As the Ruin Falls: Pain & Beauty; Destruction & Resurrection

Photo Credit: Philippe Wojazer / Reuters

Saturday morning my wife, Stephanie, and I with our friends and family celebrated the new life and coming birth of our twin sons, Abel James and August John Elliott. Gray clouds covered the sky, and a steady rain fell on the ground, a typical spring day in the South Puget Sound. I awoke early to bake four country loafs and slice apples for our charcuterie boards. After packing our car with food and supplies, we drove to pick up our morning coffee and then headed to the baby shower. The morning continued and we helped my wife’s family setup the event room with flowers and other decorations. People trickled in little by little: immediate family, extended family, old friends, new friends, loving pastors, and my beautiful wife, carrying my two twin boys surrounded me. Everyone was smiling and laughing. The happiness was palpable, and the party was the exact opposite of the dreary, depressing weather outside. During the baby shower, happiness overcame me, and, in that moment, my heart was overfilled with contentment and joy, similar to reaching the peak of a mountain or watching the sunset at the beach. It was a moment where one is thankful just to exist, to see and experience beauty, to love, and to be loved. It is in these moments that God’s presence feels so close, that mankind is able to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”[1]

But, what does man do with the evil that befalls him? What happens when we taste the bitterness of this world rather than the goodness of God? Where is God in these moments? For even in our happiness, mankind cannot escape the cold grasp of death. Even in celebrating the new life of my beautiful twin boys, I am unable evade the business of the grave. Today is the twenty-first anniversary of my father’s death. And, his death makes bitter even the joy of new life.

People say that time heals all wounds, but my father’s death seems to become more painful every year. The more joy I experience in my life, the more pain I feel from his death. The more goodness I experience in my life, such as graduation, marriage, and now children, the more I long for my Father to be alive to experience it with me. It is so painful to have children and to know they will never meet their grandfather. My twin boys, Abel and August, will never get to sit on Grandpa John’s lap; my twin boys will never feel my father’s strong hands hold them ever so gently; my twin boys will never see their grandpa pray by their bedside begging God to guide them in his ways; my twins will never know the love my father had for God, my mom, my siblings, and me. Even more so having children reminds me that I will never experience handing my son to my dad to hold; I will never feel the loving and firm embrace of my dad; I will never experience my dad telling me how proud he is of me as a father, a husband and a man. But, I surmise that the pain I feel is simply a product of the beauty I experienced in being my father’s son. Memories of my father’s laugh, of my father’s love, and my father’s faith are still with me to this day. The pain I feel is simply the absence of my father in my life.

It is strangely poetic that the Notre Dame cathedral caught fire today. The 856-year-old cathedral, captivated millions of admirers and pilgrims who walked through its doors in awe of its beauty. In Notre Dame, we saw a physical embodiment of beauty. And to lose that pains us. The pain of its destruction is so deeply felt exactly because the world knew its beauty and wonder. So, is the death of a human soul! To know and love someone only to see their body deteriorate over time or suddenly collapse, causes humans deep pain. Yet, we are powerless to stop this destruction.

Jesus Christ, our Savior, saw his beautiful creation dying and deteriorating. But, unlike mankind, he was not powerless to stop its destruction. So, he in fellowship with the Holy Trinity descended into humanity and assumed our nature. Christ Jesus was goodness, justice, love, and beauty encapsulated in a human. He was fully God and fully man, and we rejected him. He was the most beautiful thing that this world has ever experienced, and we killed him. ­And, mankind watched his body crumble in weakness. Jesus’ body was broken and soul crushed for humanity, like Notre Dame burning, the human embodiment of beauty was destroyed.

So, why did the triune God allow Jesus’ humanity to taste this bitterness? Why did Jesus experience this immense pain? Why was the beauty of Jesus allowed to be extinguished? Why was man permitted to eradicate the goodness of Jesus? Doesn’t this seem counter-productive to saving mankind?

Death became intertwined into the fabric of humanity after the fall of Adam and Eve. Death in a way represents our destroyed beauty, our fall from grace. Death is like the flame that just consumed Notre Dame, it is a sweltering fire that consumes beauty. And, Jesus, as God, assumed all of humanity, which means he assumed even the experience of pain and death. Jesus willingly allowed himself to experience the ugly reality of pain and death, because He wished to restore mankind’s beauty. He experienced death to bring new life. He experienced sickness to bring a remedy. He experienced sorrow to bring joy. He experienced pain to bring relief. And, that is what the resurrection shows. The true beauty of Jesus Christ is that he did not stay broken, dead in the ground. No, our Savior rose triumphant. Like a phoenix from the ashes, like the sun from the darkness of night, like a bright diamond from the darkness of the ground, our Savior was raised anew. Jesus was the firstborn of the dead, and He is a sign of the great things to come. For, Jesus is going to return and remake this world. Jesus resurrected not for his salvation alone, but for the salvation of the world. Jesus wants to heal the world; he wants to make the world beautiful again.

Many of the great moments in our lives are connected to parties. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, and baby showers are often moments of sheer happiness and beauty. In these moments, surrounded by friends and family, we love and feel loved. Our Savior, Christ Jesus, is going to throw a beautiful celebration for the world when he returns. At this party Jesus will restore all of our brokenness. All of our physical ailments will disappear, death will be no more, and all tears of sadness will be wiped away.[2] The brief momentary joy I felt at my sons’ baby shower was just that, momentary. But, that great and beautiful party when Jesus returns shall be eternal. For, when Christ returns all things will be made beautiful and indestructible, and mankind will once again be in perfect fellowship with God, who is beauty itself.

