God Won

it is salty

it tickles the fleshy underside of his foot a little

it is pooling in the hollows above his collarbone

warms him up

 

blood like a woman caressing the tendons in his back

blood behind his ears and in his eyes

and he can’t rub it out

blood won’t leave him alone

 

he has never noticed tiredness in his fingernails before

or in his skin

there is pain in his hair

that is new

 

someone in his skull is banging hard on the door

let me out

these gates are shut from the outside

you’re trapped in there for good

 

he wanted God

God wanted him

and God won

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Death Died (Holy Week)

Easter 2015

I. Monday.

Most deaths quake the earth of at least one little person.

Death shakes humans up and we’re never ready for him.

If your mother dies, then a part of you dies with her.

Cruel, unnatural is her cold, immobile body.

Don’t get used to it. It’s wrong and awful. Shocking.

 

II. Friday.

One death quaked the earth, and the sun switched off for hours.

Time stopped, nothing was; just a young man and his father.

If your child dies, then a part of you dies with him.

“This is all there is”; so it’s merely weak, pathetic.

But I have to ask, why aren’t we more OK with it?

 

III. Sunday.

Death died, so did I. On that day, I gave up fighting.

At dawn, later on, something broke to let the light in.

Life lived once again and it changed this world we die in.

Sunday, on its way, though it’s nighttime watch for us now;

Stay up, wait with me, while we stand on this quaking ground.

a season of dying

I’ve been thinking a lot about death. That will happen, sometimes, in the midst of total normalcy and the endless forward march of time. Neither crisis nor an imminent sense of my own mortality brought about this reflection. It’s just part of being human, I guess.

Once the concept began moving to the forefront of my thought-life, it started arising in lots of contexts. Such as: driving on the freeway on a road trip, my only passenger asleep, and how utterly striking it suddenly became that one effortless flick of my wrist could end both our lives in an instant. And no one would ever know what happened. Or: if [that’s a significant “if”] we each get only one opportunity to exist, and for as short a time as the human lifespan, major decisions such as career choices and marriage partners are mindbogglingly weighty. If you pick a job or spouse that you end up hating, then you have to spend your life hating it–and then you never get to exist again. If you suffer from chronic pain or long-term depression and if this is your only shot at existence, then this is your only shot at existence. And: what if [x person in my life] died today? The world I inhabit would be fundamentally altered, and I’d have to keep living in it. But it would be a whole new world, forever. Etc.

Lent, the Christian season of fasting and repentance before Easter, is in some sense a season of dying. Fasting is the practice of “mortifying” one desire in order to enhance other ones (like when your sight is taken away so your hearing becomes acute). Repentance is a process whereby “you” die, and God remakes a new “you” in your place. This season of dying culminates in Good Friday, the remembrance of divine death itself.

And then Easter comes along. The resurrection of Jesus says a lot of things, if you’re willing to listen. Among them is the idea that there may in fact be more than one shot at existence. There is the idea that death may not be the end, but rather the entrance into a truer Truth, a truer Life. It is the shape of the Christian narrative and thus the Christian life: fasting and feasting, repentance and regeneration, humility and exaltation, death and resurrection.

I’ve banked my life on that narrative, not to escape the terror of life decisions and the fragility of existence–although one must wonder why it’s so universally disconcerting, if it really is the only option–but because a God who would die for me is not a God I can walk away from.

So, consider death. Consider how it ought to make us live. Consider the God who creates out of nothingness, resurrects from the tomb, and regenerates human persons so that we become, finally, alive.

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2

Good Friday: the cross is an intersection

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet?
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Isaac Watts

The shape of the cross is the universal symbol of the Christian faith. Geometrically, a cross is two perpendicular lines intersecting. One vertical, the other horizontal.

When Jesus Christ died on his cross nearly two thousand years ago on a hill outside Jerusalem, paradoxes were proclaimed and unlike realities intersected with each other in a way that they never had before or will again.

