But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)
I was never much for rocking the boat when I was in high school. By the time I’d survived it long enough to get to my sophomore year (1983-4) all I wanted to do was to stave off boredom while still keeping up my GPA. Keeping up my GPA wasn’t much of a challenge, but staving off boredom was quite another issue. I do have to admit to reading every single issue of Mad and National Lampoon from 1982-86, along with the works of George Orwell, Ayn Rand, and JRR Tolkien, and a somewhat extensive collection of the classics- including Dante’s Divine Comedy, many of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as a fair number of scientific publications, and a plethora of non-fiction historical works on WWII.
I didn’t have too many challenging classes in high school- with the exceptions of AP English and AP music theory, but I did some major reading, mostly for my own edification and recreation. Being a geek who stayed quiet and out of the spotlight, I had some advantages. On the rare occasion that I considered bending the rules, I was usually able to do it under the radar and beyond suspicion. I got away with murder (in a figurative way, of course) when I wanted to- quietly and covertly.
Every year on Good Friday, since the powers that ran the school system didn’t really care if Spring Break coincided with Holy Week or not, Mom wrote us an excuse to skip the afternoon so that we could go to the Good Friday service at the Catholic church that generally lasted from about 1PM-4PM. The service that is held in lieu of Catholic Mass on Good Friday is called Tenebrae service, which means “service of shadows.” The Tenebrae service is also observed in the Lutheran tradition, and includes the reading of the Passion of Christ, and reflections upon His death. Heavy, heavy somber stuff, as it should be on Good Friday.
We- meaning my sisters and I- were well acquainted with the Good Friday service, but being both teenaged and disinclined toward participation in religious observances on such a delightfully warm day, decided that we would spend the afternoon not in the shadows, but in the bright April sunshine. We just didn’t have the somber thing going on that day.
That particular Good Friday was very good indeed, weather in the low seventies, bright sunshine without a cloud in the sky, and just a hint of a light breeze. Perfect weather in April in Ohio is almost unheard of. My oldest sister (who happened to be driving that day) wasn’t about to spend such a glorious day inside. The only problem with not going to church was that her car- a bright orange ’71 VW- was readily visible. We couldn’t hang around in town.
She managed to find one of my favorite hideaway places- the railroad trestle bridge. It’s long since been torn down and scrapped for whatever the steel was worth, but in 1984, though the line was dead and the tracks torn up, the bridge was still lingering over the river, a monument to obsolescence, a shadow still standing from a long-ago sphere.
It’s hard to describe the serenity I found that day. Even though I was with my sisters, they left me alone for awhile and didn’t attempt to knock me off the bridge where I would surely be sucked into the brackish water and unspeakable muck below. I would never recommend swimming, wading or touching the water in that part of the Scioto River today (and certainly not back then) but sitting about 30 feet above the river on the trestle bridge listening to the soft breeze and the running water is hard to describe. It was a slice of rather undeserved, unearned serenity and peace.
The world has moved on since then. Places like that old trestle bridge, those happenstance cathedrals that stay bright in spite of the crushing hammer of entropy, and in defiance of conscious efforts to unmake them, are harder and harder to find in a world where the new mantra is structure and order. Even small children have every minute of their days scheduled and dedicated to a specific purpose. We all know all too well what it is to be locked into the whirlwind of busy- going everywhere and getting nowhere.
It’s hard to wrap our heads around the grace of God. As much as I should, at the very least on that long-ago Good Friday, have been in that service of shadows, I was in reality sitting on a railroad bridge without a care in the world. It’s not so much that dropping out and going to sit on the bridge and watch the world go around is a bad thing, it’s more that everything has a price. It’s easy for us to say we want to walk with Jesus- until it’s shadow time. History gives the apostle Peter a bad rap for denying Jesus three times, but isn’t that we humans in our weakness and fallenness do? Yet the reward Jesus bought for us, even though we fail and fall short all the time is that unearned, undeserved grace- the freedom and the ability to find serenity and peace and security in Him.
One of the beauties of the grace of God is that He knows our weakness. He knows that our bodies are weak and our moral constitutions even weaker. Although we are also called to carry the cross, like as not we end up playing hooky instead, spending our lives blissfully unaware and disconnected from the suffering our Savior bore in our place.
The good news is that even when we are faithless He is faithful. He offers us His grace, purchased with His blood and suffering and tears. He is the Reason why we can have peace and freedom and serenity, because He took the punishment that we deserved.