One Sunday night when I was a boy Steve Davis and I were pitching pennies in the basement of the church. One of the deacons saw us. He sternly warned us that we were never to play such games in the house of God and confiscated our pennies.
Since then I’ve been around church people all my life and I have noticed that grown-ups play a lot of games at church too. And they are petty games that draw vitality away from the great cause that is ours.
When Jesus died there were people all around watching him. His mother and half-brother were there. Peter and the other disciples were there watching from a distance. There were men on either side of Him on crosses, joining Him in death. There was Simon of Cyrene who helped Him carry his cross. The Scripture says; “the people stood looking on.”
But to me one of the most pitiful incongruities of the cross was what the soldiers at his feet were doing. They were playing a petty gambling game for his clothes.
Jesus – God incarnate was writhing, naked on the cross above their heads. He had endured cruel torture and abuse. Sharp thorns held a mock crown in place. The one whose ears were accustomed to the praise of angelic choirs had to endure the vile curses of bitter men.
It was a spring day and the world was coming back to life while the One who is the life was laying his down. After six trials the great Judge of the Universe had stumbled over the stones along the way of suffering out of the city to the city garbage dump and he was dying. He was not dying for any wrong He had done. He was absorbing the wrath of God on behalf of those who hung him there.
His mother and his friends stood by and watched in horror, but there at his feet grown men played a childish game of chance.
There is a sense in which Christian people live in the shadow of the cross. Christ Jesus was buried, rose again and ascended to the right hand of the father, but in His earthly ministry he instructed those who would follow Him that they should remember His death every time they came together. So when we come together we meet at the foot of the cross. When you think of it like that, meeting with our brothers and sisters in the faith at the foot of the cross is a pretty solemn and sacred thing. It should stir instincts of reverence deep within us.
It shames me to think how often I see people at the foot of the cross who are distracted from the fact that a few feet away cosmic history is being split down the middle. The blood of the incarnate God is pooling at their feet and they are playing games. All of creation is shuddering with the violence visited on the Great Creator and they don’t appear to notice or really care.
They are playing petty games at the foot of the cross.
(From Stonebridge Newsletter – Number 36)