What look comes over your face when you hear of that amazing young Jewish man, who welcomed the outcast, loved everyone he met, touched the sick, embraced the lonely, is betrayed, tortured, hung on a cross, dies slowly, and then becomes life for each one of us.
Do you look at the cross in wonder or has it become so familiar that it has become another symbol or even fashion design. We wear it on vestments, necklaces, rings and earrings. We have it tattooed; it sits atop buildings and even carved into headstones.
After hearing that story, an instrument of torture that represented a excruciating death now becomes a simple symbol of hope, a symbol of God. Think of it, how more telling can those two pieces of wood be. Two beams, one vertical signifying the relationship between God and his creation; reaching out and reaching back.
The horizontal beam signifying our relationship with one another, reaching toward the person next to you. And the bottom, the rough worn out place where the wood of the cross touches the earth and radiates out into the world. And at the center, where the two pieces converge is Christ, God and humanity tied together by love.
This realization came into view a few weeks back in a conversation with a friend. Mark prides himself in his independence, which includes independence from the Church. Yet he needed someone to talk to. I could see he had been crying. He explained that he lost the love of his life due to a series of bad decisions on the part of both of them.
He could not make sense of the pain, how something that had given him so much joy was now tearing at the depths of his being. As he was leaving, he pointed to a small crucifixion in my office and with a look of despair on his face said “and tell me how that makes any sense?” God sends his son to suffer, all you church people are happy here in church, yet there are killings, wars, discrimination, tsunamis, people out there hurting one another. I thought this was supposed to solve all that.
At first I did not know what to say, was that cross the great eraser that is supposed to wipe away all the pain. And then I thought of an article, that allowed me to remember the meaning of that cross, not as an eraser, but a healing balm.
Brian Doyle wrote about a young girl named Isabel and Ms. Doyle was Isabel’s art teacher in the hospital. Isabel was 4 years old when she got unbelievably sick. At 5 years old she stunningly wonderfully got well. When she was 6 years old she got even sicker than before and soon she died.
She was buried in a nearby cemetery so that her parents could be close. Her coffin was small and when it was lowered into the ground, one of the ropes slipped and her coffin tilted. Her baby brother burst out laughing and then he wept and wailed like a child has never wept before.
The author’s wife spent much of the previous year with Isabel in the Hospital. As Isabel got sicker and endured oceans of pain and grew more swollen and weary by the day, his wife, the day before Isabel died sprawled on the grass, weeping like never before. She cried out – “Isabel is being crucified. Everything they do to her hurts. It's torture. Why do they torture her so? All little crucifixions.
Isabel just accepts it. She never complains. She has that look on her face. She just stares at us with that stare from another planet. She gets crucified every day and no one can stop it. All the little children being crucified. I can't bear it anymore. They just look at me. Why does this happen? Why does this happen?”
As I told this story, Mark had this look on his face of compassion. For one instant, it seemed as if the images and pain of all the crucifixions in this world seemed to float through our collective thoughts. All these tiny crucifixions in the world, Isabel, children killing each other because of gangs and drugs, loved ones who believe suicide is the only way out, children sold into prostitution or how a precious child of close friends, is killed in his backyard this past week because he was tormented by schizophrenia.
All these tiny crucifixions. What could I say? Some theological babble or psychological soothing? Any word is insufficient. How do I explain a mother watching her son be tortured and nailed to a cross and then holding him in her arms; there are no words for what she felt. A mother watches her daughter suffer in the hospital as she slowly dies, and she holds her in her arms and there are no words for how she feels. How do I explain that tomorrow our friends will bury their precious son and as they touch his casket there are no words for how they feel.
We looked at that broken body on the cross, and the only word, the only look was that of love. Love, the only explanation for the unexplainable. This nonsensical, illogical, unreasonable, insupportable, improvable conviction that one time a long time ago a thin young mysterious eloquent Jewish man was crucified and died and then he came alive again in a way that no one understood then and no one understands now.
God looking down, not wanting us to be alone, sharing in our journey in this world. Understanding the tremendous pains and the indescribable joys of life. God’s voice whispering "You are my creation and I know you well." Because God, in Christ, not only knows us, but has lived among us—has been one of us. All because of a look of love on Gods face, hoping that the love will be reflected in ours.
And what is amazing is that if you really listen to this passion story, you will see your life reflected in that last week. In this story, God is closer to us, to our lives, than ever before, all our tiny crucifixions hung on his cross. Think of it, friends loving us one minute, like the joy of Hosanna into Jerusalem and then deserting us in our desolate gardens. Jesus life like ours, the struggle with brokenness, uncertainty, breaking bread with his friends, betrayal, jealousy, questioning God, fear, loneliness, abandonment, pain, suffering, crucifixion, darkness. Yet, always transformation and a knowing of eternal hope.
This story of a young Jewish man nailed to a cross, a mother crying in pain, an empty tomb makes sense because we are reassured that God knows what it is like to be human. The amazing, unbelievable story that we are loved by God, a loving who gave up a heavenly crown in order to wear a crown thorns. All because God wanted to see that look of love on all of our faces, for each one of us to know that Easter is coming.
There is a poem that captures God desire to see the expression on our face: Have you ever wondered why God gives so much? We could exist on far less. He could have left the world flat and gray; we wouldn’t have known the difference but he didn’t. He splashed orange in the sunrise and cast the sky in blue. And if you love to see geese as they gather, Chances are that you’ll see that too.
Did he have to make the squirrel’s tail furry? Was he obliged to make the birds sing?
And the funny way that chickens scurry Or the majesty of thunder when it rings?
Why give a flower a fragrance? Why give food its taste? Could it be that he loves to see that look upon your face.
God could of walked away and never allowed the divine to become human, Why send his son to empty himself, and die on the cross. But he did not, he loved the look on our face when we are happy, and sent his son. Mark smiled and said, I guess I cannot explain love, so I guess that cross thing kinda makes sense.
Somehow it does, because for all the tiny crucifixions, there is an understanding that a knowing God is with us, and understands. There are no explanations only those beams that reach up and out. So for Mark, Isabel, Christopher and others. We cannot explain it, all we can do is tiptoe into Isabel's room, and spread out all the holy colors on her bed, and make her laugh, and sing her grace under duress.
All we can do for Mark is walk with him as he takes those solitary steps into a new world. All we do for Christopher’s mother is hold her hand as she tearfully says goodbye to her youngest son. Because somehow, in ways we cannot explain, love conquers all. God has proven it with his son, and with Isabel and Christopher. They will come alive again, each one of us will live again, and there will be a light, the light of Christ on all our faces for which there are no words, only a look of love.
*I would like to acknowledge Brian Doyle for his beautiful article “The Terrible Brilliance for the use of Isabel’s Story and Max Lucado for the poem.