Naked Before Christ

When my son Joel was a baby, every night we would give him what we affectionately called “Nudie Time.”

        The baby books we’d read had said that babies are more active when they are not clothed

                and that being undiapered for a short time was good for preventing rash.

        So every night we put down the water proof mat, stripped him down, and watched him roll around.

        He had such a good time!

We played with him and tickled his perfect skin and admired the unspeakable beauty of his naked little body.

 

I didn’t always think of nakedness as beautiful.

        I remember travelling to Sweden as a teenager, and seeing children playing in a public fountain in the nude.

        I was scandalized, though the children were under the age of 10.

Somewhere along the line I had learned that bodies were meant to be covered up.

 

It’s more than just a cultural practice of modesty--

        Nakedness is a sign of vulnerability.

                It’s like walking through that scanning machine at the TSA in the airport that can see through your clothes

        It always leaves you feeling just a little bit on the defensive,

as if someone has an edge on you, as if someone might judge or humiliate you.

 

I guess it was similar in biblical times.

The author of Hebrews used nakedness as a metaphor for standing before Jesus on judgment day.

        “Before [Jesus] no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom

        we must render an account.”

                The idea that all people would have to stand before Jesus’ throne and make an account of their life

                        was common among early Christians

        Jesus himself told a parable of the Son of Man sitting on the throne

and judging how well people treated others, especially ‘the least of these.’

       

But the author of Hebrews doesn’t just trot out this piece of theology.

        He explores the emotional content of laying bare your life.

                Early Christians practiced the spiritual discipline of confession,

                        that is, admitting when they did wrong to an elder, and asking for prayer.

                But as much as it is encouraged in scripture, this letter indicates that it wasn’t easy.

        It’s like TSA, standing before Jesus with it all hanging out

wondering what his comment will be, what judgment will come down.

 

It reminds me of a phone call I got a year after I had resigned as pastor to stay at home with my kids.

        The call was from Amanda, whom I had married six years before.

        She told me about how she and her husband had moved west due to his work in the military.

How she was isolated far from family, how her husband was gone a lot, and how lonely she was.

 

She told me she’d met a guy, and she thought she was in love with him… you can guess the rest.

        Now she and her husband were divorcing, and they had two children.

                “I just feel so guilty,” she said.

        “Dave is so angry, and I understand why—but every time he drops off the kids

        or I have to talk with him on the phone he throws it in my face that this is my fault…

and he is right.  It is.”

 

I have to admit, for a lot of this conversation I had been wondering why Amanda was calling me.

        I was on leave from call, not working as a pastor.

        There were other clergy at her home church… why didn’t she call them?

                But then it dawned on me.

        I had performed her marriage.

If I helped her tie the knot, then maybe I could release her.

 

Amanda was like all of us at points in our life:

paralyzed by guilt, overcome by the weight of shame, and powerlessness to change.

        Admitting any of this is terrifying, because we have to look honestly at ourselves.

                The glare of that light shows off every wrinkle and roll.

        It is too dangerous to make a confession, even though we want desperately to make a clean breast of it.

We take up our heavy garments of guilt and shame, afraid to reveal what’s underneath.

 

Until we know Christ.

        And that’s what the writer of Hebrews wanted to share.

        Because Jesus isn’t some sort of heartless critic, or even a judge in black robes

he is the ‘great high priest’

who, like the priests in the Jewish temple, made it his job to make up for other people’s sin.

 

But not only that-- Jesus is someone who understands us.

Hebrews says:

        “We do not have a great high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,

        but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”

                Jesus has worn the same clothes we do, he has walked in our shoes.

        We don’t have to be afraid or ashamed before him

“Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness” Hebrews says.

We can come before Christ with the trust of a child, vulnerable and naked, and deeply loved.

 

Amanda was waiting on the other end of the line.

        I said there was a service for this kind of situation, called individual confession and absolution

        and that we could do it over the phone.

                I invited Amanda to make a formal confession of her sin, and that is what she did.

        She laid it all out there-- her selfishness, her infidelity, and her desire to make it right.

We prayed it all to God.

 

And then I said to her these words:

“Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake, God forgives all our sins.

        As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by Christ’s authority,

I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins

in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

Since Amanda I have shared this same service with a handful of other Christians,

        some who had big things to confess, and others with seemingly inconsequential sins to share.

                But all needed that safe place to say what weighed on their heart

        All needed a sign that the Christ who had the power to judge them would be merciful

That if they showed up naked before him, he would treat them like a parent treats a child who got messy--

wash them clean and see them as beautiful as a newborn baby.

 

I offer the service of individual confession and absolution as an addition to your own practice of confession

in your daily prayer.

        I recommend a review at the end of the day.

                Sit quietly for a few minutes, and focus on an image of God that comforts you:

                the shepherd, Jesus with the children, etc.

                        Then bring to mind what has happened during the day.

                As you remember the events and people of the day, consider where God has blessed you

                and also where perhaps you missed some of what God was up to.

        You might write them down in a journal, or simply bring them to mind.

Either way, lift up it all up in prayer, thanking God for working through you and gifting you in your day,

and giving to God all that didn’t go right, trusting that God will show you what to do tomorrow.

 

Martin Luther called confession ‘the third sacrament’

        in part because it was a means of grace--- that is, a way that God’s love and forgiveness is shown to us.

                But it is also like a sacrament in that confession begins with God’s gift of grace to us

                        and then points us outward.

                People who have been forgiven know how to forgive others.

        People who have been accepted more readily accept others, just as they are.

Our personal spiritual work has consequences for the people and creation around us.

It is part of how God is healing the world.

 

“Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness,” the writer of Hebrews urges us.

        You don’t need to bear the weight of your guilt any longer.

                You don’t need to be afraid to bare your soul.

                Come before Christ and see what he sees:

        You are a beautiful child of God.

You are forgiven.

 

 

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