The Rest of the Passion?

There are so many discussions in the blogosphere right now surrounding the authenticity of the church, scriptures and the relevance of the cross to Christianity. I’m participating in a couple of them on an elementary level and I am again back to a gospel no one really reads. The Gospel of Nicodemus. It is also my understanding that in some anabaptist/Mennonite/Amish circles, this gospel is highly regarded as historically accurate or at least worth the time it takes to read. Perhaps I dreamt that and some sage Menno (Leon/Dad) will likely be along to confirm or deny that.

Anyway, the account of Christ’s trial and cricifixion in the Gospel of Nicodemus or Acts of Pilate is more in depth than the Bible’s accounts go. Christ has little or nothing to say that is different from what our Gospels record, but everyone else does. Particularly the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Jesus’ followers.

The Jewish leaders were angry that Jesus was performing miracles on the Sabbath (not really caring that he was doing miraculous, wonderful things only God could do, but that his timing was lousy) and loudly denouncing him as an evil person.  According to this writing, people whom Jesus had healed came to his defense. The man who took up his bed and walked, the woman with the issue of blood (apparently her name was Bernice), blind, lepers and others told their stories. How cool! They couldn’t deny the deity of Jesus Christ, yet the leaders swept that part away.

A verbal stone thrown at Jesus was the accusation of the leaders that because of him, many children had been killed by Herod at his birth. I never thought about this much. Imagine all the heartbroken parents walking around watching Jesus live his life and wondering how Mary got so lucky as to have her child spared! Only 33 years later, Jesus had to have felt their burden. I wonder if he ever talked about it. The leaders at his trial acknowledged that he was the one Herod was looking for, so I imagine it came up somewhere.

I particularly like the depth to which Pilate’s agony is portrayed in this writing. He was tortured over the decision to prosecute Jesus. He tried and tried to let him go, but couldn’t. His politics got in the way and he ultimately washed his hands, but you can almost feel his sorrow at doing so.

Then, the crucifixion as portrayed here and the reaction of the guards to the resurrection is so great! They couldn’t believe their eyes and acknowledged in no uncertain terms that they had crucifed a righteous man. At the appearance of angels at the tomb, they played dead out of fear, but they knew by then who they were dealing with. They tried to convince others of his deity, but even in all of that, the leaders couldn’t accept. Couldn’t surrender.

We do that every day, don’t we? Reduce his miracles, deity and holiness to what is convenient for us. As long as he is working in our lives on our time line, we’re happy to let him carry on. As soon as he works a miracle, nudges our conscience or otherwise breaks through our thick skulls at a time we don’t want him to, we try to deny his power in our lives. We take back control. We can’t surrender.

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Why Can’t we Believe?

Supernatural events abound in the scriptures. Amazing encounters with angels, healing, resurrection and rainbows. We read of countless miracles of Christ throughout his life. Even a fig tree wasn’t immune to his powers. Scriptures also record supernatural experiences of a less-than-holy kind too. Satan and his little helpers had their grips into people in many ways. I imagine watching Christ walking around on two legs was quite upsetting for the Evil One and he truly fought back. Filling people with demons, sickness and all forms of bad stuff.

Evangelicals accept the miracles in scripture as fact and accept Satan’s workings as fact yet struggle to notice or believe that equally supernatural events can happen to us today. When they do, we call them “miracles”. I wish there were another word for it. I would like to think that miracles would be an every day occurance and something we come to expect. I wonder why we can’t believe. Not “believe in…” or “believe that…” or “believe on…”, but simply Believe. Period. I wonder what would happen if we took God at his word. That he can, will and does intervene in miraculous ways if we pay attention. We limit God to our North American version of what’s comfortable and let him “work through us” or “in us” and that’s fantastic…but we stop there and fail to let him simply work wonders all by himself.

My most vivid encounter with the supernatural happened in Penang, Malaysia. I was 15 years old. A Hindu man who worked at our school invited a small group of us to come witness his firewalk at Thaipusam. (Click this link for more information and pictures). This Hindu festival celebrates Lord Murugan and followers go to ask him for things or to thank him for answered prayers. My friend had asked the god Siva the year before for a son. His wife had given birth 10 months later and now he needed to go thank Siva by performing some rather atrocious physical acts as an offering to his god. His plan included walking the hot coals and pulling his son on a wagon behind his back around the island. Attaching the wagon to my friend were long cords with hooks on the end which he embedded into his back. It is an honor to be asked to attend and watch. (Pictures here of Penang Thaipusam).

We made our way to the temple and up onto a balcony of a house right outside the courtyard. I will never forget the smell of the incense and hashish that assaulted us out there. It was a fantastic smell and below us, participants were going into their trances. The loud Indian music was beautiful and awful at the same time. Quite bewitching in fact. We watched our friend with the head of the temple chanting and singing and breathing in incense. We watched him turn into a puppet with no control over himself. We watched a demon take him, I think. The next two hours more and more men did the same things. Skewering themselves with sharp rods, walking fire coals and other hideously painful acts of contrition. But…no blood and no pain. The doctors on the island said that very few Thaipusam participants come in after the event for medical attention to their wounds. Most of them simply have no marks at all to show.

