By Ellie Corrow
O LORD God, dear Father in heaven, fix our eyes upon the things of the cross, that we may ever find true beauty in the suffering of our Lord to grant us peace that sustains where the pretty things of this world cannot, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Forgiveness doesn’t look like much
In fact, it’s downright ugly. We expect that when God does something it has to be beautiful, spectacular even. This is the God of TV who sends gorgeous angels to intercede, while flooding onlookers with a soft, gentle light that does not reveal the flaws in anyone’s complexion. Rarely do the mystics speak of finding God in the mundane, much less the ugly. Rather they will speak of finding God in a beautiful landscape, sunset, fields of rainbows, butterflies, and kittens. This is because our Old Adam is programmed to never really see the things of God. Instead he defines himself as God, so what he sees as good, right, and beautiful, must then be God. The Old Adam cannot afford to see the things of God, to see the reconciliation wrought only by bloody hands and feet on a hillside outside Jerusalem, because there is no room for him in that reconciliation, instead he must die. To fallen human senses, forgiveness smells like death.
God’s Kingdom is backwards
The trouble with looking for Christ with our eyes is that the Kingdom in which He reigns is entirely backwards. If we stood on a hillside outside Jerusalem 2,000 years ago and witnessed the death of the Author of Life, we would not have seen much of anything at all–just another dead Jewish man, bearing a punishment foisted on Him by the ruling authorities. Our eyes would not see it for what it was. When we witness a Baptism, our eyes only see a sprinkle of water and a few words–little else. No visible angels, no halos, nothing but a forehead stained with baptismal water. Similarly, when we approach the Lord’s altar to receive His gifts, we are the company of angels and archangels, yet all we can really see is a wafer, a sip of wine, and a few words uttered by our pastor. It seems less holy still when you consider the sins of the annoying neighbor kneeling next to you at the communion rail.
We think the Kingdom of God should come signs and wonders, visible to something other than the eyes of faith, and though that day will come, today this is not how we’re given to see. Instead we’re invited by Christ to see the backwardness of His Kingdom. It’s a Kingdom where children, whores, and tax collectors are the greatest in heaven, and the holy priest is the least. It’s a Kingdom where the prodigal son is celebrated and the “good” son is whining over his father’s mercy.
The Gospel doesn’t seem to make sense
The Gospel defies all logic in who it welcomes and how it is delivered, so it’s no surprise that many reject the humble signposts establishing His reign on Earth. But this simple backwardness of Christ’s reign is good news for us. This means the baptized do not look for the holy ways in which they may serve Christ. Instead their ordinary work for their neighbors is sanctified. It means we need not worry if God has forsaken us in our crosses and trials, instead we can bear them in faith, knowing our lives are marked by the hiddenness of Christ’s cross. Most of all it means that however great your sins, however frightening this world, there is One who fights for you, who reigns in His body broken, given, for you.
O LORD God, dear Father in heaven, hear my cry. Draw me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. Put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Deac. Ellie Corrow serves as the missionary care coordinator for the LCMS Office of International Mission, and is on the board of Higher Things.
This article was originally published on the Higher Things website in June 2015.