The crime drama unfolded with eery music and dark shadows as I watched spell-bound. There was a slashing sounds and a scream and bump, bump, bump came a human head down the stairs. Blood and guts, or brains rather, splatted everywhere and I averted my eyes from the disturbing depiction. "Eww," I said as I turned my head away, but I then glanced right back. Wow, that looked real.
Horror depicted so realistically is the norm. I find myself shuttering, saying "Eww", turning away, or turning the show off. I tell myself it is just a plastic head with some make-up and catchup squirted on for blood. I am not a lover of the gruesome, to the contrary actually, it grosses me out!
This steady flow of fake violence and gore makes it hard to identify with the real thing.
The Easter season is over now, with the familiar story of our Lord on the cross, tortured and bleeding. And I'm just getting around to writing this. It's been on my mind for months. Ever since I started my trifle attempt at suffering through Lent. Giving up sugar? It seems so ridiculous to put a claim on the word "suffer" in the same phrase with crucifixion. Yet as small as my attempt was, I was brought back to Jesus' gift again and again. It was my own little agony.
The cross and all the gore that goes with it is an easy one to turn away from and say "Eww." Let's move on and not confront this. I am tempted to drink the cup, eat the bread, say a quick thanks and forget the rest. Let's think of dramatic make-up and fake blood.
I first realized I wasn't really getting to the heart of Jesus' sacrifice a long time ago while I was traveling in Europe with a friend. It was in a dungeon of all places. There I was smacked in the face with human suffering so real, so graphic, that I could taste it. And more importantly than tasting it, I allowed it to flow over me... I felt Jesus' gift like never before.
My steps were truly orchestrated on that trip, because I almost didn't make it to the castle on Passover weekend 2001. My friend Janelle and I couldn't make reservations and then we couldn't even figure out how to find the place. Janelle had heard about the Schloss Mittersill and wanted to visit, entertaining ideas of perhaps working at the Christian conference center (now hotel). Well God sent some angels and pretty much held our hands as we traveled to the Schloss and when we arrived, there was room for us to stay one night. Good Friday.
Not knowing what to do or what to expect, we went along on a Passion Walk through the castle with the other guests. We learned some history of the castle, built in the 1100s and then later rebuilt in the 1500s after it was burned to the ground, it was occupied by kings and noblemen over the centuries. It was seized by the Nazis during World War II and that's where the Passion Walk led us.
We went down narrow, winding stairs until all the air was sucked out by darkness. The sounds I heard were dripping water, the shuffle of feet, and my own heartbeat thudding in my chest. My hands nervously grasped at cold stone walls as I followed the group, wondering what was next.
Innocent women were brought to the Schloss and studied by a think-tank of Nazi experts, used as medical experiments. As a devision of the nearby Mauthausen Concentration Camp, the interesting cases came to reside in the dungeon of the castle. Mostly young women.... on the very ground my feet trod on. Down the same stairs, fingers brushing the same stone cold walls with fear and trembling. What could a human body really survive? Life was expendable. Their suffering came from torture by brutal men, their bodies used, beaten and bloodied.
The cavernous space held our small group, flickering lights barely casting a glow on a few pictures to remember innocent lives. Their humanness drew me in. I couldn't look away with the common aversion that I usually clung to. It was too disturbing and too gross, yet I looked still. I felt anguish for their agony.
Before I could begin to process the true horror that happened there, we were moving on, out a different way. A passageway in the wall and we saw daylight, snow, the breathtaking Alps, and the valley below. The path led to a large, rough-wood cross. Standing as a symbol in the snow. It all washed over me with cold shakes.
Those girls who died there were normal just like me. Their story grabbed me and I related and mourned. The tortuous ending in a dank dungeon wasn't their choice.
And it struck me... pain and agony so great and Jesus chose. He chose suffering. For. Me. Beaten and tortured, he could have turned back at any moment, calling angels. He withstood the limit of human suffering and then he breathed his last. "It is finished." The rest of the story is the beauty: his raising from the dead, my sins forever forgiven. But he had to go through the terrible first.
Oh the story is so familiar, my babies can recite it with ease. I too have heard it since I was in diapers. It can become redundant and as tiny as my attempt of sacrificing through Lent. We must make an effort to allow ourselves moments of quiet and reflection to allow the realness of it all to wash.
Gruesome and ugly. Let the emotions of sacrifice settle in real, the rawness making us squirm in discomfort.
When we wipe away the make-up and sound effects, the fake gore of tv drama, we're left with the weight of it. The gift of it. Jesus chose that path. He chose it for you and me. Love so great, so amazing. Not tiny, but the most significant thing in our whole lives.
"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,
may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people,
to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,
and to know this love that surpasses knowledge
—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."