Monday, April 14, 2014


It's Holy Week - the days leading up to Good Friday, Solemn Saturday (I just made that up. You like?), and Easter Sunday. All this week, I will have some thoughts stemming from the original Holy Week - Jesus's final days in His first flesh.

Starting with INRI.

We still use INRI over our crucifixes to this day. Even my atheist sister-in-law, when I asked if she recognized INRI, said "Isn't that the Jesus thing on the cross?" Indeed, it is. The letters are the shortened version, the initials, of the sign that Pontius Pilate placed atop Jesus' cross - Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. The problem is...these are the Latin letters.

We know the words atop the Cross were written in three languages - Latin, which was the language of the Roman ruling class; Greek, which was the language of the cultured; and Aramaic, which was the language of the Lord. When we write INRI on our crosses, then, we are hearkening back to the ruling classes, the Romans, the centurions who drove the nails.

I suppose there can be merit in that; it's a reminder of the men who did this thing to him. It's a reminder of the presence of the Romans and the influence of Rome that developed the cross and the soldiers that nailed Him to it. It speaks to who we are in the story, the condemners. It emphasizes the tension between the Lord and the laity, for lack of a better word. 

But on a deeper level, I find this troubling because it is perhaps one of the greatest struggles of the religious today. Perhaps of the religious across time. And that is this - we so often fail to talk about Jesus, or even to regard Him, in His own language.

We write about Him in our words. We think about Him in our paradigms. We relate to Him through our language. Somewhere in the Bible, it says that God's thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways, and perhaps a part of the reason for that is that His language is not our language. We've tried to box Him into our dictionaries, and He doesn't quite fit there. It's no wonder there's so much we don't understand about our God.

It's how we come to have a toned-down Gospel, a Bible where what God says "couldn't be what God meant." Where we spend our time trying to dig through His words and translate them into ours so we can put some kind of measurable understanding on them. The hard truth is that if you looking for the English (or whatever your language) understanding of grace, you will never come near to the holy meaning of it. If you're trying to conceptualize love through a word, you'll miss it entirely.

I think this is what John means when he wrote, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was flesh." You can't put God into words; you have to put Him into action if you ever hope to come close. Faith is not a thing you define; it's something you life. Love is not a noun; it's a verb. Actually, most of the words of God are verbs and it's not until you live them that you understand them at all. And when they get into your heart and you just about think you've got it, they vanish; the things of God cannot be tamed by language.

It's impractical, to an extent. We need the words to discuss such things. We need the words to be able to teach about them. To tell our kids and our friends and our neighbors about the things of God. But it's wise to remember that these are our words; they are not God's. Anyone who has ever lived grace, or mercy, or justice, or peace, or love, or understanding, or patience, or joy....anyone who has ever lived a thing of God, for however fleeting a moment, knows that the things of God go beyond our language.

He speaks His own Word.

So as we look at the Cross, this week in particular, and notice those four little letters - INRI - I wonder if we might stop to consider what that Cross looks like in God-speak. What it says beyond our language. What it means outside of our words. I wonder if we might consider how it would change our faith to stop speaking our tongue and start speaking God's. 

It would be quite a switch for so many of us, that's for sure. Because when you're speaking the Word of God in His own language, so often you find that you're not speaking at all; you're living. You're extending grace, offering mercy, pursuing justice, breathing peace, building understanding, spreading joy. You're simply loving. In God-speak.

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