The Irony of the Gospel Story

If the season of Lent offers us anything, it allows us the occasion to remind ourselves of the utter complexity of our lives. Left to our own impulses, we tend to default to a very simplistic view of what we face when we wake up every morning: That life today will eventually make sense if left to itself long enough; that our lives are linear and tend to follow in a straight line; that “knowing God’s will” in our lives means...well, that we will know our lives.

But life isn’t all these things. Our lives are most often filled with paradox, filled with ironic twists. Picture what you face this new day. Is your life predictable? Can you easily see around every corner of every circumstance of what today brings?  Even as you seek God faithfully in your prayers, are you promised the full clarity you seek? Does a life of faith lead to a life of certainty?

The Puritans in the 17th and 18th century understood all-to-well what they faced every day, even as they knelt down to their morning prayers. They knew that the heart of the Gospel is filled with paradox even as each of their days were filled with paradox. Hear this well-worn prayer:

                  Let me learn by paradox
                  that the way down is the way up,
                  that to be low is to be high,
                  that the broken heart is the healed heart,
                  that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
                  that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
                  that to have nothing is to possess all,
                  that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,                  
                  that to give is to receive...

The Gospel story is an upside-down story. It asks much of us. It demands we live with a different perspective from what is deemed normal. The Gospel story should not easily make sense, even as our individual lives should not easily make sense. As we enter another Holy week, why should this surprise us? The eternal God--the God who designed and created the universe in all its intricate details--chose at a moment in time to come down to earth to live amongst us as our servant and to die in order that we might live. If that isn’t paradoxical, what is? We are called to live in the mystery of this strange, ironic story.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a poem that seeks to present the ironic and paradoxical nature of the Gospel. I did so by putting the two central events of the Gospel up against one another, Advent and the Cross:

                  A 2,000 year old child cries his heart out...
                  His ancient limbs writhing out 
                  from empty womb toward virgin tomb.
                  Clothed in long-decayed and swaddled cloth
                  made of robe—seamless.
                  Stained by new-birthed blood. 
                  Eternal humanity, born to die.

It took very little to describe the ironic parallel between these two events. The two stories just spoke for themselves. As we face another Holy Week, would God give us the grace to live in the ironic mystery of the Gospel within us.
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