I cried when I saw Schindler’s List, copiously and without embarrassment. The film taught me nothing new about the holocaust, so it didn’t educate me. But it reminded me through graphic story-telling of something unfathomable, something that should regularly be remembered and grieved. So weeping was called for.
But afterwards I had to ask myself So what? Would crying erase the suffering, much less annihilation, of the victims? For that matter, would crying over racism, cruelty and genocide make them stop? Tears are fine; actions are better. So I hope to not just grieve evil, but to do something redemptive when it shows its face.
Today’s another day for tears and remembrance. At our Good Friday services we’ll rightfully grieve the sufferings of God’s innocent lamb, vicariously taking the blows and patiently waiting out the anguish until He can say It Is Finished. But this time the victim is really the conqueror, and our grief is mixed with enormous gratitude and wonder, and our horror over the wrong done to Him is, unlike our horror over the holocaust, combined with a certainty that this was planned, this was necessary, for God so loved the world. We’ll probably learn nothing new about the garden, trial and crucifixion itself, so our remembrances won’t educate us. But they’ll remind us of something unfathomable, something that should be regularly recalled, considered, grieved and rejoiced over all at once. Weeping is called for, followed by Sunday’s ecstatic He Is Risen! shout.
But then again, so what? Are my tears what He’s looking for today when we gather at my church to remember? They’ll come, I suppose, and that’s fine. But I have to wonder if at times my expressions are ways of making myself feel better while avoiding the larger issues. Watching the historical nightmare unfold in Schindler’s List I’ll have to cop to a certain smugness; a lazy self-righteousness that comes when you compare your sins to the most atrocious, extreme ones and thus come out way ahead (so you think) and looking pretty good. Those Germans, those Poles, those Nazis I muttered, assuring myself had I been there I’d have behaved so bravely, so different. And how good of me to sob when innocent Jewish lives were taken! See how kind I am, how moved, how superior to the villains. There. The movie’s over, and I feel so much better about myself, because I’ve seen evil, distanced myself from it, sympathized with the victims. I’m good.
All of that can be done without lifting a finger to ease the pain of a victim or prevent another holocaust.
I know we’re talking apples and oranges here. Genocide is never God’s will; the events of Good Friday were. Nothing good came of Auschwitz; eternal life came when the Son of God was slain. Still, isn’t it possible to emotionally remember the slaying and leave it at that, without grasping the challenge that comes with it? I’ve at times felt the Holy Spirit saying, when I consider the cross, “Don’t just romanticize Me. Follow me.” And upon hearing that, let me plainly say I’d rather review the events of that horrible time and say Those Pharisees, those Romans, that Peter, assuring myself had I been there I’d have behaved so bravely, so different. And I’d rather weep over the torture and slow death He endured than remember that the servant is not above His Lord. Where He went I’m to go, a chilling thought when I consider today’s recollection of where He went. Still, if I emote over the cross today while avoiding it in fact, what’s the use?
But if I say Yes to the cross and Wow to the resurrection glory that follows, then, at least to my thinking, I’m on track this Good Friday. If I avoid the reality that I’m called daily to die to myself, then my grief today is rather shallow. Likewise, if I tell myself I’ve got this cross thing done and am doing it right, I’m truly deluded. We will no doubt be applying and reapplying this principle to ourselves, seeking to die to sin while kicking and screaming concurrently, until we, too, finally say It Is Finished. In that sense, while responding to His call to take up the very thing I like to wear around my neck but am in no hurry to put myself on, I’m much like that desperate and honest man pleading with Jesus to heal his son and saying, Lord I believe. Help Thou my unbelief. (Mark 9:24)
So today, yes Lord. I’ll remember Your cross, and take up my own, miniscule and trite next to Yours. And as I do, help not only my unbelief, but my unwillingness, because even when I say Yes parts of my soul scream No! So let the love that took You there, and the power that raised You from there as well, both mingle and work in me today. And always.
God bless all of us this Good Friday, and this Easter. He is Risen.