Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Monday, March 26, 2012

Feeling Good about Feeling Bad

I feel like I face the same thing every time Holy Week comes back around. It gets exacerbated thanks to how viral things get on facebook. And it also might be a touchy subject because I just re-read Rob Bell's Love Wins with my ladies at church. Ok, there are actually two things that bother me about Holy Week, but I think they are related.

First of all, I love Holy Week, despite the craziness it brings to those of us who work in a church. The combination of the timelessness and ritual and reality and messiness, in addition to being one of the few times it is still acceptable to talk about death and acknowledge our own brokenness just GETS me. I get caught up in something that's bigger than myself, something that is worth remembering, something that the saints who have gone before have done. It's a time of reflection and confrontation with the brokenness of the world and in myself, and how Jesus chose to enter right into the thick of it, even unto death. 

What I don't like is putting too much emphasis on the physical torture and pain of Jesus. There is something a bit sick about human nature and being drawn to all the gory details of any kind of horror done to a human being - the Shoah (Holocaust), Abu Garib (sp?), Survivor or Fear Factor. There were two movies I saw last year that had water torture in it, and I was like, really?!?!? Do we need to see this? Oh, but we do. 

Yes, yes, give us all the gory details. Tell us exactly how it felt for bleeding Jesus to have a robe put on his wounds and the ripped off. Yes, tell us about his levels of exhaustion and dehydration, and what part of the hand/arm the nails went in and how long he could have survived what exactly the cause of death was. Yes, tell me about the bloody corpse of Jesus. 

But that's what Holy Week is all about, right? Reliving and re-enacting the last hours and moments of Jesus life, right?


Jesus was crucified once. We don't need to crucify him again, every year, at least in our hearts and minds and memories. Which is pretty much what we're doing when we over-emphasize all the gory details. I'll never forget once as a teenager hearing about all this gory stuff for the first time. We were scandalized, horrified, and curious all at the same time. But I left that youth group that night with one strong feeling - guilt. But at the same time, I felt good about feeling guilty. Like learning about and feeling horrible by all the tortures that Jesus experienced on my behalf was a sort of punishment for me for having put Jesus through them in the first place. I felt better for having felt bad. And that's why I think people flocked to see The Passion of the Christ. We could feel. Every. Nail. As they were pounded. We felt terrible. And then we felt better. It was cathartic. And we left feeling good that we knew every little detail and could feel bad about it. Confusing, I know. Feeling good about feeling bad. 

Is that what Holy Week is all about? Making us feel guilty all over again for what we've done? We crucified Jesus, that's true. We didn't and don't want to hear his message of love to all. But I put to you that it is neither healthy nor helpful to wallow in the gory details. 

Every gory detail is important if Jesus is the appeasing sacrifice to an angry, righteous God on behalf of humanity. That's right, folks. Penal substitution. That's the second thing, which I will address in another post, I think. I DO have four sermons to think about in the next two weeks....


  1. My gut reaction to your post is, "What about the theology of the cross?". In that we are shown that we find God in the place where we least expect which in Holy Week is on a method of ancient torture and punishment. I understand how gore can become over the top - I hated Passion of the Christ for that reason - but I think we need to be realistic about how Jesus died in order to really understand how far God is willing to go to save the world. It's not about dwelling in the gore but engaging in the reality that Jesus didn't die in his sleep, he, more than likely, suffocated while hanging on a pole. I am not sure you can ignore that reality and successfully understand the length God goes in order to show love to those who would deny and kill God's only Son.

    Perhaps alongside reading Rob Bell's Love Wins you should also read Where God Meets Man by Gerhard Forde in order to see how we can't ignore the reality of the cross but can find gospel (good news) in it.

    Again, this is my first response to your post but I think it's important to not write off the reality of the cross.

    1. I suppose what I am trying to get across is our tendency to sentimentalization the cross by focusing on all the details, which sounds so counter-intuitive. By focusing on the details, we are able to distance ourselves from the "big picture," that Jesus died the death of a common criminal at the hands of people just like us. Instead of exploring what that means, we instead shy away and focus on all the details (the devil is in the details???). The details can get in the way of that reality, I think, kind of like not seeing the forest for all the trees. Perhaps why I felt kind of good about it as youth was that I thought I had wrapped my mind around the reality of the cross by examining the details, when the truth is I didn't get it at all.