When I was in fifth grade I had to be in the grade wide musical. Every year in my school the entire grade had to participate in a performance that you would spend a portion of the year working on. It was far from Shakespeare. A couple hundred kids would shuffle on stage at the same time and sing a few songs. In between there would be an intermittent sprinkling of spoken parts. The goal was that every kid had a part to say… you can understand how a performance with over two hundred characters, none of the substantial, all of whom have speaking lines, dressed in home made garb, and singing accompanied by a lone piano, was only something done once a year.
In fifth grade however, I remember being more excited that usual about the performance. This wasn’t because I would get to go out for ice cream afterwards, as was the case with any family performance. That was because fifth grade was the last year you had to be in one of these performances. Beyond the above stated quality being reason enough for someone to be excited for his or her final performance, I was also introverted and shy in elementary school and so the thought of speaking in front of hundreds of people was something I didn’t really want to do again. Ironically I know speak in front of people multiple times a week.
When a performance took place, it was not just to look as if a group of firth graders were hanging out on stage, the cast must be transformed. And so in some sad joke to rope parents into stressing out about making their child look as if they live in fifth century, every parent was commissioned with equipping their child with costume (no one wanted to be the one kids who showed up in jeans and sneakers; they didn’t have sneakers in the fifth century).
My mom would always make costumes. She took her task seriously and she could sew literally anything. I remember for this play I had to wear a tunic. I do not remember why, nor what a tunic is. I believe it is something like a male dress. I just know you couldn’t buy one at Kohl’s. So my mother sewed. She stayed up all night making my costume perfect. The day of the grand performance arrived and as I woke that morning I made a decision I had no idea would stick with me sixteen years later. I didn’t o to school. I faked sick.
If you were absent, you couldn’t go to the performance, if you didn’t go to the performance, a ten year old like myself would have no need for the hand made male dress that was to be mine. But I didn’t go. I hadn’t done my homework and I was worried my teacher would be angry. That is not why I remember not going to school however. I remember it because of the guilt I felt of not using the costume that my mom had worked so hard on. I have felt guilty about it for sixteen years.
It is funny how guilt sticks. It’s like getting out of your car and stepping in a piece of gum wearing your new shoes. Try as you might, that gum will turn black and get hard, but it is really difficult to get off. Guilt is the parking lot gum of our souls, try to forget about it, try to pretend its not there but it just gets blacker and darker and harder.
We all have guilt. I bet almost everyone reading this is feeling guilty from something right now. Something you did to someone, or to yourself. Something you said, something you thought. Guilt is every present in our daily lives. And where does it come from? It comes as the byproduct of anything we do, think, say, etc. that is not out of love. It could be out of selfishness, anger, and jealousy. We may get gratification from what we do, but the byproduct is guilt. We all feel it. We all try to find different avenues of expelling it. There is however, only one place, one way, one thing I have ever encountered, that truly can eliminate guilt.
I grew up in church, like many people do. I knew much of the story of the bible, although I knew limited things. I knew stuff like creation, Jesus… any maybe a David Goliath story in there. Ok so I didn’t know much. But even as I began to learn, one question remained… not the what. Most anyone knows the “what” of church. “What is the church about?” Jesus. That is all well and good, but leaving it at the what leaves many to be turned away from the church and turned away form Jesus. They don’t see the why, just the what. I had no idea of the why for the longest time.
So in this story, in the “what.” We being, well, in the beginning. And at the start all is well, until we are given a choice. A simple choice: God, or something else. Could be from fruit to an affair, the choice was, do we choose God. And we didn’t. And when you try to live in the world that God created but live apart from God you experience guilt, and loss, and sadness, and eventually death. The truth is, the choice is God, or death. Guilt, in a word, it what happens when we choose other things over God. It doesn’t have to be guilt towards God, but it can be. And we amass guilt, until it looks like we are walking around with more old gum than actual shoe.
But even though we chose death, God chose us. And even though we choose death, God chooses us. And so, he set in motion a master plan, to enable us to choose him again, even after we have chosen something else. That plan was Jesus. But not just a guy named Jesus… God named Jesus, to come and to live, and to die, so that we would not. He chose death, so we could experience life. Scripture calls this atonement. It’s the making right, what is wrong. Atonement says that what we tried to make right we never could, so God made it right for us. 1 John says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Since we didn’t die, something had to. Since we chose death, something, or someone had to die. But instead of us, God
This is the end of the what. Most people know this, Christian or not. And as I said before, the “what.” May be nice. It might be he type of thing you tell little kids so they will be good, but “what” doesn’t do much for me. I know plenty of stories, plenty of them true, that are nice and moving. So what’s different about this one?
It’s the “why,” Why would God do this? We made our choice, its not his fault, he let us do what we want, so let us right? It is because of one simple word: Love. John goes on to write this, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Became he loves us. You will not find another true story, another religion, another faith system, in which the guilt, the wrong, the lack of love, is overturned not by how much you can do, you can say, you can give… but by how much God loves us.
Friday is Good Friday. It’s an ironic name for the day that God, a perfect God, who walked, breathed, moved, spoke among humanity, was killed. He received death, so we could receive life. Not because we loved him, we hated him and killed him, But because he loves us. And it is here we meet the “why.” It is because, simply, he loves us. Jesus died so we could live. Friday marks the day when the sticky blackness of guilt could be scraped off our soul, we could no longer feel guilt, because we are forgiven. We have been atoned for. Jesus died, so we could live. We chose guilt, but he offers grace.
What might Friday look like for you? I want to challenge you, in the days leading up to this Friday, think of anything you feel guilt about. Doesn’t matter what it is. Find something else that eliminates that guilt for you. Not temporarily, but permanently. Find anything else. And if you can’t maybe try exploring if Jesus can do that for you. Either open scripture to the book of 1 John and read (its only a few pages) or attend a Church service on Good Friday. Maybe Jesus can get rid of the guilt. I believe he can, I believe he does, and I believe he wants to. But he still gives you a choice. It could change your entire life.
Guilt is just a byproduct of death. It’s a byproduct when we do anything that is not rooted in love. Interestingly enough, in the book of 1 John, the author actually says that God is love. And so grace is just a byproduct of life. May you experience true grace this week? May the world look and feel different this week, because you, me, us, we decided to allow our guilt to be scraped away in place of Grace. Not because of us, but because he loves us. Jesus died, so we might live. May we truly live.