A few years back, we took a family trip to Germany with our then 4 year old son. We had lived there a few years earlier (before children) and were excited to go show him all our favorite places and introduce him to a new culture. I love Europe. My favorite thing to do is go inside old churches and chapels – I love the smell, the way the light shines though centuries-old stained glass, the faded paintings. I could literally spend all day looking over the details and wondering about the people who put them there.
Needless to say, this is not the favored activity of a 4 year old. You have to be quiet in churches. Running up and down the aisle is frowned upon. He preferred playing with little German kids in the park. He preferred playing in the rocks outside. Anything was better than walking through an old church with mom whispering about art!
One morning, we drove up to a vineyard that had a little chapel. I peeked through the door and saw mostly darkness. It was a sad little place. No big windows to let the light in. No paintings on the walls. Just a crucifix hanging above a little altar. I went in and sat down for a minute. Pretty soon, my little guy came and sat down by me. We looked up at the cross, a most Catholic-looking Jesus hung there, bloodied and with a look of excruciating suffering on His face. It occurred to me that J had never seen this Jesus before. He had seen the storybook Jesus, holding a lamb and frolicking with children in a field. He knew Jesus had died for him on the cross, but how much does a 4 year old really get? My first thought was, “crap…he’s totally going to be traumatized by this and have nightmares about a scary Jesus!” I pondered getting up and going back to play in the rocks. But then he said something that I will never forget. He looked at me and said “mom, it’s a good thing Jesus isn’t still on the cross, huh?”
I was totally taken aback. “Yes! Oh my goodness, yes it is a good thing!” I asked him to tell me more about what that means. “Jesus is alive now. He isn’t there anymore, he is in our hearts.” If ever there was a parenting moment of glory, this was it for me. He got it. Four years of Bible stories, celebrating the resurrection at Easter and talking about Jesus living in our hearts had come to this. When faced with a suffering Jesus on the cross, he realized that Christ now lives in us.
We talked about how none of our crosses had Jesus on them – and how virtually all the crosses we saw in Europe had an image of a crucified Christ. I had always just chalked it up to Catholic/Protestant differences and moved on. This taught me so much more.
The crucifixion of Christ is of utmost importance, not to be ignored by any means – but what if that is all we ever see? A sad, suffering Jesus? He died so that we may live! The work is finished. We are forgiven. I began thinking about how I was living. Was I walking in the resurrection power of Christ or was I living like He was still up on that cross, striving and under the burdens of all my shortcomings?
Praise God the tomb is empty! Jesus didn’t stay indefinitely on the cross suffering in misery. For the rest of our trip, we would walk into a church, see Jesus hanging on the cross and my son would whisper with a sly little grin on his face, shaking his head, “He’s not really up there anymore mommy!” He spoke with authority, like he was in on a special secret that not everyone understood.
So where is your Jesus? In America we don’t often see this version of a suffering Jesus in our churches. In Europe, this is the only Jesus I ever really ever encountered. We need to know them both. They are the same God.
But lets remember one thing: we are forgiven and the work is done!
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. Romans 6:9
I want to live like that, to tap into that power. I want my kids to know where their Jesus is. He isn’t stuck on a cross and neither are we. He is not defeated and neither are we!
Live in it!!!