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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