Friday, April 13, 2007
And so one night I experienced Passover, as Jesus and his disciples did, and the next night found me in the Garden of Gethsemane praying with Jesus just before his arrest and subsequent crucifixion.
A group I am involved with from church is exploring nontraditional methods of worship, outreach, etc. We had an incredible worship experience one night last week.
As we had been instructed ahead of time, we arrived at the church, entered and found our own private place to worship. The lights were dim, candles were lit, music was playing softly. A chair was set up here and there, and couch cushions were piled up in several places on the floor. I quietly selected a cushioned floor spot and began to pray.
This was supposed to be a spiritual check-in time, and so I began by bringing God all of the cares and concerns I've had over the last few weeks. It was wonderful to have time to do this without either being interrupted by a husband or a phone, without falling asleep because it was time for bed, without feeling like I needed to hurry because I had ten million other things I needed to do. I do have prayer and Bible study time daily but it's very rare I get the lengthy uninterrupted time like I had on this particular night. And so I had time to bring everything to God and hand it all over to Him so that I could be free to worship.
And then the movie began -- we watched Mel Gibson's version of The Passion, without subtitles. It was a movie we had all watched before, but this time was different -- we weren't supposed to merely watch the movie, we had been instructed to experience it, whatever that meant to us personally.
It was an incredible experience, one I encourage anyone to take some time and do. Do it alone, make sure you'll not be interrupted, take the phones off the hook, don't make any more plans for the evening, set aside this time as God's, and try to experience the events you see on the screen instead of just watching them. It's amazing what God can show you and teach you through this. Much of what I experienced was too personal to share, but I will share a few things.
First, Jesus tells us to take up our crosses daily and follow Him. I may not have a literal cross as Jesus did, but Jesus' death on the cross was the Father's will for His life, something He didn't wish to do but decided to do anyway, and therefore to take up my cross daily, I must also decide each and every day to do whatever the Father's will for me that day is. I have been struggling with doing His will in one area of my life for awhile now, and though I have spent much time in prayer over the matter and on many days have made that decision that I AM going to do it even though I don't want to, my good intentions fall so quickly to the wayside when faced with the issue and I have to start all over again the next day.
So I came to this experience in anticipation of dealing with this matter of taking up my own cross by immersing myself in the experience of Jesus' taking up His cross, and trying to identify as completely as possible with Him. It was my sin He bore so that I can identify with Him, and therefore it was my desire to truly focus on identification with Christ tonight in whatever way that might lead to.
With this in mind, I prayed along with Jesus in the garden that not my will, but His be done. At the same time, I attempted to feel what Jesus must have been feeling that night, knowing what was to come -- not just the physical torture and death He was about to experience, but the heartwrenching knowledge that God was going to turn His back on Him -- something we will never have to suffer. Beth Moore offered up the idea in her study Jesus the One and Only that Jesus may have suffered more emotionally from the anticipation and dread of what He knew was to come than He actually did during the crucifixion itself. So often when we know we're going to have to do something extremely distasteful to us, the nervousness and dread while waiting for it to happen are harder than just doing it and getting it over with. I thought of this while watching Jesus' suffering in the Garden.
The first thing in the movie that was really eye-opening for me was when Pilate was offering up the traditional release of a prisoner during Passover. Jesus or Barabbas? I recognized for the first time that I identified with Barabbas. It wasn't a comfortable thought. I'd prefer to identify with the women who loved Jesus, or with the disciples, but the reality of it struck me as I saw the two men standing side by side, and Barabbas released. Portrayed in the movie as dirty, filthy, wicked, and crazy -- and had it not been for God's plan that Jesus be crucified, there is no way Barabbas ever would have been chosen by the people to be released. How blatant was the comparison that Barabbas' freedom was granted only because of Jesus' death, just as my freedom was also purchased by Jesus' death. And then as the movie depicted, did the man display the gratitude that Jesus deserved? Did he say so much as a thank you? Did he worship at His feet as he should have done? No -- in fact, he didn't seem at all grateful. He laughed and jeered and mocked the very one who made his freedom possible. And I identified with that man. After all, don't I make a mockery of the cross when I minimize its significance? When I choose my own will over God's in spite of all that He's done for me? When I fail to share its meaning with those who need most to know? Yes -- I am Barabbas.
The most difficult part for me was the flogging. My first thought was, how could men be so evil as to inflict such torture upon another human being? But I knew, and reminded myself, that it was me inflicting those wounds. He was bruised for MY transgressions. He was crushed for MY iniquities. And I kept repeating in my mind over and over with each crack of the whip, by HIS stripes I am healed, by His stripes I am healed. Every gash, every whiplash, brings healing to me. I found myself crying out to them as the beating just went on and on and on to stop it, to leave Him alone, He'd suffered enough. But I realized that I needed to cry out to myself to stop it. It was my sin that was inflicting those wounds, and yet I continue in my sin, just as the men continued the beating. How incriminating for me, to see firsthand what my sins, what my selfishness, what my pride causes to the One I love more than anyone else. If that isn't motivation to stop, nothing is.
I finished off the experience by feeling the pain that my sins bring upon Him, asking for forgiveness, and recommitting to take up my cross daily. Now if I can just bring to mind that flogging every time I am tempted to sin, maybe I can keep that resolution.