I was really looking forward to Easter, the greatest day of the Christian year. The one day where we really should drink champagne for breakfast and party late into the night-- He is risen, death is conquered, we have hope! Of course, I wasn't expecting hors d'oeuvres at church or anything, but I was hoping to have a time of celebration and unmitigated joy.
What we got was one rather depressing, emotional show. And I was part of it, so I don't feel bad criticizing it. We emphasized Christ's suffering and gave the resurrection only passing note. We presented a dramatized version of "The Ragman" (if you are not familiar with it, you can read one version here). Now, I will say that story is helpful in understanding just what it means for Christ to take our sins upon himself and to be a substitutionary sacrifice. But the story is misleading in many ways. First, it makes it seem as if Jesus' healing is physical, tangible, and instantaneous. The woman stops crying, the girl stops bleeding, the man gets a new arm and goes to work. Forgiveness of sin and the regeneration of one's spirit is instantaneous, but nowhere does the gospel promise immediate healing of all your ailments and troubles. Just because we are healed and whole in our spirit does not mean we will be healed and whole physically, emotionally, or mentally.
The second problem is that it seems to insinuate that after Jesus heals you, you launch out on a new life that will be free from those old problems and pain. No more tears, no more suffering, no more tribulation--hasn't he taken that all upon Himself? What a misleading thing to tell a person about Christ. What will they cling to when 2, 5, 15, 50 years down the road their world falls completely apart? When their body decays, their marriage fails, they lose their job and their house, a child rebels, and so forth? Where is the Rag Man then, to take on their pain and exchange it for joy?
The crucifixion and the resurrection was a one-time, once-for-all event, but the gospel is something we need continuously, every day, every minute, with every breath. In this moment, His grace is sufficient for me. In this moment, my sins need cleansing and my mind renewing. In this moment, He may not heal me or take away my tears, but because I believe the gospel, I have hope that He is somehow working out all these things for His glory, my good, and for the future redemption of all creation.
So I propose we add "The Rest of the Story" to the Rag Man. Perhaps the woman continues to cry because of unexplained depression that won't go away, but the Rag Man comes and sits with her while she weeps. Perhaps the little girl, whose bandaged head has been healed, now gets shuffled from foster home to foster home, and sometime in her teens the Rag Man comes back to visit her. She remembers him from her childhood and decides to get to know him better. The man who regains his arm has a hard time finding a job, and after a few years working in a factory, he is diagnosed with cancer. The Rag Man comes and sits with him in the hospital room until he breathes his last. I don't know. I'm just too cynical to get the warm fuzzies with the original story. Give me a glimpse of the hope I can have in the midst of my pain. Show me a slice of real life, of real struggles that we cry out for Jesus to heal but He doesn't seem to.
This is the hope of Easter--Jesus is King and His Kingdom is here and is coming. "Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow."