FAITHFUL LIVING: We celebrate a risen Christ

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday and never have I longed for tomorrow’s joy more than this Easter. This is because I purposely stepped away from the celebratory aspects of the holiday, holding the anticipated joy at bay. Instead, I focused this week on the events of Jesus’ final days and purposely placed myself smack dab in the middle of Christ’s misery, as best as a modern day woman can.

It is a new decision for me, as growing up in Protestant churches offered experiences that focused my attention on the miracle and joy surrounding His resurrection, rather than the torture of suffocating on a cross. The primary mental images I formed during my childhood depict Christ robed, standing with His palms outstretched to reveal the nail holes. A halo of light usually surrounded His very being.

Quite frankly, it seemed other worldly to me most of the time. Relating to this image was difficult. I rarely saw Christ hanging on a cross, for my parents believed that if I consistently saw a crucified Christ I would be left with the impression that He died and that is the end of the story. If I did see a crucified Christ it was a sanitized portrayal of the event. Even the classic paintings, like the The Escorial Deposition, painted by Roger Van DeWeyden in 1435, portrays Christ’s lifeless and spotlessly clean body being lowered from the cross. Amazing how Van DeWeyden avoids the messiness connected with severe beatings, a crown of thorns thrust into Christ’s head, and a speared ribcage. It seems even the great artists could not move their brushes in the direction of reality.

All that cleanliness came to an abrupt and horrific end for me, thanks in part to actor/producer Mel Gibson and his critically acclaimed, “The Passion of the Christ.” For the first time in my life I have been able to envision the utter horror and over-the-edge brutality of the event. For two hours, late Monday evening, I sat with my son and husband and behind a row of students with whom I work, to contemplate Christ’s mockery of a trial, the unending beatings, and His agony-filled hours nailed to a cross.

It was a difficult task with which I challenged myself. I had read reviews and listened as people described their personal reactions to the movie. I wondered how I would feel, as I avoid watching portrayals of violence at nearly all costs. I wondered with some concern how I would react as I am shy in many public settings to show strong emotion.

I suffered — quietly, profoundly, deeply, and at length.

I initially connected with Mary, Christ’s mother, as she watched, helpless and in shock, her son endure the worst of pain and humiliation. I’ve now lived long enough and experienced enough with my own children to be able to understand in part what it feels like to be a mother with a broken heart. I am grateful that I am a modern woman who can connect with such an ancient event through the universal experiences of motherhood.

I am also grateful that I now have a better understanding of the events and what a truly magnificent gift Christ has offered me. I long for a daily connection with Him and have experienced some insightful moments this week as I have set aside time to ponder my own sin, the ripple effect it has on others, and the supreme gift of forgiveness Christ offers. Such an understanding has moved me away from intellectualizing the story and forced me to probe deep within my heart. As a result I have experienced moments of sweet sorrow for which I am profoundly thankful.

“The Passion of the Christ” does not deal with the aftermath of the crucifixion, except to briefly portray a living Christ. Has all this left you wondering if Christ’s body was stolen? This might have occurred were it not for the Roman soldiers who diligently sealed and guarded the tomb. Losing the body would have placed their lives in jeopardy with their superiors. It would also have empowered Christ’s followers and further inflamed an already enormous political problem for the Romans. If a Roman had been able to produce the body once it was discovered missing, it would have quelled all rumors once and for all. No Roman would steal the body and certainly no follower would either, for in time Christ’s followers not only grew to span the globe, but countless voluntarily gave up personal comfort as well as their lives for the right to tell the world that a relationship with Christ promises everlasting life.

Tomorrow I’ll tiptoe Easter baskets into my children’s rooms, enjoy a cup of coffee with a hot crossed bun, and celebrate the resurrection of Christ with my family and friends. The suffering is over. Let the celebrating begin!

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