When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Sometimes I imagine a simple conversation between Jesus and all of us.
Jesus: “It is finished.”
Us: “What is finished?”
Us: “But you don’t know what I’ve done.”
Jesus: “Yes, I do. And now you know what I’ve done.”
Us: “But have you seen the evil and sin and death in the world?”
Jesus: “I have. And this is what I’ve done about it.”
Us: “This is a strange way to solve that problem.”
Us: “But I feel so far from you.”
Jesus: “Still finished.”
Us: “What if I’m not sure?”
Jesus: “I am sure.”
Us: “For me?”
Jesus: “For you.”
The finality of Christ’s work is a hard for us to believe. The life a faith can be a hard, murky struggle. But that doesn’t mean things are unfinished. To learn to believe, live in light of, seek the application of, and rejoice in, the finished work of Christ on your behalf is the basic task of the Christian life. And it’s not an easy thing to do.
But it’s the main thing. We do not move on to another thing because there is no other thing.
(I’m increasingly interested in the church calendar and the rhythms of spirituality that it provides. I’m a novice here! But here’s a little something I wrote on Lent a few weeks ago for purposes in my local church. Lent is certainly a season of “hopeful realism.” We see the reality of who we are, push through that tedious exploration in order to hope in Christ. We are who we thought we were. But, Christ is who he is too.)
“Remember, man, that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.”
Ash Wednesday begins the Season of Lent. In a traditional Ash Wednesday service, worshippers have ashes imposed on their foreheads, as the above words are recited.
These words serve as a reminder of who we are. We are the “dusty ones.” God knows this, remembers this (Psalm 103). Lent is a time for us to acknowledge and remember this, too. We don ashes to express a desire to move toward faith and repentance.
Lent is the season in the church’s year that’s intended to point us inward — to remind of us of who we are. In Lenten spirituality, we prod and examine deep into the depths of our sin, short-comings, brokenness, inadequacies, disobedience and rebellion. It’s a season of repentance from these things. A season of dwelling in our dustiness, of cultivating contrition.
However, our gospel instincts remind us that such inwardness is always incomplete (maybe dangerous?).
Lent, therefore, is a journey. Lenten spirituality is both negative (a turning from sin) and positive (a turning towards Jesus). We plunge into the depths of our sin, in order that we plunge into the depths of Christ and his passion journey. Lent culminates in the celebration of Holy Week, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter.
“There is no pit so deep that God’s grace isn’t deeper still” (attributed to Corrie Ten Boom) — that’s the shape of the Lenten journey. Lent brings us into the cross-hairs of God’s righteous and holy judgment, in order to bring us into the cross-hairs of his love and grace.
All of this dusty and ashy contrition makes us ready for the explosive hope of Easter.
Lenten reflections tend to follow the way of Jesus towards the cross. As we wade into our struggles, we find him there to meet us. May we take this journey, remember who we are, embrace our neediness, remembering and turning to the One who has gone before. It is in this movement that the Christian finds his home.
God’s rescue operations can feel like assault operations. At times, it is hard to distinguish between salvation and affliction.
A sea was parted for my family about a year and half ago. After ten years of collecting airline mileage points in hopes of me doing a PhD program in England, my wife was finally on the phone with a ticketing agent. While accumulating mileage points, though, we were also accumulating children. Four of them. We only had half the necessary mileage points, and no real funds to make up the difference. The ticketing agent then mentioned that for the first time in its history, the airline was accepting points for one-way tickets, not just round-trip. “Would one-way work?”
We had 165,768 points. The amount required was 165,000. “Oh, yes, one-way will work.”
The evidence of providence was surely in the close figures. We stepped forward for the exciting trek ahead.
Then came the most distressing season of our adult lives—months of juggling insane schedules while plodding on toward wider, stormier seas left unparted. We were not sure we would board that flight until three weeks before departure. But we did. Another sea was crossed—literally. Thank You, Lord….
….And then an even more difficult season ensued.
All these partings seemed to be leading not to deliverance but to disaster. I complain a lot. I pelt desperate prayers skyward. I just want to follow God’s lead. Why must he complicate and obscure the path at every turn?
I find myself echoing a rather unheroic voice in Scripture: the voice of Israel in the wilderness.
The Exodus out of Egypt is the Old Testament prototype of God’s salvation. It must have seemed an odd way “to save” for the Israelites. In many respects, it was a botched rescue op from the beginning that felt more like oppression. Moses to Pharaoh: Let them go. Pharaoh to Israel: Make more bricks… and get your own straw. Israel to Moses: “You have put a sword in [Egypt’s] hand to kill us” (Ex 5:21).
This was a deliverance marked by a river swollen with blood, by heaps of rotting frog-flesh, by eerie nighttime wails in the homes of unbloodied lintels—
What kind of rescue plan is this? You call this “salvation”?
To be sure, when the sea parted, there was singing and dancing. Worship. Finally, amidst nightmarish plagues, there was the taste of freedom.
But not the taste of food. Or water.
Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full… (Ex 16:3).
Egypt’s oppression seemed better than God’s deliverance. Divine rescue felt like divine attack. This “salvation” seemed too painful, too risky, too costly. What kind of salvation is this?
And what kind of Savior is this?
The hope of Canaan seemed pathetic consolation. God advertised the place as flowing with milk and honey… and also with Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites and Amorites. This is a salvation that lands you in a desert, that thrusts you before the spears of unknown enemies.
And yet the Exodus is the paradigmatic portrayal in Israel’s Scriptures of the salvation of God and of God as Savior.
How does that affect our soteriology?
God’s salvation requires intense acculturation. To be extracted from Egypt and acclimated to life before YHWH, intense seasons of painful re-orientation must follow the dramatic ripping of seas. We must be wary of rosy depictions of salvation as the Christianized “good life.” Salvation sometimes hurts.
Lent, however, reminds us that salvation ultimately hurts the Savior more than the saved.
When Jesus talked on the Transfiguration Mount with Moses and Elijah about his upcoming “departure” in Jerusalem, the Greek word used is “exodus” (Lk 9:31).
What kind of salvation is this? One that requires a lot of ripping. The ripping of a sea, of the sky, of a curtain veil. One that requires the death of a lamb… and of a King’s Son. Not Pharaoh’s son this time. The Son of the Saving God. What kind of Savior is this? One who gives blood and water better than milk and honey. It’s not the Nile that turns to blood this time. It’s the wine. This is a Savior who may lead us into barren wastelands… but one who has endured himself the full brunt of salvation’s pain. The wider sea left unparted now has an inaugural gash. The open hole of Jesus’ tomb is a puncture-wound in the sea of Death.
I am not sure what sort of salvation this is. But it is the only kind strongest enough for me. And for you.
This week’s post is here, at a blog with an intriguing title. For his installment of the series, Logan Mehl-Laituri is writing on nonviolence, non-silence, and meat. An interesting perspective worth listening to….
This week’s Lenten post is served up by Margot Starbuck. Good stuff. Her latest book (which her post builds on) seems to provide gritty details for the kind of mission-ethic I am writing about in the “We Need Boring Christians” material.
InterVarsity Press is sponsoring a blog tour throughout Lent. A handful of us IVP authors are contributing to the weekly posts. You can check out “Behind the Books” (one of IVP’s blogs) to get the schedule. Rachel Stone has launched us off with a reflection on Lenten fasting. Hopeful Realism is slotted for March 19.
I am excited about this little tour. A series of linked blog posts permits collective meditation among a wider range of voices on one central theme (in this case the Death of Jesus). I hope you will join in and chime in!