Sacred Life Sunday

my faithful prayer beads from Church of the Apostles in Seattle, WA.

This morning we went to church. I know, I know. I never thought I’d be there again either. But there’s a nice International Church here where every week we get to sit in a historic sanctuary and take Communion in a circle while everyone prays the Lord’s Prayer in their mother tongue. (I want to say it in French, just to show off, but I resist and stick with the formal version I learned in catechism.)

I have a dear friend who’s a long term ex pat in Thailand and he says, “Look, if it hasn’t sunk in over the past 20 years of church, I doubt we’ll ever learn it. So at this point in our lives, I think we should just go to a church because we like the community.” I think maybe he’s right. So after the service we go eat cheese with caraway seeds in the kaffe hall, and have conversations with people from all over the world. Last week we met our first Danish acquaintance, Anne-Mette, who wrote down the address of a museum where we could see her grandmother’s doll houses. Today I had tea with Alex, from Armenia, whose uncle happens to live in Seattle. Alex plays the piano, and the organ. When I bemoaned the fact that our children are so much louder than Danish kids, he says, directly to Eden, “This is good, that you have passion! This will make you a marvelous musician when you master the piano.” That’s pretty good stuff, right, to have someone affirm your nine year old like that? I think this one might be worth it.

Still, today as I sat in front of the huge gold crucifix with its weighty, anguished Christ, I had second thoughts about bringing my children to this place. You see, I believe you have to use art to preach. I believe that for a post-modern generation image is often, maybe always, more powerful than words. And this art, this occupied cross, is screaming “YOU stuck me up here and I’m never EVER coming down.”

I don’t want to indoctrinate my children with that kind of passive aggressive Jesus. I don’t want them to bear the incessant guilt, to always see an image of pain crowning their holy space. I don’t think the good news of Christ is that we get to soak in scenes from a Mel Gibson movie for the rest of our lives. I’m pretty sure Jesus never said the good news was, “I’m going to die on the cross and you get to look at that for the rest of your lives.” I’m pretty sure what he said was, “Woo Hoo! The kingdom of God is at hand!”

Somehow we didn’t keep up with that reality. We got stuck in the pain, in the bleeding. Here, my children will never see the cross bare. They will never get a visual celebration of new life, of new chances–of resurrection. Not even for a season, not even for one Easter day. He’s always up there, suffering. And while the potato the children are growing in the pot on the church steps is a lovely illustration of emerging life, somehow it doesn’t have the same impact of a life-size statue ripped full of wounds and shining in the winter sunlight.

Can you combat this golden year-round image with a few well-timed words? Can you redirect your children’s malleable minds to the potato? Can you help them focus on the shared loaf; the ring of candles ignited from one common light; the cup that never runs out? Or will they primarily remember the bleeding cross and the man who will never climb down?

Oh how I wish this congregation of nations could gather in the chancel, not just to pass around bread and wine, but also to share the task of taking Christ down from the cross. If only our many hands could lower him with ropes and pulleys; carry his weight away from that place of torture. If only we could leave the beams bare, clean-scrubbed and oiled. If only it could shine there on Easter day, and empty, carry us into the forgiven reality of Eastertide.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Elaine March 2, 2008 at 12:27 pm

A very thoughtful meditation…

These are challenging thoughts and questions even for those of us who do not have children and are not really sure which generation they fit in. I can certainly relate to the power of art and image, though.

Right after reading your sacred Sunday musings, I went out to the balcony garden to check on the hydration status of my plants. (And now as I write this I wonder if I wasn’t escaping from some hard questions. Or maybe looking for the answers there?) I was thrilled to see new growth on one of the plants in the Magpie Girl arrangement. I took a photo — for you as much as me — have posted it here on Flickr. It’s my contribution to Sacred Life Sunday. As the plant grows, flourishes and opens her face to the sun here on a Vancouver balcony, may you also do the same in your new Copenhagen home.

Link to photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/92348589@N00/2305407904/

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Monica March 2, 2008 at 12:59 pm

Love your Jesusy posts. I don’t hear or read enough spiritual thoughts that really resonate with my wandering soul. And too often, when I question the voice that assaults my mind says, “It’s not okay to ask these questions. You’re salvation is at stake!!” Rubbish, I say. Anyway, thanks for keeping it real and bringing something new to the table.

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Krystyn March 2, 2008 at 6:43 pm

One of my favorite things I ever heard my kids say was “Wow, God really made an awesome sunset today. What do you think he used mom? I think it looks like colored pencils.”

Perhaps God uses art to preach too? :)

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Rachel March 3, 2008 at 6:45 am

There’s so much in this post that moves and inspires me. Thank you.

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ray March 3, 2008 at 8:25 am

Hi Rachelle,

I hadn’t checked in on your blog lately and when I did I was so surprised to see that your whole life has changed in a matter of a couple of months! You’re on the other side of the world. I had quite a bit of [worthwhile] catch-up reading to do.

I love your thoughts, too, on this new church in Copenhagen with its over-the-top crucifix… I find that I’m so used to these images that I forget to see these things through the eyes of those who are “un”/”non.” Your perspective of faithful doubter never ceases to inspire and teach me.

Many blessings in your new life,

Ray

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inkberryblue March 4, 2008 at 4:36 am

I love the way you write so passionately about faith ~ it reaffirms mine.
My responses to your post are too personal for me to comfortably document them here, but thank you.
…and there’s an award for you over at my blog, if you’d like it.

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neil March 4, 2008 at 8:09 am

Rachelle,

I woke up about 3 this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep for thinking about this post. My thoughts are rambly, maybe, or perhaps too unformulated to write down here (or maybe too personal, like inkberryblue’s…?).

