on their side, that he belongs to them, that he treasures them. Not by right nor by nature – sinners assuming God’s blessing is ultimately ridiculous – but by his proclamation of mercy at the cross. They must be utterly convinced of the cross’ power to transform them from self-loving lawbreakers into the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). “Jesus paid it all,” they say. “All to him I owe.”

Jesus’ Spirit must empower them.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t fit into any of our ordinary categories, and we very much like categories. Perhaps part of his majesty comes from his refusal to submit to our categories. In any case, we underestimate him all too often. He is the agent of power within us, the power that builds new things where old things were destroyed, explodes God’s love into our hearts, resurrects corpses, gives gifts of a spiritual nature to the church with variety and creativity, leads the sons of God, and a thousand other things for which he deserves worship and thanks – and dependence. People venturing “outside the camp,” outside the mold of self-reliant, self-serving living, must, out of necessity, lean harder on the power of the Spirit than on any other thing.
At this point in writing this post, personal experience forces me to consider the question: “What if I don’t feel this way? Why should I even care?” Whether from non-Christian or Christian lips – or more likely, unspoken thoughts – these words uncover something important about all this. Captivation, assurance of Jesus’ love, and the Holy Spirit all sound to my ears like very intangible, emotional things than I can do little to stir up inside myself. Emotions peak and bottom out, and efforts of the will have little to do with them.

But God does not submit to our categories, he does not. He does not leave us because our emotions dry up, nor does he lessen what he asks of us.

What he asks of us is to run to him for help a million times over, to believe that one ounce of obedience is worth an ocean of vain emotion, to fight temptation in prayer, and to really obey his command to follow him “outside the camp.” He asks us to obey it, disregarding the cost, disregarding the fact that more often than not we crave the approval of our peers more than the approval of our God, because he is our Lord who has gone before us, and because on the outskirts of the city, among the outcasts, the enemy-lovers, and the counter-cultural anti-heroes, is where he most truly dwells.

Let us go to him outside the camp.