I have a brother.. Well actually I have 5 brothers. But one of those brothers was only a little more than a year older than I was (then I am). He was my closest friend growing up. My brother let me follow him everywhere.. him and his best friend. They never minded that I was slower. Ok.. maybe they minded.. but neither of them ever let on. They would adjust their walking speed for me. They pounded in wooden steps, where I could not climb. When I was too afraid to keep going..? They talked me through. And if there was danger.. my brother would always warn me… “Step back Julie.. we’re gonna get stung.. ok!?!”
My confusion didn’t stop my feet from stepping back though. Once my brother felt I was at a safe distance? Well then he would carry out whatever experiment he had in mind for the poor bee’s nest. As I would watch from my safe distance.. watch my brother getting stung.. (because INDEED he did get stung).. I would marvel at his ability to stay calm. My brother would simply pull each stinging bee off his skin.. and calmly crush it before reaching for the next one.
It is said that our childhood memories magnify things that we remember, by leaving out details we didn’t notice.. and giving super human powers to the details that were significant to us. But regardless of any other details that my childish brain leaves out of my memories.. I can be sure of who my brother was.
My brother was the bravest person I had ever met. Brave.. and he was very curious. Kind of a lethal combination I fear. Now my brother never died.. he never came close .. as far as I can remember. But I think my heart stopped a couple times. They say the events that happen TO you are the most traumatic … Well “they” are wrong!! (whoever “they” are.) They are wrong because the events most engraved into my brain? They were the events when I had to watch someone I care about IN a dangerous situation? When I stand by powerless.. worrying? Those memories will be forever ingrained into my memory. By far more crippling ..than anything I lived through.
I was a curious child by nature. Curiosity by itself isn’t really a bad thing. But unbridled curiosity?? That can be. You see.. kids do not always see the danger in the world around them. And ohhh was I blind…
I was travelling through the woods with my brother and his best friend. Travelling in the company of the bravest person I had ever met.. and his faithful companion.. Almost like travelling with Robin Hood and Little John.. or King Arthur and Lancelot.. Batman and Robin.. To my adoring childish brain?? I was in the safest place. I never worried when I was with my brother.. My hero. What could harm me when he was looking out for me?
And most of the time?? This proved true.
And then.. Then we found a barn… Ok, in truth the barn had probably always been there. But somehow we stumbled across it. Stumbled through the rows of field corn.. to find a gigantic red barn.. HA .. Alright, alright.. it doesn’t sound that amazing when I say it out loud.. But to a young girl who loves history? It was like a fantastic fanfare was playing .. as the wind blew through corn stalks… As we walked closer, I could see bigger glimpses of this beautiful old barn through the gaps of the tall plants. And when we came to a stop in front of the old doors? History came alive for me. All the books I had read about pioneers? All the history we learned in class? HERE was proof.. Proof that it existed.
And I needed to know more. My curious brain didn’t stop to think about danger.. because it KNEW that my brother would protect me.
SOOO?? I convinced them.. my brother and his friend… I convinced them to take me inside. After a moment of thinking.. they agreed. We stepped through that magical portal of time and I fell in love. I saw the dowel ladders.. the peg construction.. the stalls for horses. I didn’t stop to take in the fact that this barn was not ONLY historic.. I didn’t stop to think that Historic barns are OLD.. old and falling apart. And neither did my brother. While I was constructing historical scenes in my mind? While I was created imaginary farm animals? While I was creating imaginary people.. people who needed this important barn for their farm? While I was locked in my imaginary world.. my brother and his friend were exploring the rafters of that old barn.. And I imagine that barn was doing much more than swaying in the wind.
We were never quite sure how that farmer knew we were in his barn. We really never talked about it. That farmer that called our friend’s dad. All we knew was that farmer spoiled our fun.. and got us in so much trouble.
When our friend’s dad stepped into the doorway of the barn? It was like he blocked all the sun from my life.. Because he was evil?? Nope! But because in the moment that I saw his face.. I knew.. I knew how much trouble we were in. With a call to the boys, they scurried down the ladder and outside. I followed close behind… barely breathing… Why had we gone in that barn? “Julie wanted to see the inside of the barn.. so we took her,” one of the boys explained. I nodded.. that IS what happened. But this man.. this neighbor that seemed like family? He too wanted to protect me. “Don’t you dare blame this on her.. She wasn’t in that hayloft.. she was on the ground waiting for you..,” and you know what? They never denied it. Neither one of them mentioned my guilt again after that moment. Neither one of them tried to get me to share in their punishment. While they were scolded.. all the way home?? (And we had travelled quite a ways from home..).. While they were scolded? I was getting carried.
You see it is far worse to see someone punished for your crimes.. then it is to take credit for them yourself. The sacrifice that my brother made for me.. The sacrifice he made to save me from punishment? It was painful for me. It pressed on my chest like the heaviest weight. Whenever I saw his face after that.. I saw him taking credit for going into that barn. Bravely taking the punishment that should have been mine. It hurt.
