July 8, 2013

Out of the Ashes

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In the Sunday evening service at our church, one of the elders has been preaching (is it preaching if it isn't on Sunday mornings? I never can get the different words right) a series on Christ.  Christ in his different roles - Prophet, Priest, and King.  Christ as he is portrayed via word pictures - the Lamb, the Lion of Judah, and, I'm sure, many more to come in the next several weeks.  Each evening we start with a different jumping-off verse; last week's was Revelation 5, and the week before that was Colossians 2.

And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
[colossians 2:13-15]

It was that last phrase that, in the context of the sermon, grabbed my attention most.  Sentences of Scripture will do that in those moments when you sort through the grammar (Paul's especially was awful) and find something of its meaning.  It can be a meaning you already "know," but I think we have all had times when something we "knew" actually came home to us as a thing of beauty and with maybe a little more clarity than it had before.  The whole series has been that way, more or less, but again, this section stood out particularly.

christ triumphant

We have a habit, I believe, of making Jesus Christ too tame in our conception of Him.  Even if we don't agree with making statues and painting pictures and portraying Him on screen, the images from our Sunday School days still haunt us: the gentle rabbi with long brown hair and a saintly expression on his often-beardless face (honestly, where did the beardlessness come from?).  Crucifixes and screencaps from "The Passion of the Christ" bombard us with the message of a Christ still on the cross.  And while it is certainly true that Christ dealt gently with some, it is equally true that He pronounced woes upon others, rebuked them, called them whitewashed sepulchers.  

And while it is also wonderfully true that He humbled Himself, suffered one of the worst deaths the human mind has managed to invent, and was forsaken by His Father and God, it is also magnificently true that in that death, He was triumphant.

The word picture Paul paints here in Colossians is one of a conquering Roman general in triumph through the streets of Rome.  All his enemies would be paraded behind him and made to literally eat the general's dust; his loot from Gaul, Hispania, Persia would be flaunted to all the people, a visible testament to his prowess on the field and the blessing of the gods.  This, Paul says with, as it were, a flourish of his pen - this is what our Lord and Savior has done.  He has made a show of Satan, death, Hell, the grave.  He has borne the curse and trampled on it; He has taken upon Himself all our sins, all our debts, all of the "ordinances against us," and also obliterated them.  

But the fantastic bit - the thrilling plot twist in God's redemptive story - is that all this was done through and in the single most potent symbol of disgrace and failure and humiliation: the cross.  "Cursed is every man who hangs on a tree."  "The Serpent shall bruise His heel."  Christ's heel was cruelly bruised, bruised to the death.  We can only imagine what must have been in Satan's mind that day, when he gained the death of the One Who was God Himself and Who was promised as the redemption of the people Satan had stolen.  He must have thought he had won, and that all the purposes of God had been brought to naught.  Perhaps in that moment he really thought that he had attained his goal: "I will be like the Most High."

He hadn't, though, because God has chosen the cross to be the vehicle for Christ's triumph.  That's the potent part: the part where you think, and the enemy thinks, that evil has won out and everything good has died forever.  And then you find out that it hasn't.  That God's wisdom was at play the whole time, and He has always had the upper hand.

the ideal and the parallel

Have any of you watched the Disney Hercules?  Do you remember the climactic scene where Hercules goes down to bargain with Hades to save Meg?  Perhaps it is a trite parallel (what isn't a trite parallel where something this wonderful is concerned?), but during the sermon I kept thinking of that scene: how Hades thought he had won, and then Hercules comes up over the edge of the cliff carrying Meg and he's shining and if you're a sucker like me you want to bawl.  It's an animated children's film, and still the thought of it makes me tear up as only a few movies can - the post-crucifixion scene in "Ben-Hur" is another.

The imagery is not limited to "Hercules," though, nor to a mere smattering of stories.  It is in fact a concept firmly engrained in the art of writing, and we have probably all heard of it in another, stiffer guise, that of "widening the odds," "upping the ante," and making it appear in the climactic scene as though the protagonist isn't going to win after all.  When you reach that climax, it seems as though all the cards are in the antagonist's hands.  He has his foot on the protagonist's neck; the protagonist has given it all he had, and now comes the end.

But then, of course, there is the twist.  It can often seem cliche, and we always have to fight to make sure it isn't; but it seems to me that the only reason it appears cliche is that it is so fundamental to the Ideal Story.  (I do believe in an ideal story.  I believe God wrote it.)  The tale of the Phoenix, rising again from its own ashes.  The image of the Greek hero getting off the ground when you thought all hope was lost, and going into battle for the final round.  The word-picture of  Christ breaking down the doors of Hell and triumphing through Death itself.  That, I think, is an ideal worth writing for.

13 comments:

  1. It is becoming increasingly clearer to me that the "cliches" of fiction are only cliches because they have lost their grounding and are going on like the undead, dragging their corpses across the ground. When attached to the Ideal Story, they return to life and show themselves for exactly as they are: shadows, types, of a truth which we have lived, and are living, and will continue to live until "that great gettin'-up mornin'." I am no longer ashamed of cliches, only of the way people misunderstand, divorce, and abuse them.

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  2. Very interesting, Abigail!

