When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. (Revelation 8:1)
There is a deep need within the human heart to pause in the presence of profound events, moments so significant that we feel compelled to join ourselves to them and reflect upon the change they bring to our lives. These experiences, where the world seems to stop and we are transfixed in time, become a part of us, shaping who we are like the potter shapes the clay. Lent is a holy pause that happens every year, calling us once again to take hold of what it means to believe.
I have always been a restless soul, constantly seeking new experiences, but at the same time, desiring to be at rest. I love to hike up mountains; and yet I love also to sit in front of my fireplace and dream. And when Lent comes around each year to interrupt the confusing bundle of unsettled emotions that is my life, I find I must heed its call to pause and remember the Passion of Christ and all it holds for me.
Pausing for the Passion
When I was younger, one thing I liked doing during Lent was going to Stations of the Cross. Around the inside of the church were carved images of the last hours of the life of Christ, from his condemnation before Pilate to the lonely Tomb. At each station, the priest and acolytes would pause and kneel while we read from the Scriptures about the Crucifixion and the Old Testament prophecies that pointed to it. It was a solemn and sorrowful ceremony, but it reminded me in very clear terms just what the Son of God went through to win my freedom.
It saddens me that in non-Catholic churches the Stations are missing and sometimes even ridiculed as ritualistic. Many pastors refuse to interrupt their preaching schedule during Lent to talk about the last days of Jesus on the earth. They limit their special sermons to the Good Friday and Easter services and spend the rest of the time seeking to save lost souls. While that may reflect a noble sense of urgency, I think they miss the richness of the season and the power that pausing more often to consider the Crucifixion can bring to those who are seeking God.
Afraid to Pause for the Pain
Two thousand years have softened our collective memory about the suffering our Lord endured on our behalf, so much so that some have forgotten the necessity of pausing to gaze upon the bloody and beaten form of our Messiah upon the cross. They are shocked at the thought that Catholics want to focus on the agony our Savior underwent for the Salvation of the world.
Years ago, when the Mel Gibson movie The Passion of the Christ came out in theaters, churches held discussions about the Crucifixion. I remember hearing people who saw the movie say things like, “All they did was beat him up for two hours!” They found it distasteful to see their Savior subjected to torture on the big screen. At one such event, I remember the pastor asking people to estimate the length of the very graphic scourging scene. Most said it was 20 minutes or more. In actuality, the scene took less than seven minutes.
Many people said that the scourging scene was too difficult for them to bear. YouTube places a warning about the intensity of the scene before the viewer is allowed to click on the video. We turn our faces from the suffering of Christ. Why is this? Some of the same people who were disturbed by The Passion of the Christ are quite content to watch graphic movies of war or scenes of rotting zombies and think nothing of it. Perhaps we would rather ignore the humiliation and excruciating torture our Lord endured because it is too real and reminds us of our sin, the same sin that led our Lord to be crucified.
Shaking Things Up
When I shake off my cowardice and come trembling before the cross, truly taking in the reality of what our Savior suffered for me, his scars become so beautiful that my heart is broken and my sin becomes so ugly that I can no longer bear it. In that sacred moment, I experience the weight of my transgressions pressing down upon the brow of my Lord like the thorny crown, striking His holy flesh like the blows of the bone-tipped whip, and mocking His great love for me like the jeering crowd.
And yet, in that moment of shame, I hear His tender voice, saying “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34a). With His words, I am lifted from the pit of my despair and drawn into the depths of the love that shed every drop of blood to save me. I am able to shake off my sin and rise redeemed, knowing I am forgiven and free because of His sacrifice upon the cross.
Heaven’s Holy Pause
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus lay prostrate before His Father, praying that the cup might pass Him by. Then, after the briefest and most profound pause, Our Lord bowed down to the Father’s will and took upon Himself the sins of all the world. He was bound, tried before sinful men, beaten, scourged, and crowned with thorns. In the end, He took up His cross and struggled up the rugged hill to Golgotha, where He was lifted up before the people and crucified.
After a time, the sky grew dark and Jesus uttered the words of the 22nd Psalm: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” (Psalm 22:1)? What followed was the most overwhelming silence the world has ever known. At that hour, the Father turned His face away from His Son and Jesus bore the full weight of the sins of humanity. He experienced separation from His Father and the silence of heaven, and took the full punishment that was ours! There was darkness and then death, a holy, pregnant pause.
Then, a great earthquake shook the city and traveled right to the Holy of Holies in the temple, where the heavy curtain was torn in two! The barrier between humanity and heaven was forever removed and from that moment on, we were reconciled to God! Such glorious truth demands that we take time each Lent to pause and come to terms with the incalculable price Christ paid for our Salvation.
Another Holy Pause to Come
In the Psalms, the word “Selah” is said to mean, “Take a pause and consider this!” Lent is a time when we pause to consider the awesome reality of our salvation and what it cost our Savior to obtain it for us. Jesus, the Great King of Heaven, paused in eternity so that He could enter into flesh and endure the cruelest physical torture, mental anguish, and spiritual suffering the world has ever seen. His sacrifice deserves that we drop to our knees and consider what it means for us to have been saved by the Suffering Servant of God.
Someday there will be another holy pause in heaven, right before the time of the worst judgment the world will ever know, right before the end, when those who reject Christ will suffer His wrath and we who believe will experience the joy and peace of eternity with God! Let that sink in. Try not to let this Lent pass you by without stepping back from your busy world to pause for a moment as the miracle of the cross overwhelms you. Thank Jesus for your salvation and pledge to walk your journey each day, taking time over and over to allow His love to move in your life.
Father, forgive me for shying away from the crucifixion, for watering it down and numbing myself to the actual agony your Son suffered for me. Help me to meditate on the last hours of my Savior and to marvel at the love that held Him fast while He was mocked, beaten, crowned with thorns, made to walk the painful path to Golgotha, and hung upon the cruel cross, all for me. Help me to pause in fear and trembling at the thought of you turning your face away from the sin placed upon your Son. Help me to fall to my knees in worship and praise of the One who went through death and hell and came out on the other side — for me! I offer this prayer in His precious name, Amen!