Happy Good Friday! This is the weirdest Easter of my life, so today I have for you a strange sort of Easter story that doesn’t seem very Easter-ish at first – but it gets there, trust me!
I wrote this after it struck me the other day how gross but how powerful it would have been to live in a sacrificial system like the Israelites did. You might not want to read this story if you’re squeamish. : I mean, the sheer amount of blood and death would be appalling, yet even more so, the fact that God chose to dwell among you despite the sin that caused all that.
Viewing the ultimate sacrifice through the eyes of a person used to countless sacrifices really gave me a new perspective on love’s most astounding triumph of all time. I hope it does for you too.
If you ask any of my people, even my youngest brothers, what sin smells like, they will say, “death.” Death and blood.
Brown and red. The bull’s hide, the life stream.
My life. Brown for the desert, the wilderness, sand. Brown for our sandals that never break down. Brown for the leathery face and deep, crinkled eyes of my father, my uncle, my people, the shepherds. Brown for the bulls and the goats; for the tents where we live; for the woven baskets with which we gather the bread and the quail, the Lord’s provision. And brown for the bronze altar, that always flowed with…
Red. Red for the blood. Red for the life sacrificed to remind us of our lives spared. Red like a flood on the ground, flowing ceaselessly like our ceaseless sins. Red on the priest’s hands, on their fingers, toes, the lobes of their ears; splattering their dazzling garments the way our sins marred any semblance of holiness in ourselves. Red streaming down the white wool of perfect lambs I had helped raise.
We were taking those lambs to the tabernacle today, for we were herdsman greatly honored to bring sacrifices to the Lord. I always accompanied with fear and eagerness, for I could never grow numb to that scene…
We saw the smoke of the courtyard while we were yet many hills away, before we could smell the roasting flesh or the metallic blood or the fragance of incense and spices and fresh, fine bread. Before we heard the noise of crowds of people, prayers spiraling into the air with the cries of animals and crackling, snapping fires. Before we felt the very earth throb with a sort of quickening, a wide-eyed awe murmuring breathlessly that something great and pure and powerful dwells here; that – how can it be! – the very presence of God dwells among his sinful, beloved, chosen people.
I hated it.
I loved it.
I couldn’t bear the overwhelming noise and smell and racing beat of my heart, but I knew I needed it like I depended on manna to cover the ground the next morning. Even this desert was covered in grace. It was when I bowed my head under the chaotic overload of pain and promise our sins spread around me that I felt the deepest gratitude for perfect peace that dwelt in the holiest of holy places: even here, in the sand and dust, with us.
It was only the sharp tang of burning hide and the ringing, broken cries that showed me how unworthy we were of an inexplicable love, love that reached a spotless arm down into creatures plagued and dying from a rampant disease that we had inhaled eagerly, greedily, like the golden dust of a god made with hands that coated our lungs and stole our breath. But ah, God looked on us and reached down into the tears and fears to bring us to a promised land where we were free, free at last and he was there and peace and joy flowed like honey down our faces.
Brown and red. That is all I could see; my eyes, my heart, my soul were full of it. A man groaned in agony, naked and broken, above my bowed head. My hair mixed with the mud churned up by a soldier’s boots as I wept beneath the cross, face upturned to the brown and the red.
Brown for the rough wood, the cruel, crossed tree of death that angrily clutched the bringer of life. Brown for the twisted thorns, fruit of the ground broken by the curse, when man first crucified God in his heart and tried to tear off that purple robe to clothe his grasping body.
Red for the blood. Red for the shining, liquid streams – how could it glisten so? It was terrible and bright, flowing in narrow rivers from his ruined, pierced, loving hands. I couldn’t bear to see them still, the hands that had healed so many. Ah, what Love could be so strong that it allowed itself to suffer when it could stop the pain with a word? The crimson glowed with life, life poured out of a white, white lamb. Life like a river, a flood, a river of life and this tree of death was a tree of life, for Life was dying upon it so the dead might live again.
Red and brown for a heaving, tremendous sacrifice so great that it shattered even the heart of stone, the heart of sin, cold and petrified with the stinging venom of a deadly serpent. Shattered it so that water came out of rock, for though the Rock was struck in anger and disbelief, yet life came forth from that very sin so that sinners might drink of the saving grace that flowed like water and like blood from his pierced side.
And that red and that brown has made me white. White like the graveclothes lying in the empty tomb, white like astonishment at pale death vanquished, white like his glory when he smiled at me and showed me that brown and red could not hold him, that his death and blood did more than merely cover the stench of sin – it took it away, so that when the Lord our Father looks down on his children of brown and red, and he sees them, he sees – ah! – he sees white. He sees our filthy robes splattered with the dazzling blood of a perfect, perfect Lamb.
For his children who have called on his name in the wilderness, have cried out with empty hands for the bread of life when they were starving, dying, brown and red and smelling of sin and death and blood, he has parted the waters and leveled the walls and leads them with a pierced hand into the promised land, where all the muddy, dirty colors spin and blur together until they turn to white: to pure, brilliant, shining white of the glory of One who laid down on that great bronze altar for a sinful, chosen people. For the people that he loved. The people of brown and red.