Please don’t look away
Don’t avert your eyes
Don’t change the subject
On this of all days, please don’t look away
It’s so much easier, for superficial relief, to skip the ugliness of Good Friday for the hollow chocolate eggs and daffodils of Easter. But to do so is to loose the truth, the depth, the unmasking, the revelation, and the hope.
If God had looked away we’d be lost. Desperately arranging flowers in our prison, whistling in the dark, sharing platitudes, genuflecting in our religious rituals thick with incense and the sound of gongs and drums. Running scared, powerless, yet defiant in our denial. Band-Aids bring no healing to a wound requiring surgery.
Please don’t look away, not today of all days, not Good Friday.
God refused to avert his eyes. We read that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, toward violence, toward a showdown with corruption, power, and religion. His whole purpose was not to hand out blessings, platitudes, and sugar coated candies; it was to take down and defeat the demonic source of evil intent on destroying his creation. Peter tried to talk Jesus out of heading to Jerusalem. Like me, he didn’t understand what was going on at the time, the true awfulness and ugliness as light penetrated the darkness and broke the chains.
Please don’t look away.
Like most of us, Peter thought that Jesus came to help us live better lives, be kinder, more loving, and serve the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and being. Jesus demonstrated what was possible through his life in human form – didn’t he? Peter thought he could do it, copycat Jesus. He passionately declared to Jesus that he would never leave him, no matter what. And he meant it with every fiber of his being. Jesus looked at his dear friend with compassion. “You have no idea Peter, just how weak and unreliable you are. When the rooster crows after you’ve denied me three times, you will begin to see like you’ve never seen before – the truth – both the ugly and beautiful. I do not live among you as a teasing example of what you can never be; I live to die, to break the back of what has taken you hostage. Only then can you be where I am.”
Some years ago I spent an uncomfortable day in Poland touring Auschwitz and Birkenau, silently walking through the camps, the inhumane barracks, the gas chambers and the ovens. What human beings are capable of doing to one another has been one of the most traumatic revelations of history in every generation – repeatedly – somewhere in the world. Genocide, concentration camps, raping and pillaging, sex trafficking, slavery, drug peddling, exploitation, raping the earth, trophy hunting, poaching to extinction and…. where does the list end? It gets so dark when we refuse to turn away. The white and blue collar atrocities. The gossip, tax evasion, under the table rewards, the million ways we fail to be the best version of ourselves. The closer we get to the light the more the cracks and flaws are exposed. No one walks away innocent. Some choose to live in the shadows…. we appear quite okay, no issues – where the light doesn’t shine.
Isaiah said, “I am a man of unclean lips.”
Peter said, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man.”
David said, “God, give me mercy from your fountain of forgiveness! I know your abundant love is enough to wash away my guilt. Because your compassion is so great, take away this shameful guilt of sin. Forgive the full extent of my rebellious ways, and erase this deep stain on my conscience.”
Paul said: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.“
None of them ended up in depressed despair. Instead, the confession of what they always knew about themselves opened up the love and mercy of God – as a father affirms a child who wants to give up.
When I returned home and showed a handful of slides of Auschwitz in the church some people left, angry at my negativity when church should be uplifting, Please look away they were insisting. And therein is the problem. Avoidance, lies, denial, and self-justification perpetuates what truth exposes and overcomes. It’s why so many Christians and churches don’t grow – they’re stuck with the superficial suburban niceness that keeps a lid on things. Know what I mean? 🙂
Please don’t look away.
Look at the Cross. Look at at the figure bleeding with a crown of thorns. Look in the mirror. Understand this: God is not angry with you or me, he’s angry and doing battle with evil – the one who twists, distorts, shames, accuses, defiles, and robs us of freedom, identity and hope. Evil says we’re bad and not worthy, always accusing and heaping on shame. Jesus declares we are beloved and worth the price of crucifixion, always welcome, with grace to believe again.
If noble words, an exemplary life, power to heal, beautiful worship, loving others, and doing good every day was enough… Jesus could have avoided the Cross and lived to a ripe old age rocking under a tamarisk tree in Galilee. He could have done just that for himself, because evil had no hold on him. But it wasn’t about him. It was about us. We were caught in the web of evil, in our very beings, so deep we had no idea how polluted, distorted, and corrupted we’d become. He came to set us free, take the consequences of death upon himself, provide another way for us to become – cleansed by his blood (the ultimate vaccine for the ultimate virus), and be empowered by his Spirit to change from the inside out.
If we look away and avoid the bloody horror of the Cross we will fail to appreciate the depth of the gift, the magnitude of the life laid down, the sacrifice of the love given, unconditionally. The truly amazing grace into which we’re invited; no exceptions or exclusions.
In the clip below is a metaphor that I’ve used many times at Easter to illustrate why looking away is to be robbed at the very point of victory.