I have now come to terms that the pain of my Father’s death will never be resolved this side of eternity. Our Savior thinks it fitting that we should experience pain to grow our dependence on him. As C.S. Lewis once wrote in a poem, “For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains you give me are more precious than all other gains.”[3] When our life shatters and we experience deep pain and brokenness, it is those who seek Jesus in humility that will experience true life. For it is in Jesus that all temporal things will find their eternity. And, this is the hope that I will teach my sons: Pain is a reality of human life, but the beauty of Jesus Christ is greater than this pain.

[1] Psalm 34:8.

[2] Revelation 21.

[3] http://www.pford.stjohnsem.edu/ford/cslewis/documents/notes/Wordsworth%20SBJ%20As%20the%20ruin%20.pdf.

 

The Road to Emmaus: Reconsidering the Eucharist as a Spiritual Meal

Luke 24:13-35 tells the story known as the Road to Emmaus. In this story, the recently risen Jesus Christ comes along two confused and saddened disciples, who are struggling with Christ’s recent crucifixion and subsequent death. In this account the disciples do not recognize who Jesus is, because their “eyes are restrained;” (Luke 24:16 NRSV) they only think him to be a stranger. Thus, God blinded their vision from knowing Christ’s identity, for in the Greek we see that the verb used is a divine passive. (1) God does the action of blinding.


Christ then comes along, undetected, and dialogues with them asking them what caused their sadness. The two respond that their hope in Christ, who was a great prophet of God, being the Messiah was dashed by recent events, which ended with His death. These disciples had heard the resurrection account from the women, Mary, Mary, and Martha, but did not believe. Hearing these things, Christ explains to the disciples that throughout the Old Testament scriptures the Messiah was always to suffer. Beginning with the Law and ending with the Prophets, Christ explains and expounds on the Messiah’s true task. When they reach the village of their residence, the disciples ask the stranger (Christ) to lodge with them and to continue the dialogue. Again, the disciples did not know this was Jesus. As the group sat down to eat, Christ blessed the bread and gave it to the two disciples to eat. In this moment the two realized it was the risen Jesus. As Luke records, “Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.” (Luke 24:30-31) Therefore, one can see that Christ did not reveal Himself to the disciples until the moment they broke bread together.


On this narrative Leroy A. Huizenga exposites, “Luke’s language is patently eucharistic, recalling the institution of the Lord’s Supper in Luke 24:14–23. And it is precisely when the risen Jesus begins to celebrate the Eucharist that “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” and he then “vanished out of their sight.” (2) If it takes the risen Jesus to reveal the ultimate coherence of the Scriptures, it then takes the Eucharist to reveal Jesus. Thus one can see that from this post-resurrection passage, that Christ bestows a certain spiritual food in and through the eucharist, which nourishes the individual to see Him because of it. Scriptural word is always paired with eucharistic liturgy. The revelation of God is made manifest in both; the eucharist then involves a spiritual revelation or feeding in a sense. The bread is not only bread, it is the very Word of God, the incarnate Christ.


And if this is not enough, Luke makes it even more explicit. The last verse in the Road to Emmaus passage states, “They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:35) The passage explicitly states that the disciples connected the breaking of bread (which was the first commonly used name given to the Lord’s Supper) with Christ’s presence. Their eyes were shut by God, and they were opened by Christ. This is what the Lord’s Supper is; it is God revealing Himself to His Church. It is not a Christian naturally, as with his own brain function, remembering Him.


What does this mean? Well, it means that the eucharist hinges on a correct understanding of salvation itself. Salvation is the act of God on man; it is the continual act of God on man. The work of salvation encompasses ones life. From regeneration to justification, to sanctification, to glorification, Christ is at work. Every act in the ordo salutis (3) is built on the the nature and will of Christ. Therefore, when one approaches the eucharist, he must ask, “How does God work in this?”


The Church knows that the bread and wine give life, and it understands that it cannot give or receive life apart from the work of the Creator. Humans as creatures respond to how God acts upon us. Therefore, one must allow for the specific work of God in the eucharist. From Scripture, one can see the beauty of the eucharist. It reveals Christ to fallen man. Human eyes, which are so often blinded to the truth of God, receive light. The preaching of the Word becomes a reality and not just a series of facts. The same way the eternal Word entered humanity to give them eternal life, so Christ spiritually presents Himself in the elements. Christ feeds His sheep, and unites them under his head. Thus, when one partakes of the eucharist, he is dependent on God and the faith which he bestows upon man to receive the grace of Jesus Christ through the Spirit. It is not man working to God, but God working in and through man for “His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13) Behold, the resurrected Jesus is standing at the door and is knocking. (Revelation 3:20) The Savior, Jesus Christ, desires His Church to realize that it personally partakes in a spiritual meal with him, where he gives himself to his Church through the power of the Spirit to the glory of the Father. Amen.


1. Huizenga, Leroy A. “The Tradition of Christian Allegory Yesterday and Today.” Letter & Spirit 8.1 (2013): 77-99.

2. Ibid. 

3. Latin for “order of salvation.” This does not describe a chronological order of events in salvation, but rather a logical progression in the way the the Triune God works to give an individual salvation.