Monday, April 6, 2009

Rugged Love

In yesterday's post, I mentioned our church's Palm Sunday service. It was beautiful, but excruciating. Every aspect of the service was intended to take us right up to the foot of that old, rugged cross. In his prayer, our worship pastor prayed these words: "Father, help us not be those who would play games at the foot of the cross."

(How many times have I done just that?)

And, once again, I was reminded of "Celebrate Life," the musical the Kimberly Church of God Youth Choir performed more than 100 times. One of the most vivid memories I have of those performances is how quickly our joyful, hope-filled cheers of "Hosanna!" turned into hateful, hope-disappointed screams of "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

Wherever we sang, someone would usually walk up after the service and say something like, "Isn't it hard to scream 'crucify Him'? I don't think I could do that."

But, perhaps screaming those hard words all those times in my teenage life helped me in my adult life to finally realize that, in God's reality, I had screamed them. My sin screamed them. My fall demanded that Someone sinless, Someone completely God and completely man, be "lifted up" to take God's punishment for me so that my relationship as a child of Abba-God could be restored.

On Sunday night, Garrett and I watched "The Passion" at our church's high school ministry service. As we left, I asked him, "How did watching that make you feel?" He told me he couldn't put into words. Then, he asked me the same question.

I had to agree with him...trying to put words to such scenes of loving, suffering, obedience in the face of God-forsakenness and brutal violence and...evil...feels clumsy and completely inadequate. (I'm sure I could more easily find words if I could just blame someone else for what happened on that skull-shaped hill.)

As I drove...with both of us still processing the bloody, brutal images we had just seen...I finally offered up these measly words: "It makes me want to love Him more." And...I guess that's the rugged, vulnerable effect contemplating Calvary is supposed to have.

"Oh, Jesus, perfect Lamb of God, help me not be one who would play games at the foot of the cross. Instead, cause me to linger there until I realize the price you paid and everything you "finished" there. May doing so always make me long to love You more. Amen."

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suffering and shame;
and I love that old cross where the dearest and best
for a world of lost sinners was slain.
In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
a wondrous beauty I see,
for 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
to pardon and sanctify me.
So I'll cherish the old rugged cross,
till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it some day for a crown.

(More than 600 years before Jesus was even born, the following words were spoken and written by one of God's prophets, Isaiah)
There was nothing beautiful
or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected,
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;

it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.
He was oppressed and treated harshly,

yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned, he was led away.
....He was struck down for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal; put in a rich man’s grave.
But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief.

Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
he will have many descendants.
....When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
for he will bear all their sins.
....He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.
(from Isaiah 53, NLT)

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