It’s Good Friday and I’m looking forward to attending a service to commemorate Christ’s death. I grew up in an evangelical church and in all honesty, took the salvation story for granted most of my life. Jesus died on the cross and rose again three days later – big deal. I memorized John 3:16 and then stashed its truth into the same mental box as the Garden of Eden and Noah’s ark. Only recently have I begun to fully comprehend how big a deal Jesus’ death really is.
Having opportunity to see the difference between religious rote and a relationship with the living Christ has made the difference for me. While in Odessa, for instance, I visited one of Europe’s largest Orthodox monasteries, located minutes from the Black Sea.
In order to enter the buildings, my girlfriends and I had to cover our legs and heads with scarves. Once inside, we could not whisper a word. A half dozen worshipers sat in chairs lined in a row against the right wall. Three or four sat on a bench along the back.
Paintings of various saints adorned the front of the sanctuary. Candles burned before them. Beneath them sat several wicker baskets containing food and a bottle of Coke – offerings waiting for a priest’s blessing.
The room was silent except for the sound of one man’s snoring. His filthy clothes, unkempt hair and beard, and the stench of urine made me wonder if he was a homeless man seeking refuge from the rain and wind. He jerked his head and opened his alcohol-glazed eyes momentarily when a worshiper turned to him and growled something in Russian.
We wandered around the grounds and poked our heads into a second unlocked building. Several women were on their knees, scraping hardened wax drippings off the ornate floor in the gold-bedazzled sanctuary. A small cemetery outside held the graves of a select few. Pussy willow branches decorated the tombs – having been blessed by the priests, these branches are thought to bring good luck for the next year. As we exited the facility, we walked past a black BMW parked beside one of the chapels. A bottle of vodka sat on the cobblestone beside a rear tire. A few feet away stood a little booth with items for sale – crosses and pictures of Jesus and various saints.
The atmosphere in this place was one of religion in form and finery. But it was dead. Stone-cold dead – like my soul apart from a relationship with the living Christ. Because of what He’s done for me, I have life. Not merely eternal life but hope-filled life today and tomorrow and every day until I reach my heavenly home.
Thanks to Christ’s death and resurrection, I’m not a slave striving to please an angry God with good deeds. I’m not a woman engaged in empty religious rote. I’m a ransomed sinner, a sojourner filled with purpose and peace, a prisoner set free. And now it’s my duty and privilege to share the Good News of Christ’s sacrificial love with those who have never heard.
Psalm 72:14 speaks of a king’s rule and his attitude toward his subjects. It says, “He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to him.” This verse has taken on new meaning for me this week. It reminds me that Christ came to earth to redeem mankind, to save them from the penalty of sin because He regards people as precious.
Do I feel the same way? Do I regard other people as precious enough to sacrifice my comfort and well-being to share the Good News with them? If not, why not? This thought is turning me upside-down inside. It’s challenging me to examine my values and my Sunday school theology. I don’t know where this process will lead, but I’m sure of one thing – if Jesus Christ died on mankind’s behalf, then God must desperately want to release spiritually dead people from the trap of religion and infuse them with life that comes from relationship with Him.
May I be a joyful and willing participant in this endeavor, and may the Church rise up and accept the challenge and privilege of partnering with Him to accomplish this task.