From a Christian Cynic to another : A letter on Holy Week


A number of years ago I stared down at a green carpet in a dimly lit room. Listening to music that was a bit too loud, if I'm honest. The songs were about a Christ-a God with us-who conquered the grave. Everyone was standing, but I wasn't. I had my head down and I kept thinking. "what am I doing here? I don't know if I even believe this."

That day was Good Friday, the day Judeo-Christians contemplate the heaviest parts of what they claim. It's the most unjust day of the year, if you think about it. It's a day to commemorate when the God-man who did no wrong by any proper court is made guilty by those whom he made. For those crimes, he's sentenced to death. In Roman Culture, he was granted the most humiliating death they had available.  But what's more, we claim, he didn't just pay the price of a crime he did not commit, surrounded by fellow criminals. No, much more.  His own father, the God of the universe, had him pay the price for all crimes forever forward and past. God Almighty poured out the wrath to fulfill his character of justice on every assault, every unkind word, every lie and every sin. We can never fully process what this transaction would cost.... and in the progression of such wrath, the narrative tells us he gets pierced in his side and left to suffocate after having his flesh ripped apart. Through it all, he's jeered at and scoffed at. It's shameful. It's abhorrent. His agony is evident. And we call it a part of holy week.

It's a heavy day for anyone who claims Christ because what we claim is that we put him there. We lay claim to the fact that we've done things worth causing a man to be beaten and murdered and shown disgrace and wrath. Part of the pain he felt was our own doing. If we feel ourselves not quite so guilty, we haven't laid hold of the fullness of it. Our texts tell us that it is for our transgressions he was put there.

I once had a friend ask me "what is the punishment if you hit your sister? Just once?" I said something along the lines of 'a time out or some reprimand?'

 "and if you hit your teacher?" ..."suspension I suppose."

He continued "and how about the president of the U.S.? If you punch him?" Not sure where he was going, I offered up the obvious "jail, federal prison?"

"And what if you punch the God of the Universe? Just once?" his point then being made obvious.

Have I ever done wrong? I have. The penalty would be too great for me to ever pay. My transgressions put my Christ there.

It's a heavy day for me for added reasons. I'm not sure why, but almost every single year I struggle deeply with my faith leading up to Easter. The cynic in me really shows up in best form and the struggle of it all makes me wonder if  I'll be raising a palm branch or jeering come Sunday. I cry a lot this week.

One year, Easter came shortly after we celebrated a birthday of a baby we didn't get to hear cry.  We bought donuts and blew out a tiny candle. Any praise felt bitter tasting for months after. Death felt too unconquered on that Good friday.

One year, one of my parents had debilitating back pain that did not heal for ages and countless prayers and desperate pleas. Pain felt too real on that Good friday.

One year, our marriage was showing very little signs of any hope and the Christ they told us would 'hold us together' didn't seem to be doing much at all. "A God with us" felt like a mocking statement that Good friday.

One year, I saw ugly things in the church that made me cynical (as if I needed any help.) The heartbreak and bitterness were strong in me. Thinking on the phrase 'he makes us all new' felt like a lie that Good friday.

One year a pandemic swept through keeping everyone indoors and away from their people and thousands dying.

Oh death where is thy sting?

Some days, I feel like I know exactly where it is.

But, Easter Sunday comes.

 I don't have much advice for the christian cynic to convince you of much. There are better theologians than I. A quick google of "desiring god, seasons of unbelief" will help a little. I know because I've searched.  But I will offer what I've found helpful.

Show up anyway.

My cynical self shows up on Sunday.  The words of praise feel weighty and at first they feel too costly. It feels raw to praise...and perhaps that's the point. I often ask the same thing I asked a long time ago? "Do I really believe this?"

Despite it all, Easter is and will always be my favorite holiday. This day is a day where we Christians go so bold as to claim death is finally dead. We claim it while death is facing us and reaching us and we can almost smell its coming.  I've claimed it while I had a baby dead in my womb. It's as if we call out victory while still running into battle. It feels naive, and yet we are told it's not. It's a confidence that seems unfounded until we realize it is not our act of faith that makes it true. Our confidence is found in the one who lives above time and space and tells us what will be.

