It was supposed to be a holiday—a long-weekend getaway home to celebrate my sister’s birthday. So how did I find myself, sleeves rolled up, scrubbing away at a '60s tan brick wall in the Adelaide heat. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be simple. Drop in, let in the piano tuner, leave. Do other things, enjoy the day, eat Adelaide delicacies, spend time with the family—and here I was, sweat beading at my temples, a dull ache starting up in my arm and working its way down to my fingers, clutching steel wool, then a cloth when my soft office hands couldn’t take it anymore. Back and forth across each brick, scrub, scrub, scrub.
The graffiti was rough and haphazard. Certain bricks were tagged, others just scribbled on. Words were misspelt. Was it creative licence or lack of education? Hard to tell. One thing I knew: this was vandalism and I had a very low level of appreciation for it. So I kept scrubbing.
I wanted to do it. Wanted to remove all traces of the black texta that had blemished the walls of the church. Maybe I’m overly romantic but in my head I was God’s champion, defending His honour, cleaning His building. I was scrubbing for God. As His son and His servant there really was no better thing for me to be doing.
I was upset with the perpetrators. But I knew I had to forgive them, so as I scrubbed I prayed for them. Not only that God would forgive them but that I could as well. And that they would be healed from whatever hurt or inattention they were acting out from; that God would draw them close and change their life directions.
I was angry with them but I also knew that Jesus hung on the cross for them. Even as they vandalised His church, I knew that He knew and was willing to forgive them. But would they have the opportunity to know His forgiveness? I prayed that they would.
I looked at my hands. They were turning red and raw from scrubbing.
Eventually I had to stop. Mum was ready to leave the church. We’d run out of time. The graffiti had faded now; it was hard to read but still present. For all of my efforts I hadn’t managed to make much of a difference. I’d wanted to give up, to sit and rest. I was glad to stop.
At the same time I was grateful. I had a sense not only that I was given an opportunity to learn a lesson about how hard it is to clean up a mess but what Jesus had to endure for me.
My sore arms and tired back were nothing compared to Jesus’ nail-pierced hands. His back, graffitied by the flogging He had received, crisscrossed with crimson stripes that couldn’t be erased or rubbed off.
I had been compelled by a strange sense of duty and conviction to stay and clean the church building that had been defiled. He came down and stayed from a sense of love, unconditional, and willing to bear anything to get the job done. He gave up His body to save His body (the church). Not a building. We are the church. You are the church, I am the church.
If I am made in God’s image then my actions, my attitudes and my sins can defile or deface that image—it’s like I am vandalising that image. I get scuffed, dirty, marked—marks I can’t remove no matter how hard I try. I can make them fade, I can scrub away and cover them up but the residue remains.
When I arrived at church on Sabbath, the graffiti was gone. What a relief. It was hard to even find some of the spots where it had been. Someone had used some graffiti remover, which had done the job easily. Turns out if you have exactly the right stuff, it is easy to remove the hardest of stains.
There is only one substance in the universe that can remove the stain of sin—the blood of Jesus. It’s already available. It doesn’t take hard work. You can’t get it by cleaning a church building or building a clean church. It's only available to those who believe and receive it.
Is it a “once and for all” clean? No. It’s true that once we accept His righteousness we are forgiven and made as white as snow. But living in such a dirty world we are bound to be visited by the vandals of sin again. As Ellen White puts it: “by idle talk, evilspeaking or neglect of prayer, we may in one day lose the Saviour's presence, and it may take many days of sorrowful search to find Him, and regain the peace that we have lost. In our association with one another, we should take heed lest we forget Jesus, and pass along unmindful that He is not with us” (Desire of Ages, p 83).
So we must daily dwell in His presence. When was the last time you really understood what Jesus did for you? When was the last time you sat down and thought about what your life would look like without Him or what He saved you from or even what His sacrifice really means? “It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ . . . As we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more constant, our love will be quickened and we shall be more deeply imbued with His spirit. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the foot of the cross" (ibid).
I know I don’t mediate on Jesus' life or His death and resurrection enough. The selflessness of the cross has inspired great sacrifice and surrender through the ages. So as the world celebrates Easter this year, let’s focus on what Jesus' life means to our lives—what it means to be made clean—and give the task of cleaning Christ’s body, the church, to the Master Cleaner, who has all the right tools to get the job done. Rather than scrubbing ourselves over and over, He should be our focus. “By beholding the beauty of His character, we shall be ‘changed into the same image from glory to glory.’
2 Corinthians 3:18” (ibid).