    Did you receive my email?

    -Patience

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    1. No, I'm afraid I haven't! Did you send it to abigailhartman.scribbles@gmail.com ? That's my new address; I hope it's working properly...

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    2. Yes, I sent it to that address. I just resent it. :)

      I sent it a while ago - early June - and just thought I wasn't going to hear back. :) I'm glad I asked since you never even received it!

      -Patience

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  3. Beautiful! That is all I can say, Abigail. Just reading that is so uplifting that I have little words to say. I think that's part of the mystery of God's glory - the way in which there was triumph and victory was through that accursed Calvary Cross - through death. Christ victoriously conquered Hades and sin and the Devil by 'humbling Himself even to death on a cross' - sometimes I think that in the midst of all our preaching and evangelising about Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of the world the amazing splendour of God's salvation almost gets lost and shoved in the corner by us. May that never be so. Thank you for sharing this, Abigail: I love this vivid analogy or as you put it 'flourish of the pen' that Paul used in regards to what Christ did. It is such a wonderful glory and truth <3. Ooo, there are many films that bring tears to me: but that ending scene of 'Ben Hur' is so victoriously, heart-wrenchingly glorious - I always need to fetch the tissues after that :).

    By the way, have you watched The Passion of the Christ? I have a few bones to pick with it - the Catholic elements are rather strong, and I wish the resurrection scene was given greater length, however I really think it is a powerful film and it truly challenged me as a Christian, for in all of Christ's bitter sufferings I saw my own sins in that. And more than anything it not only showed the power of God's love, but also His hatred of sin and the wonderful triumph of The redemption of His people.

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    1. Oh, I love the ending of "Ben Hur" - absolutely glorious, heart-wrenching, and wonderful!

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    2. Oh, and by the way, I too believe in the Ideal Story ^_^. Loved your thoughts on that in relation to the rest of the post.

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    3. I'm glad you enjoyed the post! It was a little difficult to get down everything I wanted to get down, and I don't think I ended up getting it all down properly in the end. But oh well, that's the way it goes!

      I have not seen "The Passion of the Christ," beyond the usual screencaps. I'm afraid I am not a fan of Mel Gibson, and also I personally do not agree with depicting Christ either in art or film. It just doesn't sit very well with me. Even that element of "Ben-Hur" is so-so, although I do appreciate their never showing the actor's face, even during the trial scene. A bit of unexpected reverence out of old Hollywood!

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  4. This was such a beautiful post -- it thrilled my heart! I have long believed that God composed the Ideal Story, and that's what makes me so excited to be a writer -- getting to shadow a little of that story. I loved the parallel you made to the climax and the twist that makes the protagonist triumphant after all. I never thought of it quite like that before!
    The Messiah is indeed triumphant and may we all do our best to remind others that this is so. : )

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    1. The concept of God's redemptive history as the Ideal Story really didn't occur to me until I read The Mind of the Maker last year, which is perhaps why I harp on the book so much. It can be tricky to state clearly - the concept, that is - because "story" has such a fictional connotation; a story, typically, is something only imagined. So perhaps a better phrase is needed. But Sayers helped to show, in a tangential way, the creative wisdom of God in a manner I had never considered before and which, when considered, is the greatest inspiration you could hope to find.

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  5. You really hit the nail on the head, Abigail (this, of course, does not mean you don't usually. ^_^) I appreciated that you didn't make Christ out to be too gentle - He is merciful, but He is also just, and justice is not pretty.
    I also thought it was rather interesting how you mentioned the bit about climaxes - I've been mulling over that lately, how to tighten up my climax. The best stories, I believe, are the ones that have you by the throat near the end, tears at the ready. ;) Or, as a literature teacher at my homeschool group says, "The good stories are the ones that move you." (But she says it in the sweetest of Southern accents, of course, putting mine to shame).

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  6. We've been attending a beautiful Bible study focused on seeing Jesus in the words of the prophets, and your post put me in the mind of it. I know I'm guilty of spending too much time in the New Testament (over the Old Testament, that is), simply because it's easier for me to apply the words of Gospel to my own life. But what has been incredibly eye-opening about this study of ours is how it really drives home the reality of Christ's presence in the entire Bible, like a cord woven through each page, holding it all together. It sounds rather obvious, but like you said, there is a moment when you have a mental shift and you go from "knowing" something to really comprehending its truth. We see the repeated cases in Isaiah, Micah, Habakkuk, and the other prophetic books of a land facing upheaval and turmoil, starvation and death, and all because of the people's turn from God. It will be devastating, God warns His prophet. And yet, in the midst of it all, He gives His children hope. Wrong will not prevail. Right will be restored. A King will come to ransom His people, and He will do it through the most shameful circumstances. God, who His children have called unreasonable, will not require their firstborns — He will give His firstborn. It sounds unreal, but it's the truest form of Reality there is. And the best books are those that portray — on a smaller scale, of course — this very same Reality. That is what makes them truly worthwhile reads.

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meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
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The White Sail's Shaking & The Running Tide: Follow a midshipman in the young U.S. Navy during the First Barbary War and a Syracusan woman who accidentally finds herself tumbled into the harsh world of life at sea.
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Tempus Regina: Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era.
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