God + humanity
The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the God-man, fully human and fully divine, yet one person with one nature. Simple enough to say, impossible to comprehend. Yet what that means is that when Christ died on his cross, the world of heaven – the vertical beam, if you will – cut into the world of earth – the horizontal beam. Jesus hung there, suspended between the two worlds, bridging the impasse between them. You could say that the cross was the ladder down which God climbed to make peace with humanity, to reach us. Therefore, to reach God, all a person needs is to come to the cross.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:20

wrath + grace
Sin provokes the Holy One to ferocious, irrepressible anger. God’s own love provokes him pardon sinners. At the cross, these two elemental aspects of God’s character met and embraced. The wrath of God against human sin inflicted itself on Jesus’ shoulders, back, neck, hands, feet, body, soul, mind and spirit; totally, comprehensively, exhaustively. He took every ounce, for my sin and yours. He absorbed the blow, stepping in as the scapegoat, the sacrifice, the substitute. All that is left over for us, the ones standing in Jesus’ shadow, are the grace, the mercy, the forgiveness, the love.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6

decimation of our pride + affirmation of our worth
The cross gives us a revolutionized way to look at ourselves, one that is painful and profoundly sweet at the same time. I’m using the strong word “decimation” here to mean “totally cancel and destroy.” The cross certainly decimates our pride, or our self-esteem, depending on your vocabulary. It asserts without apology that our self-imposed predicament of sin, death, hell, and alienation from God is so severe that nothing less than the Son of God’s torture and death could hope to address it. An extreme problem – the human condition – called for an extreme solution. No one but Jesus will cut down your pride and self-justification so thoroughly, because no one but Jesus loves you so deeply.

While decimating our attempts at self-worth, the cross affirms with abandon our value to God. It asserts, likewise without apology, that the depths of God’s grace towards us are so unfathomable that he found it worthwhile sacrifice the Son for the rabble outside, in order to turn the rabble into sons! Therefore, you count. You are not a waste. You are worthy. God says so.

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. Galatians 6:14

suffering + glory
The Bible is chock full of paradoxes, as we should expect from a book claiming to contain divine truth. One of the most essential paradoxes in Christian thought – in my mind, it’s the key to the whole thing – is the one that Jesus expressed a few hours before his arrest:

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.” John 13:31-32

Now is the Son of Man glorified. Now, as he is arrested, falsely accused, beaten, scourged, stripped, mocked, crucified, murdered. On the cross, glory intersected with suffering. Honor with shame, life with death. I do not understand it, but the brutally disfigured, naked body of Jesus on the cross brought glory to God. It blazed through and through with the glory of God. The Son of Man’s suffering screamed glory! glory! hallelujah!

That is the Christian paradigm. In our lives, that means that suffering and glory are intertwined, and death always comes before a resurrection.

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30

…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

meditations on Holy Week (3): the Passover lamb

Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 1 Corinthians 5:7
In the book of Exodus, God freed his people the Israelites from viciously oppressive slavery. In order to do so, he inflicted a series of ten miraculous plagues against their masters, the Egyptians, and the false gods the Egyptians worshipped. Each successive plague demonstrated the greatness and the “mighty hand and outstretched arm” of the true God, Yahweh, in comparison to the nonexistent power of the Egyptian idols. The last plague was the worst. In one night, God caused the firstborn son of every idolatrous family in Egypt to die.

Every family, except those who did this one thing: slaughtered an unblemished lamb and smeared its blood on the doorposts of the family’s home.

This ancient event constitutes the extremely important Jewish holiday of Passover, so-called because God “passed over” the houses with blood on them. Jews of all kinds celebrate it around the world today. Jesus and his disciples celebrated it 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem, during the original Holy Week. They ate the traditional Passover meal during the “last supper,” Jesus’ last meal before he died.

Passover meant (and still means) everything to the Jews, because it so incredibly encapsulated the awesome interplay between God’s justice and his mercy, and it so vividly demonstrated his provision of grace. The reality is, though, that Passover absolutely pales in comparison to its true fulfillment at the cross of Jesus.

Jesus – the Holy One of Israel, the Chosen One, the Messiah – for the sake of love became, himself, the final Passover lamb, the sacrifice for the idolatry of the people. The spotless lamb, the man of perfection, shed his blood on the cross, on two wooden beams so much like doorposts, so that idolaters like you and I may be “passed over” on the coming Day of Judgment, when every hidden thought and deed is laid bare before the piercing eyes of a holy God. Not only passed over, but freed from slavery, redeemed, given an inheritance in the ultimate promised land, adopted as children of the Father.

The love of Jesus on the cross is what Christians celebrate today, Good Friday, and oh how good it is. This love is not clean, it is bloody, and incalculably painful; but it is pure. This love is extended to all who dare to listen, and it is good enough for all who dare to come. This love is what makes life make sense, it’s what quiets a guilty conscience, it’s what humbles the proud and raises the shamed, it’s what changes a life, it’s what saves a people, it’s what brings us to God.

Therefore: paint his blood on your door! Paint his blood on your door daily. There is never a day when you do not need it, and never a day when it is not sufficient for you.