“…between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel…” ~Genesis 3:15
Today marks one of the most holy days in the Church calendar: Easter Sunday.
Except it’s not today.
I’m writing this on Saturday (shh don’t tell anyone).
But Easter draws ever so near, and the excitement builds up from Good Friday, in eager anticipation of the day upon which the Resurrection took place, and thus, the triumph over sin and death.
And how did I spend this transition time between two such holy days? Deep contemplation? Fasting? Sackcloth and ashes? Alas, being a college student, I spent the transition time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday procrastinating on writing a psychology paper and listening to music. I was even procrastinating on listening to music, agonizing over, lamenting to my friend over the first-world problem of, “What should I listen to?”
Jazz-hop? Or Cult of Luna? After some deliberation, I decided to listen to Lowercase Noises’s James EP: it’s a comforting listen and an incredible experience. Its experience is heightened considerably once you realize that it’s an album written for his son, and you begin to feel the tenderness and the love the father pours into every note. I first heard this EP around senior year of high school, and I absolutely loved it. But I found something new listening to the last track.
The last track is a disjointed Doxology, and you can hear the guitar sing that melody in odd fashion, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”
The first time I learned of the Doxology was in freshman year of college, so I would’ve never recognized it in high school. But it’s a beautiful ending to such a gift to a son, isn’t it? Imagine the tenderness of beholding your newborn child and taking in the wonder, and immediately this comes out of your lips,
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”
It’s a vivid picture of a father’s love to a son, and by analogy, God’s love for us. He delights in us. Grace clothes us.
And time, after time, we refuse it still.
It seems as though our refusal takes this form quite commonly:
Church becomes a measuring contest. You see people swinging their faith around, looking for contenders and for the applause, “Look at how big my faith is!” And people square each other eye to eye and boast: spewing Bible verses and apologetics and fancy Latin phrases and long and complicated prayers.
“I pray for x hours a day!”
“Well, I go to church x times a week!”
“Oh, yeah? How do you feel about x issue?”
“Bro, do you even follow Christ?”
Accepting Grace is hard, not because it’s hard to reach, but because it’s so readily available. And Grace will take everything from you.
It’s really easy for us to put a condition on Love – familiarity nurtures fondness. We do it all the time.
Someone deserves my love and time if they…
I’ll only date people if they have…
I’ll only forgive them if they…
I’ll only accept them if they…
Conditional love is second-nature to us. It’s precisely because God’s love is unconditional that it makes us incredibly uncomfortable.
He loves the best parts of you just as much as he loves the worst parts of you.
And that should give us shivers. He knows every single thought, from the ones you cherish and the ones you would shudder at thought of them ever being revealed. And yet he still calls us children and friends. He knows and is familiar with the entirety of our being – and he gave up everything, and did not spare even his only Son.
Thus, if he gave up everything to claim us, that means there is nothing that we have that we can claim to keep.
Grace is terrifying – exactly because it is unconditional, because it is so freely given.
Grace forces us to look upon ourselves and forces us to look upon our shortcomings. Isn’t it so easy to come to God with some degree of morality and proudly declare, “Look! I’m a self-made holy person!” The idea that nothing holds any sort of weight before God on our own is boggling. We feel as though we have to act a certain way in order to be accepted by the people nearest to us, don’t we?
But all of it is a steaming pile of …
When we look at ourselves and what we’ve done, we so quickly come to the realization that none of it really holds major weight in the big picture. “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.”
No amount of devotion, of prayer, of Bible study, of going to Church, of ministry can ever scratch the surface of holiness.
What does this do?
We are forced to look at ourselves honestly, at our flaws, our sins, our shortcomings, and immediately come to the realization that we have nothing to boast of. No holiness. No religiousness. No goodness. By no human construct can we ever achieve Grace.
All we can do is humbly receive it.
There is no man, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, Proletariat or Bourgeoisie, male or female that is able to boast of anything. The faith measuring contest is silenced. Grace is the language we must speak.
What often frustrates me about the Church is that we are loathe to extend Grace and far too easily satisfied with petty contrivances of some semblance of a Christian mold.
We condemn people for their use of language and their tastes in music or literature or art or clothing, yet find ourselves reluctant to reach a helping hand to the lonely or to serve as a listening ear to the grieving.
Something is incredibly wrong when people wag their fingers at someone listening to *gasp* secular music, and turn a blind eye to hurting, broken people.
It’s far easier to cram “godly advice” down someone’s throat than it is to listen attentively, lovingly to someone’s grief and offer sympathy. It’s far easier to think, “I’m holier, I’m better than you,” than it is to kneel down and be humble.
We are loathe to be the hands and feet of Jesus and instead want to be our own Jesus.
Grace whispers to us that we must become less, and he must become more.
Grace is terrifying – it demands our all and it forces us to examine ourselves and to the inevitable realization that nothing we do can ever earn Grace.
But perhaps, most terrifying of all:
It’s what we need.
We know we need it. But all we’ve known is the conditional. What if Grace fails us? What if it’s not all it’s cracked up to be? What if I don’t like it? Is the price really worth it? Isn’t it safer just to rely on our efforts?
Grace is terrifying, but
Grace is so sweet.
Grace is the ocean, vast in its scope and no man can plumb its watery depths, no man can fathom the width or the breadth.
