The Lord kills and gives life, he brings people down to where the dead are and he raises them up. 1 Samuel 2:6
This piece titled “Christ’s Body in the Tomb” is by Hans Holbien. Sometimes a shape says everything. The composition is claustrophobic. Try to breathe, there is no room here to do it. This is Jesus. Dead. Bluish-Grey dead. The corpse of a drown victim was the painter’s primary reference. You can see the skeleton twisted inside of sunken flesh. This is pre-ressurection and most of the world understands this condition better than we do in this country. We hide it in hospitals, we hide it behind medication commercials of gleeful hang-gliding senior citizens, We sanitize it, make it pretty and put it in the ground before we can smell it. Vanished. If you can’t see it, it won’t happen to you.
We don’t like dead Jesus for the same reason that Peter didn’t. Dying is for losers. We like our saviors winning, attractive, and bullet-proof, thanks. Will they kill the people who disagree with us? Are they masters of their own destiny? Sold!
This is Christ. Dead. That’s the moment this painting lingers on. It’s offensive to everything America has been trained about being a hero, about being a leader. We want to follow Jesus, but we want to do it without the uncool losing part.
This painting wrecked the author Dostoevsky and resulted in the novel called “The Idiot”. The premise of “The Idiot” is that if a man were to show up and behave like Jesus (love people not for what they could give him or how good they could make him look, but because they were other humans) we would have one word for that person. A person who is merciful to criminals, thieves, and undeserving people is an idiot. That person doesn’t know how the world works. Are you dense Jesus?
Humans take advantage of mercy.
I am a person who takes advantage of mercy. Me.
Lord, have mercy on the parts of me that do not recognize weakness as strength.
A good news without bad news is a half-truth. You need to come to terms with the bad news you don’t want to hear because good news requires a dose of reality.
A starving person sees food properly, as the antidote.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the front part of a verse, “Whoever tries to save their life will lose it…” In America we are all about manufacturing and selling life-saving strategies: What preserves me? What makes me appear more whole, more healthy, more educated, more deeply concerned about the things that good people are supposed to be concerned about? It’s all the same tired game of appearing righteous on the outside with a different coat of paint and shatter-resistant screen on it.
Everybody come see how impressive I am!
I get trapped inside of petty games all of the time. Ask my wife about my stupid Instagram feed. Living by numbers transformed art into a miserable joyless chore, a boring objective with no purpose other than having another digital number like a kindergarten star sticker for grown ups.
I had a run tracking app on my phone for a bit that transformed something that I enjoyed into a race to beat time. You know what you don’t do when you are racing a clock? You don’t stop and watch the sunset because real winners don’t do irrelevant things like enjoy their fleeting lives. They don’t rest.
None of it is helping man. I’m not better. I’m more anxious, depressed and more self-righteously narcissistic. Give me any point system, and I will try to redeem myself single-handedly with it.
This body of Christ story…the story in this painting doesn’t hinge on your efficiency or the number of people who think you are super important. it hinges on your willingness to say. “I am needy. I am broken. I am a dying human. Help me Jesus.” All of the fictions that we write about being beyond need are headed toward this tomb with the corpse of Jesus. Dead. What Jesus offers us is rest from a world that demands unrelenting and soul-crushing performance, a world where “mattering” is tiresome because it is perpetually trackable which means you can track all of the ways that you fall short. Like you needed a reminder of personal failure. I’m pretty good at tracking that actually…sometimes it’s the only thing I can track.
It makes me tired. My need to make myself matter by force needs to be taken out back and drowned in a river repeatedly. That is what baptism is about in case you didn’t know. It’s a symbolic act about murdering the living death that we misconstrue as life and being brought up out of that death.
It is really tragic that you can miss the experience of love by desperately trying to craft a theoretically more lovable version of yourself.
“Whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.”…Loss is part of the Jesus deal.
I struggle with being a small, singular person who, in the broad scheme of things will never see how I am having much of an impact one way or another on the world. Why do I need to make myself matter by desperate force? Why do I need proof? Why do you?
Isn’t faith the trust that Christ provides the mattering that we are desperately trying to enforce for free?
A willingness to sacrifice for others before they appear to deserve it is indicative of the heart of God. It is impossible to will the desire to lose, but it can be given for free.
Sign me up for that instead.