One of the highlights of the entire year is the week leading up to Easter at my church. (The other two best times of the year are the days leading up to Christmas and the baptism celebration in June.)
The reasons Easter week is so special is because I get to serve Jesus through an event called The Experience Project. I wrote about it here last year, when it was called the Good Friday Experience. This year’s Experience was similar in ideas, but some of the stations were different. Here’s a virtual Experience for you.
Enter the church lobby and there are different pieces of art on display that communicate the Experience theme of grace. One of the first pieces of art is interactive. The planning team came up with our own definitions of grace, and one of the team members created artwork to reflect that.
We left the “A” in the word “grace” blank and asked everyone to write their own definition of grace. People wrote things like forgiveness, sobriety, relief, free, undeserved, and amazing. My daughter wrote the words “Christ is good.”
Around the corner is a station entitled The Story Begins. The sign reads: That night some shepherds were in the field outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terribly frightened , but the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David! And this is how you will recognize him: You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snuggly in strips of cloth.’ Luke 2:8-12 / This baby, a sign from God wrapped in strips of cloth, marks the beginning of an amazing story of grace through the human life of Jesus Christ that changed all of human history. He was sent for this reason. He was sent for you. / Take one of the pieces of soft cloth, perhaps similar to the cloth used to wrap the baby Jesus. Rather than putting it into your bag, hold your strip of cloth in your hand as you make your way through the Experience. Let it remind you as the story of grace unfolds that this story is true and that it was meant for you.
Jesus Weeps As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace…” Luke 19:41-42 / Jerusalem – the city of the temple, the dwelling place of God – was a Holy City. As Christ made his final journey down the Mount of Olives into this great city, He wept for her and her people. The long awaited Messiah, the Prince of Peace, was with them but they did not accept Him. Christ wept because He came offering the gift of God’s grace, and the gift was rejected. / Jesus weeps for you; He sees you right where you are, just as you are. Look at your life now; where in your life are you not feeling peace? In what ways do you need to know God’s grace? Jesus offers to be right there with you in the midst of the chaos. / Consider taking a moment to journal your thoughts. Let this be a time where your heart is prepared to see the grace and peace of Jesus as you walk through the experience today. Take your journaling with you. Look at it later, and consider where you are seeing God intersect your life. / As Paul pleaded with God, he was reminded… “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
A Value Judgment Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?" And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. Matthew 26:14-16 / Pick up one of the bags in front of you and hold it in your hands while you read this sign. As you feel the weight of this pouch, the approximate weight of 30 pieces of silver, in your hands, think about what it represents. Jesus was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver. In his day, this was the equivalent of about one month’s wages for the common person. / This bag of silver was the option he could control. He traded a relationship with the Lord of grace for a sack of coins that would last him about a month. In the end, this choice led to destruction by his own hands. / What do you value? Is it truly meeting your needs? What about the future? As you continue through the experience, consider what knowing the grace of Jesus is or could be worth to you.
Gethsemane And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch." And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will." Mark 14:32-33 / This classic piece of art by Heinrich Hofmann, reported to be the most copied piece of artwork in the world, depicts Jesus kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane. If you look closely, in the background you can see three of the disciples sleeping. / As Jesus knelt before God, his prayer was completely raw. He asked if there was any way to avoid his fate. Jesus exposed all his doubts and fears before His Father and so can we. The Father will listen. Take a stone, and whenever you look at it, remember Christ’s honest and desperate prayer. Remember that even your heaviest burdens can be laid before God and that, like Jesus, you can trust Him. / On this night before the most horrific day in his life, Jesus sought support from his friends. Jesus took the disciples with him and though they fell asleep, God still encourages us to invite friends to pray for us. Is there something in your life you are trying to carry on your own? We would be honored to pray for you. Feel free to write a prayer request and leave it for our prayer team. Also at the Gethsemane station, kids were encouraged to write their burdens on a large rock. It was a way to help them give their troubles over to Jesus.
Barabbas – “of the father” Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd—anyone they wanted. This year there was a notorious prisoner, a man named Barabbas. As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.) Matthew 27:15-18 / So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified. Matthew 27:26 / Barabbas, whose name means “of the [Bar] father [Abba]” had been imprisoned for inciting violent rebellion. Yet he was freed of his sentence. And in his place, Jesus was condemned, an angry mob looking for a Roman crucifixion for Christ, the Son of the Father. / If you are ready, look inside the box at these representations of the flogging Jesus suffered. / Take one of the palm crosses. What would you have felt if you watched another man endure this torture in your place? On the cross, Jesus has taken our place spiritually just as He did that day for Barabbas. Because of His sacrifice, He is able to extend life-transforming, life- prevailing, and life-saving grace. When we accept that grace, we, too, become children “of Abba.” Take the cross with you as you now walk the way of the cross.
