by Peggi Tustan
God’s grace is so rich and abundant and free. I live it, walk it, breath it. It’s by his grace that God saved me and continues to save me. Because it’s so familiar, I sometimes forget grace came at an enormous cost. In a place I least expected, God brought this truth home.
I was touring Slovakia with my parents, staying with relatives and sightseeing. My cousin Ľudka planned a day trip for us to the town of Levoča, a UNESCO world heritage site. This ancient, walled city holds two churches of special interest. The hilltop Basilica of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the oldest pilgrimage sites in Slovakia; the first chapel was established there in 1247. And also, the Basilica of St. James whose exquisite gothic altar was carved by Master Paul in 1517.
As we walked up to the Basilica of the Visitation, we were met with the sweet melody of chanted prayers. Ľudka pulled open the massive door to a sea of babushkas. She parted the waters and led us to the far side of the sanctuary. There, to our surprise, sat L’udka’s mother (Aunt Helen), cousin Helen, and her children. They poured into the aisle encircling us with hugs, kisses, and tears of joyful reunion. More than twenty years had passed since I last saw my aunt. Though I had never before visited this church, I felt I belonged. These were my people. My ancestors had worshipped on this hilltop for centuries. All I lacked was a babushka!
From my pew, I took in the glory of the Basilica. The afternoon sun illuminated stained-glass saints smiling down upon us. A gilded Madonna and child adorned the main altar. The side altar held a crucifix. Tears streamed down Jesus’ face. Blood poured from his side. It was a beautiful, yet horrible image.
As I gazed at Jesus’ face, two words from the liturgical prayers caught my attention. “Moja vina,” the congregation repeated, “My fault.” With each repetition, sorrowful faces bowed and fists pounded hearts. I pondered those words. That week in my devotions, I meditated on my savior’s passion and death. But I had not considered my part in his suffering.
He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed. (Isaiah 53:5 NLT)
“Moja vina,” I whispered, raising my fist to my heart. It’s my fault you suffered, Lord. I felt the heaviness of my sin that Christ bore. And I grieved what I had done.
After the service, our reunion with Aunt Helen and her family continued over a picnic lunch. We finalized plans to visit their village the following week. Then, L’udka, my parents, and I continued on to the Basilica of St. James.
We arrived just in time to join the final tour of the day. While waiting in the vestibule, I noticed a roughly carved life-size crucifix. One glance at Jesus’ face revived my earlier meditations. I dropped to my knees before the cross wiping away tears. Jesus, you suffered for me.
When the tour began, I pulled myself together and entered the cavernous Basilica. My jaw dropped at the intricacies of Master Paul’s masterpiece. Yet, in contrast to the glittering altar, I was again drawn to the cross. Another crucifix hung from a massive beam in the center of the sanctuary. In some mysterious way, God’s Spirit was opening a window of comprehension in my soul. The Holy One who knew no sin bore the filth, the shame, the depravity of the world. I sensed Jesus’ horror and repulsion. A flood burst. I crumpled onto the stone floor and wept. My mother quietly approached and laid a gentle hand on my shoulder, “Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not. I feel Jesus’ agony. I can’t bear it,” I whispered.
I can’t fully explain what happened in Levoča that day. But this I know. God’s grace—so rich and abundant and free—came at an enormous cost. May we never forget it.
1) Basilica of the Visitation on Mariánska hora in Levoča, Slovakia by Karelj; Creative Commons Photo (free use)
2) St. James, Levoča, Main Altar from the workshop of Master Paul of Levoča, highest wooden altar in the world, 1517 by Gerda Arendt, Creative Commons (free use)
Bio: I am Peggi Tustan, an ordinary woman living an extraordinary real life in Christ. I write, teach, and mentor women in Northeast Ohio. As a recovering perfectionist, I passionately embrace God’s grace. Stop by and visit me at www.peggitustan.com.