There’s a lot of things I love about going to church and there are many things that have made me unconfortable about many of the churches I’ve gone to. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a church that I trusted enough to, dare I say, submit to? Or if that word is too yucky for some, how about give myself over to? If the church is truly about the Kingdom of God here and now, wouldn’t I want to give myself over to it? Hmmmm….

On a related note, kind of — the thought trail here is Kingdom of God to church to Body of Christ to the letter to your body— I’d be interested in hearing your version of a letter to your part of the body of Christ. In a sense, maybe that’s part of what you’re exploring by going to this church for community reasons…

BTW, it’s National Grammar Day back here in the states and I think I failed already in these comments!

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April Terry March 5, 2008 at 5:15 pm

I caught your post through churchrater and thought I would put my two cents’ worth in…

I grew up in Utah, and although I was never personally Mormon, I did attend my fair share of services for various members of my family. Mormons don’t believe in showing the cross because they believe it to be a form of idolatry. I can understand that philosophy, although I don’t personally agree.

With that said, I think my experience of going into Catholic churches (who traditionally show Jesus in pain and suffering) and also the experience of watching “The Passion” which depicts the graphic side of Jesus’ experience, did enhance my view and brought home the real ramifications of what Jesus suffered.

It caused me to seriously contemplate what he suffered and then to say, “Geez, thank you, Lord.” It also enhances my view of a God who understands the suffering in the world because He has experienced it Himself.

To me, I find no guilt associated with seeing it. Only a great deal of thankfulness that he willingly did this for me. I see Him as a God who gives to such a degree and loves more than I can even imagine or even begin to love.

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Jim Henderson March 5, 2008 at 10:54 pm

Rachelle

You need to head over to church rater and interact with your adoring public

http://www.churchrater.com/blog/2008/03/05/passive-aggressive-jesus/

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Rachelle March 5, 2008 at 11:28 pm

April,

I know what you mean when you say that seeing images of Jesus on the cross helped you to understand the depth of what happened to him there. I have experienced that too, especially at Good Friday services over the years, where the congregation has been invited to interact with the cross in various ways.

Over a life time of living under the crucifix however, I’m emotionally and spiritually weary of the cross–an instrument of torture– being the primary symbol of my faith. I think it would be so meaningful, symbolically and physically, if we could re-enact the whole of the passion story by literary bringing Jesus down the from the cross. Of course, the crucifix in the CPH church is probably a priceless work of art, and I doubt we would be allow to fiddle with it! (This is Europe after all! :-) But as some one who has served congregations in the past as a pastor, if I had any opportunity to enact a communal of emptying the cross for Easter and Eastertide, I would certainly like to experience that.

Yours on the Journey,

Rachelle

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Karla MG March 6, 2008 at 9:20 am

I’m pretty sure what he said was, “Woo Hoo! The kingdom of God is at hand!”

AMEN!!! I so agree with your words, and your questions of what is and isn’t okay to present for our children, in more ways than just what faith experiences we went them to be immersed in. I was raised in, and am raising my kids in protestant traditions which are “crucifix free.” The crosses in every church I’ve been active in are bare. For Lent some congregations I’ve been in have draped a purple cloth or placed a crown of thorns, then black for Good Friday until the vestiment was changed to white for Easter morn. I have a deep reverence though for other traditions, and feel a very ecumenical connection to the wider community of faith…with and without the crucifix as “the symbol.” It’s important to understand the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice I think, but we have to remember that’s not where it ends…it is in the resurrection that we are free!

In regards to re-encating, when DH and I were in college, we were in an ecumenical music/drama team that led worship and ministered in various venues…churches, schools, auditoriums. The conclusion to most of our “performances” was a re-enactment of the Passion, using Dallas Holm’s “His Last Days.” Even as performers, we never had a dry eye…the power from the crucifixion through the resurrection was intensely emotional, deeply spiritual, and always, always moving! No matter what part we played, there was power and meaning in the experience.

May these next few weeks of Lent bring you time to continue reflecting on your journey in a varied community. May you find the peace you need to forge a way for your kiddos, and to walk strong and tall, however you are called to be faithful…and FREE of the weary, crucifix laden load! :D (((HUGS))) –Karla

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April Terry March 6, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Yeah, I totally understand what you are saying, and I was just thinking as I read your message that my experience of the cross was certainly a protected one growing up as a kid. Because of that, it seemed like my understanding of His suffering was limited and therefore came as more of a revelation to me later in life. We can protect our kids, but will that also limit their understanding? On the other hand, does being constantly reminded of His suffering also limit their understanding of His victory over death? It seems like a nice middle ground would be good.

I have been working on an Easter message for our convalescent ministry and have been pondering the significance of the resurrection, and I have to admit that I sometimes have an easier time thinking about what His suffering meant to me than I do with thinking about what His resurrection meant. The meaning of the empty tomb is sometimes difficult to metabolize.

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ryanbd March 12, 2008 at 3:19 pm

what a rich post – “If only we could leave the beams bare, clean-scrubbed and oiled. If only it could shine there on Easter day, and empty, carry us into the forgiven reality of Eastertide.” Geez, you’re gonna make me tear up in my Seattle cafe.
I also love the image of Eden and Cate being noisier than the Dutch kids! Maybe on the eve of Eastor morning you could break in and safely and temporarily take Jesus down. That would be a powerful discovery for an Easter service… Anyways, I love the back and forth of encountering the empty and the full crucifix. For some reason I always notice when I’m in a church or see it around someone’s neck (that one’s empty…there’s Jesus…empty…Jesus). There’s a tension there that pulls me back to the power of the resurrrection. Of course, I’m also trying to write a paper on why penal substitutionary atonement theory isn’t the be all, end all of describing what happened on the cross so this is my issue. :) Sorry for all the churchy words – they make my head hurt.
Give Paul a big hug from me and tell the girls Ruby says, “Woof.”

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