Death will be dead.

During the service, we often have baptisms (a 'coming out' for believers where they declare their faith to their new family of fellow Christians.) and I bawl my eyes out at the hope we are proclaiming. We are a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. It feels scandalous when we think on it long. Christ has begun his good work and will not stop until completed. We're his and it's not up to our striving, its all his glory. It's all his grace.

We have communion.  Breaking off bread and drinking wine and declaring that through Christ and what he's done we get to be here. We get to lay claim to the inheritance we don't deserve.

We all raise a riot of thanks as we realize that if all this is true, we're in the final chapters of the story and he's coming again and we can truly lay hold of what he promises. It's a foreshadowing to a day I long for more and more with each passing year. Can you imagine? When all his 'bride' (his church) comes together to worship him? When all is made right?

But when I wake up on Sunday morning, before I get to that service, I get dressed, often in something new, and I look in the mirror and I'm reminded.

I'm reminded of this creature that I am and I see what has yet to be made new. There are whispers in my mind "you're a fool." I'm reminded of the babies that didn't cry, the parent that still has the back pain, our marriage which still shows deep signs of the fall, the times I screamed at my kids, the people still unkind and the disease that still makes a claim. "and you think death is dead? "

This year, It whispers a bit louder as my phone buzzes to remind me daily that death is claiming my neighbors. As my husband and I have to work through the challenges of living so close so often. It whispers louder, "you sure Britt? You sure Christ has done anything to make you new? To make anything new?"

It feels foolish to claim some invisible anchor gives us hope. Doesn't it?  It feels foolish to claim that the Jews, some ancient people, were chosen by God, their creator and that from one of their own a Messiah-a man who was at the same time fully God- would come down and choose to heal a bunch of people who didn't care about him. That'd he'd feed those who would give nothing in return. That'd he'd laugh and bless and heal... then show up in a city where he knew he'd be betrayed, spit on and hoisted onto two wooden planks and nailed there naked to suffocate and bleed out. It's foolish to think that this man would do this and it would mean our everything.

As C.S. Lewis says Christ is either a liar, a lunatic or Lord. We know he lived, sources other than the bible prove that. The real question is if we believe how he lived.

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

And this is where I start to grow hope..I remember Peter.

"So Jesus asked the Twelve, "do you want to leave too?" Simon Peter replied, "Lord, to whom  would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God."

What other hope do we truly have? Have we not tried all the rest?

If you ever ask me what verse is 'mine.' I would tell you it would be be found in mark 9. Not because I find it particularly cool sounding, but because it explains my entire life.

In it, this boy is super sick with some sort of tremor or possession and his dad asks Jesus to do something about it.

Jesus asked the boys father, "How long has been like this?" "From Childhood," He answered. It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."

"If you can?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for one who believes."

Immediately the boys father exclaimed," I do believe; help my unbelief!"

Come Sunday and today, and tomorrow, here's where you'll find me.

To the questions of doubt, I reply.  "Britt, where else can we go?"

I'll open my mouth and sing hymns and songs written by people who have faced much heavier circumstances. I'll show up and apologize when I fail and when I struggle with the cynicism of it all,

I'll say in my spirit "I do believe, help my unbelief."

I know I'll find myself sitting in a pew or folding chair looking down at the floor on a Good Friday years from now asking myself familiar questions. I know that this cynic in me hasn't gone away.

But there is a day coming when rather than looking down at that carpet, I will find myself somewhere far more radiant. And then.  I will look up and I will see him. I weep at the thought of it.

And he  knows. He knows how hard we've fought together with this. I can already picture his face. His laugh.  How tight he's held me.  And I'll lay at his feet and praise him and laugh because the cynic is gone and he was right all along. Death has lost its sting. It was swallowed up in victory. He helped me in my unbelief.

So, to those who may be doubting our Jesus, I'd ask you.

Where else can we go? and I'd encourage you to ask him "help my unbelief."

And while you're at it, every year I post the same youtube video because it means so much to me.

As always, thanks for reading.


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