“Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Mark 8:31-33
The sanctuary was quite striking, with a beamed wooden ceiling soaring into the shadows, while the stained glass windows cast their patterns on the floor. As I walked with my host toward the front, I noted the drapery behind the altar appeared new. My host replied “Yes, we added that shortly after I came. Let me show you why.”
As the drapes drew back, I was confronted by a searing image of Christ at the height of his suffering on the cross. It was the sort of image one would expect in a horror film, but not in a mural covering nearly the entire wall behind the altar. The priest explained that many of the parishioners had found the mural too disturbing, so it had been decided hide it away.
As I later thought about that mural and the drapery that covered it, I realized here was yet one more example of how the church so often tries to tame the gospel and its story of Christ. Yet, that gospel cannot be tamed if it is to remain the gospel.
The sacrifice that God in Christ made for us is shocking. It staggers our imagination. Yet, while this shocking sacrifice might be offensive to some, without it there would be no gospel. For it is the shocking nature of God’s radical act of love that gives it the power to break through walls of sin and despair.
Whenever then, we try to domesticate the gospel story so that people will not be shocked or offended, we are actually destroying the gospel’s power to heal and to save. Soren Kierkeguard perhaps said this best when he wrote “Remove from Christianity its ability to shock . . . and it is altogether destroyed. It becomes a tiny superficial thing, capable neither of inflicting deep wounds, or healing them.”
That is why we continue to preach Christ crucified. We hold the drapes open. For through these shocking words and images, God’s word comes to us with all its power to save and free us to be children of God. Through these words and images we learn the depth of God’s love, and that is the love we celebrate in this Easter season.
So, in these days after Easter, may this be a time when we come to know the power of the living Christ in our lives. May this be a season when that healing power of this love courses through our lives into the lives of others.