Several years ago, while visiting a university in the Middle East, i wandered into an archaeological museum on the campus. As i walked through the gift shop in the museum, my eye caught a glimpse of a replica of a terra cotta mask used by the ancient Phoenicians in the 4th century BC. There were holes in the mask that enabled me to see out as i picked it up and held it over my face. But beyond that, as i looked at my image reflected in a nearby mirror, my eyes were drawn to the pronounced grin that had been permanently molded into the mask. Seeing that the sales clerk was keeping a watchful eye on me, i asked her to tell me the story behind the mask.
She explained that the Phoenicians sacrificed children to their pagan god, Baal-hamon. It was considered to be a high honor to the family for a child to be chosen to be sacrificed. As a part of that honor, and in order for the parents to receive favor from their god, the parents would stand over their child as he/she was being brutally sacrificed. Because it was such an honor, and because they wanted to receive favor from their god, the parents were expected to demonstrate great happiness while this tragedy was unfolding before their eyes. In order to cover the pain and anguish that the parents were experiencing, they molded a mask out of clay etched with a wide grin and held it over their faces. Thus, they would mask their pain and project this false aura of happiness.
It was another reminder of the depravity of sin, and the pain and the suffering it causes. i was mindful of the throngs of people then – and still today – who have been blinded from seeing the truth and are lost in the depravity of their sin and the pain that results from it. It was a reminder of how desperately we are in need of a Savior!
After my initial revulsion over what i had just heard, i couldn’t help but think about how often today we still hold grinning masks in front of our faces. Maybe not literally, but, most definitely, figuratively. And i fear that the place we do so most often is when we gather together in our churches on the weekend. The irony is that it should be the one place that we can be real with one another, encourage one another and minister to one another. But i fear that all too often, we’re afraid to admit the hurt inside for fear of what others will think of us. Besides, everyone else seems to have it all together – at least that’s what their mask is communicating to us.
i will grant you, it is hard to lower the mask in a large gathering where we only know one another superficially. That’s why gathering together in smaller life groups, community groups, or whatever you want to call them, is so important. It’s in that smaller group that we can truly begin to build relationships, share life together, grow in our walk with Christ together and minister together. It’s in that small group that most often the church becomes the church, and the masks can begin to come down.
Though i look forward to coming together each weekend with the larger body for worship, i will tell you that LaVonne and i look forward even more to gathering with our small group of brothers and sisters in the Lord on Tuesday evenings. i want to encourage you, that if you don’t have a small group of men and women that you’re doing life with on a consistent basis, you are missing one of the greatest blessings that the Lord has for you in your walk with Him. It may require stepping out of your comfort zone. It will definitely require checking your mask at the door. But trust me, you’ll be blessed.
Take the leap…find a group or form a group… and drop the mask!