I'm a New Yorker. More specifically, I am from the very forgotten borough of Staten Island. It's a small place, and growing up here my whole life means that there aren't too many places that I haven't explored. This also means that in the course of my young life, I've spread sins from one end of the island to the other. I don't dwell on it regularly, but a quick trip running errands about the island brings me past too many old familiar places. They are places that cause this mind to quickly wander into all of the "what I used to do's." Once the memory is sparked, those past sins play out like a video in my mind. Interestingly, I can forget a name in seconds, but like a file saved on a hard drive, those memories can boot up in record time.
I know the inclination is to blame the accuser of the brethren, but I don't really feel all that bad most of the time. I don't feel accused, but amazed at how well I remember those things in that moment. I think that sometimes it's an act of grace, or mercy to remember those things because immediately after, I remember how I've been forgiven. I get a sense of the largeness of Christ's full atoning work on my behalf. It seems to get larger every year with new memories made and the old ones still washing up on the shore. I am learning, like so many other ragamuffins, that good or bad; this may be my Christian life until the resurrection.
Still, there are days where the memories do overwhelm me. I have no rhyme or reason for when it happens. I couldn't point to a moment in time and answer the question, "why this memory now?" I suppose I could assume since I often stroll the boardwalk near my home, that it's the best opportunity for specific thoughts in those familiar surroundings to stalk me. Some were good, some were bad, and some will probably never, EVER be outwardly verbalized in detailed description. God knows the details, and that has to be enough, for now.
With each step on that boardwalk, I look to the parking lots, and the memories play out like ghosts. I can almost see the images come to life across the faded asphalt, like a flashback sequence in a movie, where a moment being remembered is poignant and integral to the plot of some sappy tear-jerker. I don't know if you do this, but I often find myself in those moments involuntarily shaking my head in disbelief of the things I've done. I sometimes want to find all the people I've wronged, and apologize. I'm also probably the only one who remembers all these things the way I do. For everyone else, it's not just water under the bridge, but they purchased the bridge, and the adjacent town, then demolished the dam and let the water cover it all.
I am thankful that as I walk, there is another image always superimposed over the memories. It's Christ. Even as these memories surface and begin to play. I see him, more vivid than the rest of it, being led away to be slaughtered. As I shake my head in disgust over my past, I see a Savior, who with each strike of the whip has more skin torn from his body. As the guilt and shame of a prior life tries to gain a foothold, and create more space to remain, I see nails in his hands and feet. I see my hand driving the hammer down over and over. I don't just see my past, but the one who paid for it. I see my part in it, and the rotten fruits of my labor.
I also see the labor that produced for me, the ripest most delicious fruit, that replaced my own. It is the sweetest apple, and the juiciest orange. It is a great relief. I see an empty tomb, and a risen Lord. That's why I'm ok. I'm not good, perfect, or sinless. I'm just ok. I can live with seeing the places that cry out to me from the past. Because in that past, is the work of salvation being forged on behalf of my life. I don't see just the bad, and the pain, and the sin, and the despair. I see a man walking towards a cross. For every one of my missteps, I see blameless footprints. For each coarse word erupting from these unclean lips, his lips remained pure. For every one of my sins, he resisted all temptations.
I see now how he swaps places with me. I see how he is the one who is judged by every one of my missteps. I see how every coarse word I spoke is like an accusation of guilt on him. I see every temptation followed through by me, is now his to bear. I can look at those places of sin and struggle and see Christ standing in for me. I see it from a seat of righteousness that belongs to him. One that he sits me down in, and then covers me in a white robe, with hands bruised with my punishment. Even as he falls with my burdens weighing down his cross, I can hear "well done good and faithful servant." I can hear, "today you will be with me in paradise." I can hear, "it is finished." And when he triumphantly walks out of that tomb, he declares me forgiven forever.
My past, littered about this tiny island, resurrects itself when I draw near, but it never does so alone. It is always accompanied by the Savior. My future belongs to Christ; my present belongs to Christ; my past has been redeemed and belongs to Christ. It reminds me of all I've been rescued from, and all I've been forgiven of. I don't run from it, I embrace it. I have to, because I know I will sin again, and the day after I do, it will be a past that Christ paid for as well.