Last month, Justin's parents generously invited us on a river cruise down the Danube. We arrived in Budapest and saw Vienna, Bratislava, Durstein, Melk, and Salzburg on the way to Passau.
The rich history and simple age of the countries we traveled was life changing. In America, it is easy to be insulated, to believe the US is the way that the world is, when really we are so young. Sure there are wonderful things about our nation, but there is much to be learned from everywhere else. In the absence of the separation of church and state, I was struck by the way my brain inadvertently compartmentalizes God and man in separate categories. In nearly every place we visited, there were amazing statues of saints and angels or the Trinity everywhere. I remember at one monument thinking how blasphemous it seemed to have angels and men together. Oddly, I believe in a spiritual world, I believe that God interacts with man, intercedes in battle, hears prayer, etc. To see this publicly though, is so rare in our country that it was unsettling in a way.
In one way, Christ in Austria, Slavakia, and Germany was awe-inspiring. I am used to simple church buildings or, on the other end of the Western spectrum, rock-show Sunday services. The cathedrals with ornate gold-plated details or paintings on every inch were breath-taking and foreign, strikingly unfamiliar. Gold crosses towering above, crowns and scepters and halos everywhere. They inspired reverence and wonder, the calls of massive organs and bell-towers were more insistent that our acoustic guitars. At the same time, I thought how easy it would be to ignore the still small voice of the Holy Spirit among the dizzying array of angels and martyrs.
I drove down the street today, Good Friday, and saw bible verses on church marquees, true yet ripped from their context. The kids have pastel cross stickers in their Easter eggs. I realize that both extremes: the Eastern history and heavenly representations of a powerful God/the Bible-belt believer for whom snippets of the Word are on every corner: neither are whole.
My hope this Easter is that behind every Facebook status about an empty tomb, every azalea placed on a Living Cross, there is a testimony of a real person who met Jesus Christ and their life was never the same.
There is a long story much richer than John 3:16 (as great as that verse is). The Most High God of Europe's incense and liturgy, came to earth as a plain man. He prayed, he was left alone by his friends in his greatest moment of need, he sweat and cried and bled.
Somehow, in the Melk Abby in Austria, this museum balanced it all out. A thousand year old wooden crucifix against a neon cross. The juxtaposition of an ancient story that is ever living and modern. Just read below at what these Benedictines proclaim. This is the Gospel.
What a good Good Friday. Happy Easter everybody.