And Grace makes us whole – it lifts away the yoke of our fruitless efforts and yokes us with Christ. It soothes weary shoulders. It mends the shattered pieces of our broken lives.
This is a painting by Edgar Degas titled, Woman Bathing in a Shallow Tub. It seems unremarkable at first glance, and it is. It is remarkable precisely because it is so unassuming, because it is ordinary and naked. The subject is not an astounding specimen of the human race, nor is it a bad one. It is normal. And so we relate to the subject. John Berger comments in his book, The Shape of a Pocket, “ Watching the woman stand on one leg and drying her foot, we are happy for what has been recognized and admitted.” He comments further, “Do we not all dream of being known, known by our backs, legs, buttocks, shoulders, elbows, hair? Not psychologically recognised, not socially acclaimed, not praised, just nakedly known. Known as a child is by his mother.” We long to be known, not just in part, but in full. We long to be known, not for our actions, not for our acclaim. We long to be loved by Grace in all of our naked splendor, unconditionally, unreservedly. Flaws and all.
Dear reader, you lovely person, I don’t know where you’re at.
Maybe you’ve married razor to skin just so you can numb the pain inside,
Or hit another bottle of booze to wash down the guilt,
Maybe you’ve been at a low spot and you’re counting out the aspirin to overdose,
Or it’s this one panic attack that’s been driving you over the edge,
Or you haven’t eaten in days because food’s lost its taste,
Maybe your mom or your dad or a close relative died and the grief is too much,
Or you feel incredibly lonely and you don’t feel known or loved,
Maybe God’s been silent for a long time and it feels like he hasn’t answered anything,
Maybe you’re doing great and you’re on top of the world,
Maybe you’re doing okay and you’re just getting by.
I don’t know where you’re at, and I’m not going to say everything is going to be fine. Maybe the circumstances will worsen, maybe they’ll get better, maybe they’ll stay the same.
But I know this: that you are known, you are loved wholly for who you are, that you are loved amidst your flaws, and that you are loved unconditionally – the fount of all Wisdom and the noble origin of Creation, he who set the stars in the sky and gathered the waters into the oceans willingly gave up his life so that you might live and have life abundantly.
There is Grace in Christ, Grace that sets the captives free, that causes the blind to see and the deaf to hear, that delivers the captives and frees the oppressed, and that proclaims God’s favor over you. There is Grace that swaddles you in its embrace, and begins to make you whole and seep in like medicine in all the wounds. Grace picks up all the broken pieces and begins to put them back together again. Grace tells that we are known and that we are loved.
We give Grace our everything and we find ourselves made new.
And the Cross beckons us to come as we are, flaws and all.
Depression and all.
Anxiety and all.
Relationship problems and all.
Faith problems and all.
Identity problems and all.
Emotional problems and all.
Past and all.
And the Cross points to the empty tomb and invites us into the victory.
And I know it doesn’t feel like it sometimes. A lot of times, actually.
But the victory of Christ, knowing that sin and death is conquered is our Hope, our sustaining.
Sometimes, Hope doesn’t look triumphant.
Sometimes, Hope looks like whispering a reminder, “O’ Death, where is your victory? Where is your sting?” to yourself when you’re feeling low.
Sometimes it looks like, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Sometimes it looks like reluctantly facing the day, begging God for strength.
Hope is frail, but Hope is commanding.
Hope is understanding that Grace is doing something in us – it’s understanding that we are loved – it’s understanding that God is carrying us.
And Grace takes time, Love takes time to do its work – learning to love Grace, in its terror and sweetness, learning to love being Loved, learning to live in victory takes time, and Christ won’t ever let you go until you’re mended, until you’re whole and made new, until praise is the first thing that comes out of your lips.
There is Love for us, there is forgiveness: hope to turn these broken and dirty ashes into something new and beautiful.So we shout and proclaim, “Death! Death! Where is your victory? Where is your sting?”
Behold! He is doing a new thing! He is making a way in the wilderness, gathering the captives and the broken-hearted. He reverses the curse of Adam and has crushed the serpent beneath his heel.
Hail the risen Lamb, and behold! He has taken away the sin of the World, and in that day, where we close our eyes to sleep and pass on to the undiscovered country, and awake to the loving face of our Father, and awake to New Jerusalem and the passing away of old things, there will be no tears, no weeping, no sorrow, for the new has come.
I like to imagine what it’d be like to be the woman with severe bleeding in Luke 8. She’s tried everything to stop the bleeding and to be cured, and she sees this prophet who’s been the talk of the town. And she has nothing left to lose, and she thinks to herself, “If only I can just touch him, no, even just the hem of his robe, I can be healed.” And in desperation and in dire need of healing, she lightly brushes the hem of his robe. And Jesus feels healing power come out of him, and inquires, “Who touched me?” I can imagine the sheer terror of the woman, “What have I done?” expecting judgment from this prophet from whom she siphoned power from. I can imagine her hands trembling as she lifts them to her face to hide herself, and Jesus kneeling down and gently pushing her hands away. He speaks to her tenderly and compassionately, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
We are like the woman – we have nothing but Grace, and in tenderness, Jesus beckons us to partake in peace and in victory.
Happy Easter – may you find Grace in God, who loves you.