Season of Grief

So it is with a mix of skepticism and heartfelt curiosity that I approach the topic of Jesus now. It happens to be Lent. Before this, what I knew of Lent came from my elementary and middle school years, when a classmate would proudly exclaim that they were “giving something up for Lent.” It might be chocolate or video games or, if she was super hardcore, television. I thought this was a fascinating and impressive endeavor, especially as it seemed to come out of nowhere, like a little personal challenge of willpower. My secret feelings about my own worthiness lent a certain logic to the notion that a person might deny themselves something they loved: a self-inflicted punishment for whatever deep badness lay hidden inside each of us. What any of this had to do with Jesus, I remained blissfully unaware of until recently.

I’m learning that Lent is the time of year when Christians are meant to reflect on the last chapter in Jesus’ life. Sometimes called the “Season of Grief,” it stretches from late winter leading into spring and is recognized over several Sundays that culminate with Easter. Catholic clergy are more likely to formally integrate its commemoration into their services, but it seems Protestants are coming around to honoring Lent with more than a just passing mention. The sequence of events at the heart of the season is so ubiquitous that one need never step foot in church to know the basic facts: Jesus is condemned to death and nailed to a cross. So pervasive is the associated imagery, that it’s hard to actually feel anything in response. (A bloody young man hanging from planks of wood? Just Jesus.) The purpose of Lent is to move past the desensitization, to go deeper into the painful aspects of this story, to at least reach for understanding. In fact, in some cultures a decadent party is thrown before Lent to help sweeten the bitterness of what is sure to be a difficult time of sadness and sacrifice. Carnival in Brazil is an example, as is Mardi Gras in New Orleans—just think of all those partying Nones participating in the preparations for an ancient Christian ritual without even knowing it.

Last week, when I was at an Episcopalian service, the female priest acknowledged how difficult Lent is, explaining that she understood why people would rather leap frog over it and land on the happy Easter part. Today, the Methodist minister, an absent-minded professor-type with a beard and a wall-eye, leads us into the eye of the storm. He explains that when Jesus was summoned to stand trial for his crime, which was claiming to be God’s child, he was greeted by the people as a hero. They knew Jesus had never been anything but exceptionally kind to everyone he encountered, had gone around practicing the love that he preached. The people lined the streets and cheered and spread palm fronds on the ground so that the hooves of the donkey he was riding wouldn’t touch the dirt. After his conviction, the people turned on Jesus, spitting on him, kicking him, ripping at his clothes. They clapped as he was lashed and then cheered as the spikes were driven through his palms and feet.

I’m thinking about how I would have reacted if it were me that was unjustly sentenced to death. I would have been both terrified and pissed, I would have hated all those people, I would have gone down with the bitterest anger in my heart and the worst expletives spewing from my mouth. But Jesus goes willingly, with nothing but pure love for every one of those jerks. Then I think, ‘what if I were one of the crowd?’ Would I have stood up for Jesus? Doubtful. All my information would have been through the grapevine: this man claims to be divine. I wouldn’t buy such a claim now, what makes me think I would have bought it then? Even some of his most loyal followers turned their backs on him. The people who lashed out physically were caught up in a frenzy, they were not any more “bad” or “good” than any of us. We fool ourselves if we don’t recognize that in each of us exists this same capacity for cruelty. Even Jesus knew it, but loved them anyway. I think about the many public examples of greed in our culture, the CEOs who take million dollar bonuses when their businesses have just been bailed out by taxpayers struggling to make ends meet, and all the smaller versions of selfishness we perpetrate throughout any given day, and how Jesus’ actions and message were the antithesis of this kind of behavior.

I glance up at the whirring fans, hoping to blink away whatever this is I feel rising in my heart. Then it happens: tears well up in my eyes. My reaction is about more than just Jesus, I realize. It’s the bubbling up of emotions I’ve kept tamped down throughout my church visits so far. These designated places where life’s most profound subjects take center stage, all the devotion that pours out, all the people who show up on Sundays to search in their hearts, even if not everyone comes for this reason or the “right” reason, I still think most people are sincere when they walk through those doors. They want to remember the importance of love, forgiveness, kindness. If nothing else, they will lend their voices to those of their neighbors. They will hear the words expressed on these topics by wise people who have lived and died, and maybe they will be touched by their meaning. It’s such a beautiful attempt at something good.

This moment feels like a small victory, a step toward some greater wisdom I’m in desperate need of—a small step, but a step nonetheless. I can’t possibly understand the essence of Christianity unless I get Jesus. I have yet to tackle the biggest challenge: how to wrap my mind around God. But Jesus is a start.

