August 24, 2012

At Camp: Expiation and the Sinned-Against

It was that room--hot and humid, dim and filled with restless teenagers laying hands on the bodies of friends, that they might be prayed for, healed and ministered to. They were ready for anything to happen, everything, whatever; open and expectant like good young pentecostals, waiting for God to move, to swirl around that humid air in some beautiful flame.

Every night we filled that space to sing songs of praise and worship, listen to the preacher’s message and minister to one another. This particular night was special. It was, according to the preacher, the night he was preparing for months. It was the night his heart beat for, the healing night.

I don’t think I was as excited for this night as he was. My eye didn’t have that glint. See, my kids, being a cabin leader, were not so spiritual acute, with eyes seeing and ears hearing and hearts understanding. Or perhaps they expressed it in ways I didn't recognize. Regardless, no amount of fervency on my part would have made much difference. All this to say, when it came to spiritual matters, my kids were more halcyon and reserved, and thus the climatic, and frenzied, night of healing seemed somewhat irrelevant.

As I had imagined, when the night climaxed, my cabin sat perfectly content in their crooked row of orange chairs amongst the surrounding movement, prayer, tears and, well, healing. Sensing the whole atmosphere was over their heads, I moved around wanting to join in on the action.

I floated to the back, like always, where I watched. Some kids laid their hands heavy on another, asking God for some specific thing, while others moved to gather and comfort a sister. Others swayed in the isles, eyes tightly shut, making their prayers known before God.

I wasn’t sure what to do, where to go, how to pray or anything else. I just stood and made myself available. A small group was praying near me. I overheard a kid ask a leader for prayer. He said to wait until that group was done so more could pray with him. I interjected. I could help pray. No need to wait.

Little did I know I was in the right place, just standing there not knowing what I was doing. I moved in close to the kid to find out his name and that which he wanted prayer for. I hadn't spoke with him before or after this night. He explained his situation.

There was something wrong with his spine. It was bad enough that kids at school knew about it and even made fun of him, though “making fun” would be an understatement because, as he opened up, he told me he tried taking his life. Clearly he was giving me the cold facts rid of the awful emotion he felt inside. His feelings, though, displayed unmistakably as his body folded inward. Shame. Embarrassment. Insecurity. I knew this was going to be no small prayer.

**A Note about the Painting--Read After**

[Painted by Emile Fraint, an 18th century frenchman, this piece is actually called L'Expiation (The Expiation). I know not if it was inspired by true events, but I see this as a pictorial parable with the man being led to his execution symbolizing the sin of one to another. This is a beautiful portrayal of expiation and the shalom God intends for the sinned-against.]

I pulled his cowering frame closer, consoling him.

In sermons and at church services, we often get an earful about us being sinners and needing forgiveness and God’s salvation through his Son’s perfect sacrifice. I’m not downplaying this at all--heaven’s no! But preachers and teachers alike often neglect another important aspect of Jesus’ cross and salvific work. Some have called it expiation. People sin. Yes, agree. But, people are also sinned against. No one sins in a vacuum. And Jesus’ cross not only offers us forgiveness for all the evil we have done, but it wipes away the sins of others, and dresses the wounds others have inflicted that bleed down and cry out.

This is what this kid needed, the boy now sobbing and trembling, wetting the front of my shirt with his tears from all the bullshit other kids had put him through. He needed Jesus’ expiation. He needed God to pull out the knives of words others spoke to him and wipe away his tears.

I told him what was true and what he needed to hear.

“What those kids did to you was wrong. What they said was not because of you, it was not your fault. They sinned against you and God. That was not ok and God is not pleased by their evil. He loves you and wants to heal you now.” He sobbed more.

In the course of consoling him, my heart snapped and I, too, broke down. I wept. It was as if every comforting sentence I spoke was an arrow in a bow, pulled back and released in an attempt to fight off intruding thoughts and memories.

My passion flared and voice grew as I cried to God to do what only he could do: heal, redeem, restore. We stood there awhile, his head leaning on my chest while his crying eyes continued to spill tears like a waterfall down my shirt. His tears were Christ's. His sufferings were never alone.

Eventually my eyes opened and I awoke to the others around us praying. They took over and my job was now done.

I loved the boys in my cabin, but I felt caged, wanting to do something great or profound. I wanted to be used! I wanted to feel like I was being used. Kind of stupid, I know. But God saw my heart and maybe it was him who pulled me to the back, to stand and watch, not knowing what to do, to perfectly set me up to pray for some kid.

I thought it was me, but maybe it was him.