“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
~ Isaiah 53:5
I celebrated Holy Week this year in a very unique way. I celebrated it with two distinctly, different cultures. My wife is from Puerto Rico and our little family decided that Holy Week and the week prior would be the ideal time to travel to the island and visit with friends and family. This meant that we found ourselves in her former church several times and amongst others of like precious faith. This included attending a Good Friday service. The next day we travelled home to Maine and attended the Easter service in our home church. Despite the fatigue of travelling with two children under the age of five, I was struck by the uniqueness of such an experience and the undeniable beauty of culture as it relates to faith and the message of the resurrection.
Whether you realize it or not, we are living in a world where culture is a constant discussion, especially here in the good old U.S. of A. Unfortunately such discussions often occur in negative and even disturbing ways. In fact there seems to be a natural trend within cultures for people of that culture to assert the dominance of their culture. A prime example might be a person from the United States who screams out in patriotic fervor that this is the greatest nation on earth with the greatest people and the greatest language. Some might even go as far as to say that everyone should be like us. Such statements are an assertion of cultural dominance. The U.S. is certainly not alone in this matter. In fact I would be willing to bet that anywhere you go you will find people who are fiercely devoted to their culture, nation, people group etc. Even within a nation we might find a variety of cultures. While I am from Maine, I have also spent a little time living in both Georgia and South Carolina. I can tell you that the culture of the deep south is very different from the culture I know so well in New England. The truth is that we become attached to these defining aspects of who we are. Most people love where they are from, their first language, and even distinct accents they may have. Once while living in Georgia I became very offended as I overheard a person speak about a family member of theirs that had moved to Maine. They said, “I don’t know why anyone would want to live there.” Immediately I felt the need to assert my cultural dominance. They had no idea I was from there, that Maine was the place I called home, but I was definitely going to let them know.
Culture is an important and beautiful part of who we are as a person. One of my wishes for most people is that they would have the opportunity to experience other cultures that are different than their own. More then just experiencing, I wish they would embrace those cultures and see the beauty and uniqueness in them. So what does this have to do with the Resurrection and the powerful message of Christ’s sacrifice? The message of the resurrection transcends culture in a way nothing else does. It is a worldwide message with the ability to touch the hearts of all of mankind. No matter where we are from, all of us are sinners in desperate need of saving. We all face the consequences of our sin and long for a rescuer. For those willing to listen, the message of the resurrection offers hope in a hopeless world. For those experiencing that hope it also offers equal cause for celebration. The way that Christians around the world celebrate the work of Christ may differ, but what they are celebrating does not. I cannot think of a single thing that transcends race, color, and culture the way the gospel does. Perhaps part of this is due to the humble nature of its message. I picked Isaiah 53:5 above because it portrays the true nature of Christ’s sacrifice. He was wounded bruised and chastised on our behalf and with no personal benefit to himself. Such actions are the complete opposite of our ingrained nature to exalt our own culture and to assert our own cultural dominance. The message of the Gospel is so much at odds with our normal behavior that it forces us to stop and pay attention. It is a precious message in an often empty and meaningless existence. That is the reason that those who identify with it can celebrate it with such devotion and intensity. That is the reason that I can hear its message preached in two different languages in the span of three days and see that it has had the same effect in the lives of very different people and very different cultures.
This is the reason I Timothy 2:4 can declare Christ’s intent by saying, “Who would have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” Such a verse should make us think about the way that we view other cultures and their acceptance of the Gospel. There has been an unfortunate push in modern missions to westernize cultures we are called to. Rather than teaching people to worship their Savior in a way that embraces their culture and honors the principals of Scripture, some have exalted the western style of worship as supreme. It would seem that sometimes we are even asserting our cultural dominance in missions and evangelism. I have always cringed at such thinking because of what it at least seems to convey. Years ago while in seminary I read a book called Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer. Early in the book he speaks about a question he would often ask native people on the mission field who had received western missionaries. He would ask, “What could missionaries do to more effectively minister the gospel in your culture?” He was surprised to receive a fairly consistent response. Most people would answer in some form or another this way, “Missionaries could more effectively minister the Gospel of Christ if they did not think they were so superior to us.” (Elmer, pg 15) I remember being struck by the sobering nature of such a comment. While we are allowed to value our culture and background, we must be careful. We must be careful that we do not allow culture to hinder the message of the gospel and the worship of others. Paul was spot on when he declared in I Corinthians 9:22, “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” Paul’s attitude was much like Christ’s. Nothing was more important and more powerful than the message of the resurrection, not even culture.