I didn’t write anything for Easter.
It’s not that I wasn’t inspired to share about the grace I’ve experienced because of God’s love. It’s not that I don’t want to tell everyone who’ll listen that once I was blind, but now I see. Once I was lost and in despair and now I’m filled with hope. Once I felt worthless and broken and now I have a reason to go on.
It’s not that.
All weekend I read blogs and articles and posts declaring the love of God. Believers around the world shouted out the good news – that we don’t need to be ashamed because God has freed us from our sin. Our sin and guilt can be washed away!
And I could only think of those without shame, who don’t feel guilty. Those who are fundamentally insulted by the idea that they need a savior. Those who see God as cruel and petty and small.
Like the man who wrote this: “If, for whatever cruel twist of fate, the God of the Bible exists, I want no part of him. I, along with what I hope is the vast majority of humanity, am better than him. I know more than he ever taught. I see beyond horizons that he could never reach. I love more genuinely than He. I help more than He. I understand myself better than He ever could. I see planets, stars, solar systems, galaxies just on the edge of humanity’s perception. I can even sometimes catch a small glimpse of our universe, and all the wonder and beauty it holds. Your God is too small for me.”
I know people like this. I love people like this. And why not? The idea that we have done wrong is uncomfortable. And let’s face it, most of us haven’t done anything we consider sinful. Murder, theft, adultery, these aren’t part of who we are. Any wrongs we’ve done can be explained away – I was young, people do things like that all the time, it didn’t hurt anyone.
Why would I choose a faith that includes the idea that I am fundamentally bad and in need of saving?
There are answers to these questions. I know them. I can rebut the bad theology that says God is vengeful and angry. I can show how the Bible, while not a science book, in no way contradicts modern discoveries. I can point to the undeniable complexities of our existence as proof of intelligent design. I can show by scripture and testimony how God loves more genuinely and selflessly, knows more, sees more, is more than any person. I can apologize and preach until I’ve run out of words but when I look into the faces of those who can’t fathom a God who is bigger than their understanding I am crushed by it. I don’t want to fight it. I don’t want to explain. It feels too hard, and I am well aware that anything I say will be met with derision and scorn.
So, no. My heart hurts so deeply, but I don’t see the point of trying to reach them. Besides, I hate conflict and don’t like being sneered at, so no thank you very much.
Then I remember Barabbas.
He’s the guy in the Easter story who seems a little out of place. He’s thrown in as a plot point, a last-ditch effort for Pilate to get out of being responsible for Jesus’ death. Right? He was just this anonymous guy, even his name means simply, “son of the father”. He’s a guy who apparently hated the Romans, not too unusual, and who made some poor life choices. He may have incited rioting against the Roman government; he certainly was a murderer. He was undoubtedly deserving of his punishment, in fact I assert that Pilate chose him as the alternate to Jesus because of this. I think he really believed the Jewish people would choose for Jesus to be released rather than Barabbas because of his reputation and violent past. But they don’t; he gets out of his death sentence, and no doubt he’s thrilled. The chains are removed and he descends into the cheering crowd and we don’t hear any more about him.
Barabbas gets his freedom, Jesus gets the cross. We can all see the parallels – Barabbas is us. But there’s something more. The chains are removed and he descends into the cheering crowd and we don’t hear any more about him. We have no evidence that he turned his life around, or even that he felt any remorse or gratitude for the fact that an innocent man died in his place. None.
God knew this would be the outcome. He knew Barabbas would walk into his freedom and never glance back. But he did it anyway. He loved the guy who walked away. He loves the people who scorn and sneer and don’t believe and mock him and put him down. All the way to the cross, he stumbles and falls and loves. He prays for the guards dragging him up the hill and the crowds shouting at him, and every fragile, self-made person to ever walk the earth, before or after that day.
Saturday is my favorite day of Easter week. Maybe that seems odd; it’s the day nothing happens. Jesus is in the tomb, everybody is either grieving or freaking out, and uncertainty and despair are the mood of the day. But I love that it’s a day of reflection. A day to remember that conquering death was no easy feat; that it cost something very dear. This last Saturday, Barabbas was on my mind. The original, and me, and all the Barabbases that walk through the world certain of their own superiority.
I don’t know how to reach them. I understand intellectual superiority – I’m guilty of it and I’m not that smart. I don’t know how I would reach me if I were on the other side. But I know that if I were, I would want someone to try.
So this year, in the silence of Saturday, during the pause, when everything felt like a universal breath-holding waiting for Sunday, I prayed not for the unreached or those seeking, because we all know that everyone who seeks, finds. I prayed for those who don’t want to be reached. I prayed for wisdom and gentleness and words that aren’t derogatory or superior or offensive. I prayed for everyone I know who can’t see because they don’t want to see. I prayed that all the stupid, hurtful things that have been done to them and around them in the name of Jesus would be made right.
And I prayed for myself, for the courage not to hide in my own corner. It’s so much easier and more comfortable to live in my echo chamber where everyone agrees with me. It’s so much nicer in here.
Unfortunately, nice and comfy are not in the Bible.
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4:9-12
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20