The Actual Weight of Sin Carrying his cross, Jesus went out to the place called Skull Hill [Golgotha]. John 19:17 / Feel the weight of the patibulum (the horizontal crossbar). Following the severe beatings from the Roman guards, Jesus was led through the crowded streets with the patibulum tied to His arms, resting across His shoulders. It is widely considered that the patibulum weighed approximately 125 pounds. At some point, Simon of Cyrene was made to carry the cross for Jesus. Perhaps, suffering from severe beatings and catastrophic blood loss, Jesus could no longer carry the cross. It is even possible that this heavy beam fell on Him as He stumbled under its weight.
Stages of Crucifixion There they crucified him… John 19:18 / Upon reaching Golgotha, Jesus’ wrists were first nailed to the patibulum. A tapered iron spike measuring 5-7 inches was driven through the median nerve between the radius and carpals of each wrist causing tremendous burning pain. Next the patibulum and Jesus were lifted onto the stipes (the vertical post). Once secure, His feet were nailed to the stipes, one atop the other.
The Breath of Life His body contorted in such a way that inhalation became passive and exhalation became active – normal respiration was not possible, breathing became shallow; most likely, hypercarbia (abnormally high levels of carbon dioxide circulating in the blood) would soon result. Cramping and fatigue would typically result in exhaustion asphyxia.
His Blood Poured Out for Us One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out. John 19:34 / As a final act to ensure the death of Jesus, He was pierced in His side which caused the “sudden flow of blood and water.” Most likely the spear thrust through His ribs, tore through His right lung, His right atrium or ventricle, leading to hypovolemia (decrease in blood circulation) or acute heart failure (the inability of the heart to pump blood from the lungs through the body). The blood loss from all Jesus suffered could have been as much as 40% of the body’s blood supply.
Cross Words Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Matthew 26:45 / Christ was both fully God and fully man. He spoke of Himself as the Son of Man. All the things that we have felt, Jesus felt – many of them during this week. If you relate to one of the things Jesus felt, circle it – knowing that He has felt the same as you.
Paid in Full “It is a bad thing that God had to die, but it is a good thing that He thought I was worth dying for.” Lewis Smedes / For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. 1 Peter 1:18-20 / The cost of our ransom, the greatest gift of grace, was high. It cost Jesus inconceivable pain leading to an excruciating death. But He believed you were worth dying for. / Our ransom has been paid in full. You no longer have to live an empty life. If you want to remember what Jesus did for you throughout today and these coming days, feel free to stamp your palm. This is grace, free to us, costing Jesus His very life.
Stories of Grace There were crowds throughout this sacrificial journey. The crowd that hailed Jesus with palm branches, the crowd that demanded His crucifixion—every person in every crowd was a person to whom Jesus was dying to offer grace. We are all a part of the crowd. From Jesus’ time through this, people have been discovering this story of grace. / On many of these seats, you can find true stories of people at The Crossing that have found the grace Jesus freely offers each of us. Please take some time to read a few of these stories. / Notice the seats where stories of grace are yet to be written. Perhaps one of these seats is for you or for someone you know still searching for this gift of grace. On the other side of the seats is a place for you to write your name or the name of a friend or family member. Offer this to God as a prayer that His grace will enter in to the story.
The Manger and the Cross Please take one of the scripture pages and find a seat in the center section where you can read this scripture and watch the full grace story reflected in the sand of the artist. When you are ready, feel free to move to the front of the stage to any of the communion stations.
The Cost of Grace The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me.” After supper, he did the same thing with the cup: “This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you. Each time you drink this cup, remember me.” What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. I Corinthians 11:24-26 / Remember that when Jesus died on the cross, he held back nothing. The pain, the humility and the suffering he experienced, were all done for you. We truly did not deserve it, but that is how much we meant to him. Take a nail and nail it into the crossbeam. Then look at the stamp on your hand—the cross was the cost He was willing to pay for you. All your mistakes and failures are covered here at the cross. Your ransom has been paid in full. / As you take the bread, feel its uneven edges and observe all of the broken pieces. Think of how Jesus' body was broken in his desire to pay the debt for you. Through the cross, Jesus made it possible to repair our brokenness. In His infinite grace, Jesus can heal and smooth our rough edges. He is the God of everlasting hope. If you are still considering this gift of grace Jesus is offering, take the bread with you. If you would like to speak to someone about this decision, please ask at the guest relations desk. If you have accepted this grace, taste and see the goodness of God and know that only He can truly fulfill you! / As you take this cup, look at the deep rich color and think of the blood that was shed for you – the precious life-sustaining blood that was taken from Jesus in an act of restoration to you. Jesus provided us with a gift of imperceptible magnitude – a gift of grace so deep that flows eternally from the cross for you. He is a God of second chances, a God of forgiveness, a God of transformation! If you have accepted that forgiveness, drink and remember.
The Final Word Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. John 19:38-40 / From the moment of birth to the point of His death, Jesus was walking this journey of grace for you. He will not stay in these clothes; they will be left behind. / You’ve been carrying a strip of cloth though the entire experience. If God’s grace has changed your life, as an act of hope, leave your cloth here. The past will be left behind. The resurrection—the triumph of grace—is coming. If you’re still considering whether this grace is true and whether it is for you, take the cloth with you. Let it be a reminder to keep seeking and asking questions until you are ready to make a decision about Jesus. He lived this story of grace for you.