Now as an adult.. I know why that farmer was so “Mean”.. why he had to spoil our clean fun. It is true.. we were not hurting that old barn.. We were simply curious and exploring. But that farmer knew what we could not see. He saw the danger in our situation. I trusted my brother to protect me. My brother knew that his bravery could help him in any situation. But that farmer knew the barn was rickety. I remember hearing the creaks and groans.. I remember thinking it added to the mystery of it all.
But imagine being a father.. Being a father and stepping into that rickety barn. Seeing your child and his friend playing in the loft of an old barn. Your child making the barn sway.. making it groan and creak.. Groaning and creaking loudly, while this curious curly-haired girl explored below. Imagine being a father.. and SEEING the danger in the whole innocent situation?? And now I know why he was so angry. I know why he yelled all the way home.
But when I was a child? I didn’t see the worried anger.. I never saw the danger.. I only saw my brother’s sacrifice for me.
And I never forgot.
Last year, I was cleaning out my chicken coop. A disgusting job.. but necessary. And rewarding.. to take a mess and clean it up? Nothing feels more fulfilling then that.. But my mind started to wander with each shovelful.. with each disgusting shovelful. My mind wander and I began to think.. (hey.. thinking is my life..)..
I thought back to my brother.. the sacrifice he made to protect me.. and it got me thinking..
Thinking about Easter.. Easter is about how Jesus died for our sins, right? Died and rose again. Jesus protected us from the punishments we deserve. We all deserve to be punished for our sins. And Oh the sins we have ALL sinned.
BEFORE Jesus’ sacrifice, we (God’s people) would offer up the life of an animal to pay for our sins. If we told a small falsehood about a neighbor, you would take a dove to the altar. If you stole a calf from your cousin.. You would take a goat to the altar. If you killed a man in a fight? I think you get the picture.. the bigger the sin.. the bigger the animal. (In my memories.. it felt like my brother had paid the price of at LEAST a Moose..)..
But when Jesus died for us. Died for all mankind? He didn’t just have to sit on his bed until His Heavenly father came to talk to him. Jesus didn’t have to simply do extra chores. And He certainly didn’t get to be grounded to Nazareth. Jesus took the blame for every sin that any of us every did .. or WERE going to do… A man who had done nothing wrong.. took the blame for not only His earthly sister and brothers.. but for every earthly sister and every earthly brother… That to me.. makes him the bravest man I have ever met. Even braver than my brother.
The memory of my guilt came back to me then. That crushing guilt I felt for years (Ok.. I was a kid.. it was probably only months..).. the guilt that made it hard to breathe when I thought of my brother’s sacrifice. If the guilt I felt for one sin? One innocent childish sin? If the guilt from that one sin.. crushed my heart making it hard to breathe? What would a whole world of guilt.. a whole world of sin feel like?
As the tears fell from my eyes.. running down my cheeks and dripping onto the disgusting shovel I was leaning on.. I started to wonder..
Did Jesus actually die from the crucifixion? Did He actually die from the holes in His hands or the spear holes in His sides? Or did Jesus die as the weight of all our guilt crushed his pure heart? That our sins were too much for His Godly soul.
And that’s when I remembered my brother’s smile.
You see.. my brother was never bitter about taking my punishment. He never once scowled in my direction.. He never even got angry. In fact, at one point he did turn to me and smile. A smile with such bravery.. and such brotherly love. And that is how I think Jesus looked as He was being punished for our crimes.
But I think I do know what Mary felt as she watched from the crowd. I think I know how Jesus’s friends felt as they watched. AND I definitely know how Peter felt. Peter who had denied knowing Jesus just hours before. Such a simple sin.. denial.. but a sin nevertheless. Peter would have felt that crushing guilt..
Jesus gave us the cure for that crushing guilt.. forgiveness. He gave us a way to breathe again.. A way to live. Through His sacrifice for His sisters (and brothers).. He gave us ALL .. Life..
After that fateful day in a barn.. I don’t have many memories of tagging along after my brother. Whether they decided later that I should have told everyone it had been my idea. Whether they tired of my slowness.. Whether my guilt over the punishment they took for me prevent me from following them.. or simply that summer ended and we returned to school. Whatever the reason .. I don’t have many memories of tagging along after that day. I do have memories of that guilt creeping up, time after time. That guilt lingered with me for years. But also loyalty. Loyalty and love for someone who stood by me no matter what. I would have done anything.. and I still would.. for my brother.
So today.. I am going to honor the sacrifice my brave brother made for me.
And I am going to honor the sacrifice Jesus made for me. Because whether I try to be good or not.. at least a couple of the thorns on that Crown they placed on His noble brow? They were for me. At least ONE of the blows from the hammer… nailing Jesus to the cross.. was for me. But when I think about His brave sacrifice.. Imagine that he made it with a beautiful brave smile .. full of love.. A smile that I imagine looked a lot like my brave brother’s? If I Honor that sacrifice? Then His sacrifice will have been worth it..