As we grow deeper and deeper into Lent…and closer and closer to the sorrow of Good Friday…we should stop a minute and think about what it all really means. Sometimes, when we hear words over and over again, they begin to lose some of their meaning and power. Oh, we think we are hearing, but we’ve said and read and heard these words so many times before. Do we ever take the time to stop and feel what these words mean? Take the time to stop and imagine the fullness of what is happening to Our Lord.
He is stripped, a robe thrown over Him. A crown of thorns placed on His head. Imagine, if you will, the humiliation of being stripped by a group of rough, unwashed, brutal men – your clothes ripped from your body as they taunt and hit you. Yes, He is Lord, and can be above it all. But He is also fully human and knows our human weaknesses and emotions.
A crown of thorns is placed upon His head. Not placed…thrust! Long, sharp, strong, pointy thorns…piercing the tender flesh, breaking their points on His skull, the blood running in His hair and towards His eyes.
He is scourged. Wow. That’s an old fashioned word that may not really evoke much in us today beyond, ‘Oh, they beat Him, that’s bad.’
Scourging was nearly as bad, as torturous, as crucifixion. Scourging was not merely beating, or flogging. It was brutal enough to be fatal in many cases. It was degrading, belittling, debasing, and demeaning. A flagellum was used, a whip with several strands weighted with lead balls or pieces of bone. These lacerated the skin, sometimes exposing veins or arteries.
More words. But stop for a moment and think…and feel…what that must really have been like. Go beyond the words to the grim, brutal, frightening reality. And He faced even more to come.
Words fail us even today. At Solidarity with the Persecuted Church we have written extensively about the suffering of the Christian victims of ISIS in Iraq. Maybe we have even grown boring. Writing about their homes being destroyed, their villages devastated, their churches desecrated. But what does it all really mean?
Their homes were destroyed. This is not an abstract idea. This means walls torn down. Plates, glasses and mugs smashed on the floor in an ugly, messy heap with garbage, sewage, excrement, food stuffs and personal belongings…now teeming with rats and other vermin. Prized personal possessions? Your family pictures? They’re in the pile. Along with your clothes and intimate garments. The walls are scorched with fire, soiled with urine, smeared with anti-Christian graffiti.
Welcome home. Perhaps there is a hidden booby-trap explosive in all of that to make your homecoming even warmer.
You return to this, your home, after months, years, in refugee camps. Now, try to imagine that homecoming…not as words, but as a human being walking through door, suffering from the privations of a refugee camp, looking to rebuild, reclaim your life. Your lives, your treasures, are in a sodden, stinking mess on the floor. Touch your own emotions, and try to feel and understand.
You try to take solace, comfort, by going to church. But your church, the very center of your life, your faith, your community, is a shambles. The walls are scorched. The altar overturned and defiled, the pews burned. The sanctuary has been used as a lavatory. The crucifixes – the very symbol of the sacrifice and hope Our Lord bestowed on us – have been taken to the courtyard and used as target practice.
Again, let’s try to move beyond mere words to how it feels. How it feels to stand in the shambles of our own place of worship –your place of hope and salvation – and see it violated, a target of hate and violence. See how it feels, not as an intellectual exercise, but in our hearts, in our souls. Words are not enough.
Solidarity with the Persecuted Church has been there. We’ve seen it. We’ve felt it. Deep in our souls. It is why we are so committed to helping the persecuted Christians of Iraq…and Syria, and Nigeria…to rebuild and reclaim their lives. Not in grandiose ways. Not with Government or Church bureaucracy. But one to one, with the local people, pastors and community. We help provide the basic necessities to rebuild lives. Plates and glasses, diapers and baby formula, furniture and windows, job training. The unglamorous, practical things that really do help.
We do this with your help. And we are very grateful. The persecuted Christians we are able to help are very grateful. Pathetically grateful that we Americans, who have so much, are willing to help them just a little.
One more word we say and don’t always stop to feel and understand the true meaning of: Christian. These Iraqi Christians, returning to their devastated homes and desecrated churches to rebuild their lives depend and trust entirely on their Lord and their faith. They understand what being a Christian means, right down to their weary bones and ruined houses. And they will carry on. As Christians, as we understand being Christian, SPC will be there to help. Because we know, after Good Friday, comes Easter.