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9 thoughts on “Season of Grief

  1. Just read a section from your blog. It makes me feel blessed that my parents took me to worship services every Sunday. Attending church helped me focus on those feelings of goodness and love that you describe. It was like going to the watering hole each week. It reminded me keep my face toward God’s goodness, and hopefully, to try to put Christ’s kindness into action in my own life. I will continue to read of your spiritual journey. Best wishes, Mary Lee Friesz

  2. This post strikes me as rather odd. In the Catholic faith in which I was raised, the weeks leading up to Christmas were referred to as Advent. This was something quite separate from Lent, which started a few months later on Ash Wednesday. Is it really different in other Christian sects? The notion that a Christian church would focus on the Easter story in the days leading up to Christmas seems very strange.

    • Hi Matt, While it was Lent when I did the stations that were set up temporarily, some churches (mostly Catholic?) have permanent stations. I think Tim mentioned that his family walks the stations every week, all year long.

      • Yeah Catholic churches generally (always?) have permanent stations built into the walls. There was some place in/near Cleveland where I live that had the stations outdoors, and my family would occasionally go there when the weather was nice. Not sure if it’s still around or not.

  3. I don’t know if you’re reading many texts along your journey, but the Book Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus gives a great (if that’s the right word to use) illustration on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion and the day of.

  4. Hello Corinna,

    I have just begun reading through your journey and wanted to make a comment. I hope that it comes across in the spirit in which it is intended.

    Many a Christian will focus solely on the degree of physical suffering that Jesus Christ had to face for our sake, but I believe there is a deeper vision. I will attempt to illustrate a powerful example given by a Presbyterian minister by the name of Tim Keller (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9jHlrMRJAo).

    When we look at an animal that is injured, we understand that the animal is experiencing pain, but we also realize that when we experience pain the level and degree possibly felt is intensified due to our “higher order.” In other words because we can experience more than said animal our pain is deeper more profound.

    If Jesus is who He said He is i.e. the Son of God, then the pain that He went through would have to be significantly greater than anything that we can fathom. I would premise that the psychological, spiritual agony that Jesus went through made the physical torture nothing more than a distant happening. It is recorded in scripture that in the moments coming up to Golgotha that Jesus sweated drops of blood (Hematidrosis) and would of died there if angels did not revive Him. As I understand it, Jesus took upon Himself the sin of the world past present and future, and bore it to Calvary, thus satisfying God’s wrath (note: God’s wrath is a much misunderstood teaching, but alas I digress).

    continue to look to Jesus, for He is the central focus of Christianity. You will understand our world view in clearer ways with Him as your focus. I also would like to encourage you to look into Sabbatarian faith groups (Messianic communities, Seventh-day Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists), they offer another side to the Christian story that is quite pertinent. I myself am a Seventh-day Adventist.

    God bless,

    Jon

  5. Dear Corina,
    This afternoon I have had some quiet time to myself and so I decided to read some of your past entries in your search for God. You ask many pertinent questions. Why was Jesus killed? Why did he not resist? Just as you have written, he was indeed executed because he claimed to be divine.
    It all goes back to the Old Testament, for the Old and New Testaments are inextricably connected. When the people of God were first made into a nation, led by Moses, they gathered at the foot of a mountain before God. There was quite a lot of calamity: smoke, thunder, lightning, trumpets, etc. This terrified them so greatly that they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die” (Exodus 20:19). Later Moses recounts God’s comments about that. God said, “I have heard the words of this people and they are right in all that they have spoken” (Deuteronomy 5:28). The people needed a less threatening way to see God.
    Essentially, the people of God always struggled to obey God’s commands, so they also needed help in overcoming that disobedience and lack of trust. God promised there would come a day when, “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
    Jesus is the one who lets us see God. He is God in the flesh. This is expressed in the Nicene Creed:
    We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
    the only Son of God,
    eternally begotten of the Father,
    God from God, light from light,
    true God from true God,
    begotten, not made,
    of one Being with the Father;
    through him all things were made.
    Jesus came first and foremost to fulfill the Old Testament Scriptures. Why? Because God had planned to rescue and redeem the people God had made who had fallen for an enemy who was too great for them. And, yes, they had culpability, too. You say, “Would I have stood up for him? Doubtful.” We are all in that same boat. You say “even some of his most loyal supporters turned their backs on him.” The truth is all of them did. So we have an enemy who attacks us saying, “The pursuit of God is all folly,” and we are duped into believing it, and we all also have it in us to resist God and cling to our own autonomy.
    Jesus did not resist the cross, did not retaliate towards the cruelty, because he was at one in intent with the Father to fulfill the work of redemption.
    He loves us. He forgives us. It’s astonishing!
    People are “saved,” that is “plucked up out of the inability to see and obey God” by this incredible grace. This is God’s way to Himself. Jesus thus opens the way to God.
    Blessings to you as you continue to study and search,
    Ginger H.

  6. Jarrid Wilson, a pastor, tweeted the other day, “If God were big enough to understand, He wouldn’t be big enough to call God.” I am sharing this with you just to show that even the most steadfast believers and followers of God and Jesus, don’t ever necessarily understand or can wrap their minds around the concept of God.

    I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts, they’re very interesting and I have learned a lot.

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