(Christian Courier column, April 25, 2011)
My friend sighed: “I wish I could loose myself from the world these last few days leading up to Easter, but there are always distractions, temptations, and failures to sit with Jesus. His disciples in the garden were weak. I, too, am prone to sleep and betrayal.”
I respect her desire for meditation. But I wonder if “sitting with Jesus” doesn’t happen equally well on the run. Maybe passing out hotdogs at the church-sponsored BBQ or chatting with a friend who needs encouragement is simply prayer on legs. I engage in mobile prayer daily, in the shower and doing dishes, as often as concerns and people cross my mind. John Bunyan said, “He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.” I don’t agree. Multi-tasking prayers don’t feel like short-changing God to me; they feel like sacred exercise drills, repeatedly placing the 18,400 seconds of the day’s minutiae and chores in his hands. If my scheduled devotions occasionally fall by the wayside, I don’t see that as betrayal. I’ve been conversing with God all day! His companionship hallows all my human “running.” I’m not holier praying than I am scrubbing my tub. Zechariah’s “holy cooking pots and harness bells,” Peter’s “holy bodies” and Paul’s “holy nation,” lead me in faith to claim all my materiality and moments as holy.
I agree with my friend, though, that devotions are an important channel for the Word and Spirit to nourish my spirituality. The best Lenten devotional I’ve ever used was Walter Wangerin’s Re-living the Passion. Wangerin clued me in to the costliness of the exchange that brought “holy” to my everyday life: “Maybe none shall see with more terrible clarity the sorrow of our Lord than the apostle Paul: ‘For our sake,’ he writes, ‘God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:21). He does not write: ‘To bear our guilt,’ as though a good man became better by substituting himself for our punishment. Severely, Paul writes, ‘God made him to be sin.’ Jesus has become a bad man, the worst of all men, the badness, in fact, of all men and all women together. Paul does not write, ‘To bear our sin,’ as though Jesus and sin are essentially separate things, the one a weight upon the other for a while. No, but ‘to be sin’: Jesus is sin! Jesus is the thing itself!”
Wangerin explains how Jesus cannot be comforted even by an underlying sense of his own innocence. “Holy, he hates sin. Holy, he now hates himself…. A sorrow unlike any other sorrow in the universe.” And then the worst: “Between the Father and the Son now exists a gulf of impassable width and substance. It is the divorce of despising. For, though the Son still loves the Father obediently and completely, the Father despises the Son completely because he sees in him the sum of human disobedience, the sum of it from the beginning of time to the end of time. He hates the Son, even unto damning him.”
I, too, was guilty of sanitizing and thus diminishing the Atonement. Now I can’t. Imagine Jesus mutating before your eyes: “becoming” every loathsome thought, every horrific deed you’ve ever read about in disbelieving revulsion. Imagine the Perfect One “becoming” the torturer, the betrayer, the pedophile, the murderer. This is so far beyond the physical sacrifice of his body that human comprehension pales before it. He sacrificed his very selfhood. He stood outside his Father’s love.
God’s trade practices are not fair. Heaven and earth quake at such a preposterous bargain. The Beloved One bartered to the unholy so my world can be holy and beloved. So I can be holy and beloved. So we who are Christian can join in with the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Driving the kids to school: “Gloria!” Making chili for supper: “Gloria!” Taking the car in for an oil change: “Gloria!” 18, 400 times a day: “Gloria!”