Towards the end of the walk, we made our way down to the temple courtyard to greet some people we knew. I have never felt heavier in my life. As though evil had a taste and it was trying to shove itself down my throat. I can tolerate heavy incense and the hashish wasn’t too bad…but the heaviness was physical and unrelated to the smells. We were surrounded by painted men, their wives, families and many many children. Suddenly we heard someone screaming and the crowd in front of us parted wide. The high head of the temple was standing a few yards ahead screaming at us to leave. “Get out! You are Christians! You will ruin everything!” was basically the message we heard. So we did. But in that moment, we knew we were surrounded by something far greater than ourselves. I wasn’t afraid. I felt such peace as though I could fight anything these people threw my way. I had a power greater than theirs and they weren’t going to win. Then, a rush of sadness pushed down on me and I wept the whole way home.

Later, our Hindu friend at the school told us that people at the temple that day could see something different around us. We had a light or a presence that was following us as we walked around. And THEY were afraid of US!

My supernatural God visibly walked with me that day. We had prayed for protection and we got it in buckets! I have never doubted his presence since then. There is truly a battle going on for our souls in the air around us. I think if we reached out far enough, we might touch it sometimes.

This week was a week of introspection for me. So o…

This week was a week of introspection for me. So often I feel like I am walking on the fringes of life lately. Andy is so fantastic about getting everyone up and moving in the morning while I sleep in. I find that my body is exhausted all the time. This thing of healing takes so much energy and you don’t even realize it until you can’t stand up any more! He is an amazing man and some day I’d like to take him on a cruise; but he gets seasick, so the thought will have to count!

Theology is such a heady issue. I’m reading about and discussing the Non Violent Atonement theories; reconciling my peace issues with my fight-back instinct; Orthodox vs. Pentecostal vs. Mennonite….phew! It could get to be a full time job debating these things. And this week, I’ve discussed all!

I am yearning for a church that doesn’t rely on heritage for it’s theology. At the risk of offending people I love dearly; sometimes being Mennonite does not attract me much. It’s like being born Jewish. It’s what you ARE… and the faith, peace, smiles, dress, theology, acceptable behaviors and all those trappings are assumptions that you make for your life and assumptions that others make for you. Why have any questions? Why digress from “the path” when those before you have it all planned out? The problem I see is this: It is far too easy to fall into the label of Mennonite and have no idea what that means to others! If I tell someone I am a Mennonite, they often automatically and immediately trust me. And then ask me where my covering is! If I simply tell them that I am a Christian, they often automatically and immediately distrust me and wonder if I will judge their words and deeds out loud. There are many people in my community and circle of peers and friends who don’t know that Mennonites are Christians (the way THEY understand Christianity). They see Mennonites in the sterotypical role of simple, peaceful and quiet. Not someone with real thoughts, ideas or any connection to modern culture! Most of the Mennonites I know don’t have a large circle of close friends outside of that church…and I find that sad. I would say that my best friend is not a Mennonite; not an anything…maybe closely Quakerish….but ultimately not entirely happy with that either. And, she enjoys a great Merlot on occasion!

But, I think there are some Mennonites who would say that those that are not “Mennonites” would be so far into “the world” that their salvation would be in question. I remember as a younger person thinking that if someone wasn’t Mennonite that they weren’t
“saved.” I don’t know why; that was something I sucked in from my upbringing in a strict legalistic family and being surrounded by evangelical missionaries full of Child Evangelism fever! If I behaved a certain way; wore a certain type of clothing; listened to (SHOCK!) rock music and maybe on occasion had a glass of wine I was headed straight to hell! The rules and legalities became central to my salvation and Christ crucifed was a great story to make me feel totally depraved and when JUST AS I AM played…..boy I was on my knees!

I am grappling with the idea that Christ is an unresolved issue in my life. The formulas laid for me; the Sinner’s Prayer; the promise of Heaven as a place in the clouds…is so far fetched and unreal. So childish and simple. But…Christ, the Son of God, bore for me the sins of the world that I might be reconciled to God and be One with God; Atonement through the crucifixion and resurrection/defeat of death that Christ endured…that is something to think about! And, it doesn’t matter if I am a Mennonite, Baptist, AOG, CMA or whatever denomination I think I want to be….He ultimately came for Me as a human being. How cool is that!

I just want to love my God and learn of Him more each day. To revel in the awesome power and glory he reigns in! To humbly bow, on my face, beseeching Him with my little needs and know He cares.

My Bible has become a frightening thing for me to pick up some days. It almost breathes. It jumps on the shelf and skitters around asking me to open it! I hold it and love each page. It is the living and breathing Word of God!! I need a new one (mine is disintegrating) and I cannot bring myself to buy one. Not only because I am broke and can’t afford it, but because I’d have to break this new one in and it wouldn’t be “alive” yet! I cherish each word; each day something new from oft read phrases jumps into my heart.

And that happens no matter how Mennonite, Anabaptist or whatever you are! God doesn’t really care; he just asks for faithfulness, passion and mercy for others from us.

He simply asks for Love.

Let that break your heart for a minute.