Yesterday was one of those “I’m not going to let cancer slow me down” kind of days. I’ve been painting my oldest daughter’s bedroom, and I’m realizing that 1) I don’t think I’m very fast and 2) it can wear you out. But I was hell-bent on putting the first coat on her walls yesterday. And afterwards, the plan was to head to downtown Athens for AthFest for some dinner and to let our kids experience a little Drivin’ N Cryin’.
Alas, after I had finished and cleaned up my equipment, I felt dizzy. I started getting the chills. I thought I might be getting a fever. But as my daughters and my wife were ready to leave, I didn’t want to ruin their fun. And I didn’t want to miss out on any fun with my family. So I was determined to go. But I felt like I should check my temperature, just in case, and discovered that I was running a fever approaching 101°. Okay, so that’s not very high, but it is when you’re on cancer treatment. Oncologists don’t like fevers. But, I figured I was just exhausted and simply needed refreshment, so I got in the car and we drove downtown.
We met my oldest at Ted’s Most Best pizza, sat down together, enjoyed some conversation and good food, and I thought I might be getting better. About 30 minutes before Kevin Kinney and company were set to go on stage, I decided to check my temperature again, and it was 101. Ugh. Frustrated, I left my family to go home and rest.
So that’s when this post started, at home with a temperature, so that should explain the fever of it. I’ll go ahead and tell you the rest of this post is about Jesus. So now is your chance to click away if you choose.
Yesterday at church, our pastor gave a very helpful sermon, but I won’t get into all the details. What I will say is that, interestingly, he ended it by focusing on what we call The Mystery of Faith: “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”
He discussed each in turn, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the first part, Christ’s death. How is this mysterious? What captivated me then and does so now is the fact that this is the most important death ever. And why is that? On the surface, it seems the 2nd and 3rd parts are the key concepts to Christians, while the first can be taken for granted, since, obviously, everyone dies. Our hope is in the resurrection and the complete redemption of the world. That’s the good news, the Gospel. And yet, we start with “Christ is dead,” because we know this death was unique among the many billions of human deaths ever. This death is personal for each of us. And we affirm this when we profess faith by proclaiming, “Christ died on our behalf.”
Consider for a moment if a family member or a friend jumped in front of a bullet for you. Not only preserving, it would change your life forever. You would never forget that person. You would honor their family. And you would likely seek to live a life worthy of the cost. This was the point of the ending scenes of Saving Private Ryan, when James Ryan, gray with years, visits the grave of Captain John Miller, who, along with the rest of their company, had lost his life rescuing Ryan. Ryan drops to his knees to speak directly to his long gone friend, “I hope that, at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.” But this was only for the benefit of one man and his family. With Christ, we believe He essentially stepped in front of a bullet for each of us.
To think about it another way, imagine a gathering of God’s people sitting around a table, having enjoyed the feast of life but fretting the forthcoming bill that each lacks the means to pay. The bills, of course, list every one of our transgressions, the self-serving thoughts, words, and deeds. The headwaiter enters the room and asks the table, “Will this be all together? Or separate checks?”. I think Edward Abbey’s satirical quote from the featured image is somewhat accurate. But I hear the voice of Jesus silence the din with the astonishing response, “Separate. But bring them all to me.” Picture this for all of God’s people, and it’s an absurd quantity of bills, plastic check trays stacked to the heavens.
Conceptually, it certainly would be easier, so would it make any difference to the outcome if He had said “all together?” If Christ had died for all sin as a whole? It makes all the difference in the world. He acknowledges the sins of each of us and pays each bill separately. With His life. This was an extraordinarily personal event that should bring us to our knees in gratitude and cause us to seek a life worthy of it, but, unlike the burden Captain Miller places on Private Ryan when he says with his last words, “James, earn this. Earn it,” only faith is required.
And here we reach a chasm. We don’t believe in death, we accept it as fact, so, sure, Christ died. But to believe that He rose three days later requires something other than fact, because resurrection isn’t a normal human experience, although His resurrection is one of the most documented events in ancient history. The bridge across the chasm from acceptance of His death to belief in His resurrection is faith, and because Christ died for each of His people individually, each person must find their own way. Separate checks, separate bridges. Mine is like a foot-bridge at a theme park, wobbly and eliciting fear and uncertainty, when in reality it is entirely secure. But many don’t see it at all. Maybe, like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade as he reaches the abyss preventing him from reaching the cave of the Holy Grail, with these blog posts I’m trying to cast a little sand on the bridges of my friends and family so they can see them, but the first step is always ours alone.
Once gripped, it is faith that gives us hope that we too might be resurrected. That we can suffer through any trial because some day all things will be made right, even if it takes a thousand millennia. That’s life on the other side, persevering in the hope of the risen Christ. For me, I’d rather live there, even if foolishly wrong, then stay on the side of death, where from dust I was made and will return, and that’s the end of my story. Where’s the thrill in that? Where’s the suspense? No. Much more than merely dust, I sense the soul, a thing created for eternity. It is no less mysterious than what we proclaim: Christ has died, Christ has risen. Christ will come again. Amen.
Referenced movie scenes: