Then the disciples returned to their homes. (John 20:10)
It was his face that first caught my attention. It was filled with a combination of fear and awe. The face in question was on a painting of the crucifixion I saw years ago. But that face wasn’t the face of Jesus. It was the face of the Roman soldier nailing Jesus’ to the cross. That face was haunting. I wondered how the artist came up with that face. He had no idea what this Roman soldier should look like. So, how did he come up with that haunting face? After reading the background on the painting, I discovered an amazing thing. The artist had used his own face for the Roman soldier, the one who drove the nails into Jesus.
55 years ago, instead of painting himself as a Roman soldier crucifying Christ, Andy Warhol painted his self-portrait alongside stylized versions of Campbell soup cans. Today, our culture has taken Warhol a step further by adopting the selfie as our modern-day icon for self-promotion and self-flattery. Some profound changes have occurred in our culture, and they should give us pause. We now see ourselves at the center of the portrait rather than off to the side driving nails into the Savior’s hands.
Placing our self at the center of the portrait is both flattering and attractive, helping us to believe that the world really should be about the self. Such self-deception profoundly removes us from the witness we have in Scripture. The selfie, like the painting I saw, are examples for us. They represent competing narratives about what it means to be human. The painting’s story tells us that human meaning is found in the forgiving love of God for sinners like us on the cross. While the selfie’s story tells us that human meaning is found in our ability to promote and flatter ourselves.
That shouldn’t make us against the culture. There’s much good in our culture, especially as we learn and grow in our respect for all people, especially for those different from us, and deepen our compassion for those who are lost or left out. So, there’s a lot of good out there in the culture. But we should not be fooled by the pervasive promotion of the self in our culture. If we’re not attentive, we can lose touch with our identity and purpose in Christ, which calls us to be truthful about human nature, which means thus rightfully placing ourselves in a portrait of the crucifixion with hammer in hand.
That portrait paints a story that tells us the truth. The Good News of Jesus is a story that comes to us first as bad news. Before we can truly know it as “good” news, we must first recognize the “bad” news about ourselves.
Frederick Buechner makes this point in his book: Telling the Truth. He writes: The Gospel is bad news before it is good news. It is the news that we are sinners; that we are evil in the imagination of our hearts; that when I look in the mirror what I see is at least partly a chicken, a phony, and a slob. But the Gospel is also the news that we are loved anyway, cherished, forgiven, bleeding to be sure, but also bled for.
The Good News doesn’t make any sense until we accept “the news that we’re sinners.” If, however, we go home today and look in the mirror and not see that truth, then what that artist painted and what I’m preaching will seem nonsensical.
I’m afraid the Church hasn’t always told people that amazing and outrageous truth in such a way that people have really heard it. Well, my job is to tell you the truth, so I’m going to do my best to change that this morning. The truth is God forgives us and loves us and there’s nothing we can do about. You heard me right. There’s not a thing we can do about it. It’s called grace and it’s outrageous. The cross of Jesus tells us that God forgives us and the resurrection of Jesus tells us that God loves us, and not just for a little while, but eternally. And again, so it sinks in: There’s nothing we can do about it. Our sin, no matter how awful it is, will not stop God from forgiving and loving us, because Jesus on the cross has taken away the sin of the world.
But some people think there must be a catch. There’s got to be some fine print at the bottom of the contract. Sorry. You’re welcome to create your own fine print, your own conditions and exceptions, but just don’t count on the Gospel to back you up. OK. I admit there is one condition and it’s a simple one. We must die. We must die to self. We must take our stinking old sins and pile them on the back of Jesus so he can hang with them on the cross. We must be dead to our sins and trust Jesus, that in his death, our sins die with him.
I began this Easter sermon with what might seem as a rather odd verse to quote from St. John’s story of the resurrection. With all the rich imagery of the first nine verses, you might have wondered why I quoted verse 10, which reads: “Then the disciples returned to their homes (John 20:10).” After receiving the Good News of the resurrection, the Disciples still had to go home. That means they still had to sleep, and eat, and live each day even though they had begun to realize that the entire world had just been turned upside down.
Just like the disciples, after our celebration of the resurrection today, we will go home and live our lives. The question is: Will we go home believing that we’re alive in Christ only because our sin has already died with him? When we leave for home, will we leave the burden of our sin on the strong back of Jesus? When we’re back home and we look in the mirror, will we see a selfie or the cross of Jesus next to our hearts?