“God with us.” What a beautiful and loaded title for someone to bear. Not “God beyond us” … not, “God above us” … not, “God yelling at us” … not, “God against us.” Nope. God with us. Another title attached to Jesus was “The Word.” Somehow this Jesus could be described as the very words of God. The Words of God in the flesh. A word, in God’s world, is an action. His words have meaning, set things into motion, and create things. As thus, Jesus is not just the words of God … but, the actions of God. If you were to ask, “what’s God like?” you could respond with “Jesus.”
Emmanuel felt our brokenness, witnessed our depravity … and, tasted of our hells. He encountered the myriad of injustices which we so readily create. He hung out with the outcasts … and ate dinner with those who weren’t good enough for their “churches.” He experienced the effects of greed, pride, arrogance, lust, and envy. He knew what it was like to feel lonely and distant. And on this day, on good Friday, He declared on our behalf … “Enough.”
Can I be really, brutally honest?
Most of my friends are very spiritually inclined people. They hold onto hope, they are compassionate, they love freely, they extend grace readily … in many ways, they embody the nature of Jesus. But, many of them admit to feeling far from God. Most of them continue to go to church on Sundays, but feel increasingly disconnected through the process of attending church and listening to sermons. Many of them have given up and moved on. A few are stuck in the middle of those two scenarios.
The reason for this? They feel as if their churches are killing them.
Their experiences and interactions with church have left them spiritually numb, and wanting. I must explain that this is larger than worship styles and preferences. This is bigger than what sort of music is being played. This is a fundamental shift in the theological formation of minds … a dividing point over the point of it all. Most of my friends who have given up on church still love Jesus … they just feel as if their churches are missing the point. Actually, they feel as if Jesus is missing from their churches. What sad commentary for people to bear the name of Jesus, but lack the mark of “God with us.”
What’s this have to do with today … with Good Friday? Everything.
The story of Easter is perplexing, to say the least. “God with us” hanging on a cross, dying. When presented creatively and articulately … it drudges up all sorts of questions, dialogues, and responses. It unearths deep, significant, multi-faceted truths. It speaks toward our destinies … but also toward our current realities. It points toward something greater … something of more importance … something not held back, or oppressed, by the things which so easily rob us of life and meaning. It gives hope. It speaks love. It invites participation.
In other words, it’s anything but boring.
But many of us will insist on telling the story in boring ways. Many of us will spend our energy lecturing those who’ve drifted to come back. We will probably include a lot of yelling, to convey the importance of our testimonies and stories. And I’m sure that for a lot of us, art and creativity will be significantly lacking in our Easter stories. I wish that we’d tell compelling stories, in compelling ways … stories which are centered around grace and hope (not shame and guilt). Maybe those stories would illicit greater response.
This Easter, many people will walk into your church for the first time in a long time. They will come with low expectations, burdened by their histories and previous contact with churches. They’ll come expecting the same thing they’ve always seen. But they’ll come with a glimmer of hope. They may be jaded, they may have baggage … but, they’ll be desperately holding on to hope.
How are you going to respond?
Sadly, there will be people who will read this post and respond with anger. They’ll talk about how this is degrading to the church … they’ll lecture about the lack of commitment among today’s generation … they’ll re-educate on the importance and identity of the church. I get that … I know where that comes from. But it still makes me sad.