Both of these are hard to credit. The left is cited as only ‘HE QI,’ I assume the artist’s name. The right is cited only as “Lenten Cross” associated with a church’s promotion of services.
These are my thoughts this Easter, as everyone around me celebrates the holiday. My post is grounded in the Christian faith, and cites biblical passages. My aim is not to convert or preach. In fact, I express more than a little doubt.
My goal is to reach out across the cyber divide to others, like myself, who may need to join hearts and minds with others who are struggling this holiday. We may seem alone, but we are not alone.
Today is Good Friday. This weekend in Easter.
Of course, there’s some redundancy in that last sentence, but bear with me as I try to leverage a rhetorical device or two.
Last Christmas I wrote about Easter, promising those of us who were in pain that this was our moment:
If Christmas is the Red Carpet Opening Night for that life’s work of compassion, then Easter is the Grand Finale launched by Good Friday.
And now Easter is here.
For me, Easter always meant the true Message: no matter how bad it gets, you can come out renewed. Ultimately, God always wins.
I think a lot of people are out there who are still in crisis, still traumatized, still facing crippling uncertainty about their lives, their existences, their own survival, who really can’t be easily convinced that this is true. Admittedly, this is a truth more easily accepted by those whose enjoy the blessing of complacency, or who can see life’s adversities clearly in their rear view mirror.
If you don’t fall into one of those two camps, the promise of Easter is just that: a promise. Not fulfilled, not kept, and some days about as useful as the paper it’s printed on.
The good news that it will take me approximately a thousand words to get to, in spite of my own present doubt as to God’s divine assistance and intervention, my skepticism about the usefulness of God’s love for me in building a meaningful life here below, is that Easter does hold one bit of good news. We’re in good company.
Christ went through this shit too. To be even more blunt: Christ, whom many see as God’s own Son on Earth, the Word made Flesh, got royally screwed down here too. He got turned in to the authorities by one of his students, his friends acted like assholes, and he got killed. Killed in one of the most slow, painful, humiliating, public ways imaginable.
No matter how sweet and compliant the mainstream makes Christ out to be, according to the book of Matthew, he wasn’t entirely happy about it either.
And so we come to last night, Holy Thursday.
Last night I went to Maundy Thursday service. It was sad; it’s supposed to be.
For Maundy Thursday, our service’s theme could be summarized as this: Christ knows the trouble is headed his way, his closest friends are starting to crumble and he sees it.
And he’s completely helpless.
This is the scene: Christ and his followers are in Gethsemane. He now knows the shit is about to hit the fan: he takes two friends off a few yards or so and asks them to stay awake while he prays.
“Praying” here means begging God not to let this happen. I suspect it also means trying to wrap his head around this, all the while knowing that if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen and there ain’t a whole lot he can do about it.
“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” ( Matthew 26:39)
When I was younger, I was confused – and awed – by Christ’s compliance with such a dire fate: Yet not as I will, but as you will.
Now older, wiser, sadder, more beaten by life, I imagine maybe Christ was not being compliant, but recognizing his own powerlessness in the situation: what was going to happen was going to happen whether he liked it or not. The Gospel According to Matthew makes it sound like perhaps he didn’t.
I can’t blame him. Everything was going to be very ugly from there on out. He begged God to make it stop. The God he loved. The God he served. The God he praised with every cell in His body.
God didn’t do a thing about it.
Then of course, people do what people do in a crisis: they run, they hide, they deny. They let you down.
His friends fell asleep while he prayed:
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41)
They pulled this crap three times.
Of course, we know about all the betrayals that follow: Judas, Peter’s denial.
I tend to be a little lenient on Judas; he’s just a guy. I know how wrong he was, but I also know how commonplace that kind of wrong is. I’ve known many people who succumb to Larger Than Life authorities who threaten people with the power to squash them like a bug. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. If Judas was any worse than most people, then it was only by a hair.
Honestly, this is how people act when faced with standing up for what’s right or complying with authority. How many people are willing to throw an innocent coworker under the bus, or hide evidence of wrongdoing if a boss demands it, just to keep a job? How many school administrators, daycare workers, etc., face regular threats from social services to support false accusations to maintain their licenses? How many people have felt coerced into cooperation or silence by corrupt police or lawmakers?
I’m not here to argue the historical accuracy, or factual basis of these accounts. That said, I don’t doubt for a nanosecond that this part of the story aligns with human nature. Ask anyone who’s watched half of their friends shrink away during a long, drawn-out bit of ugly crisis. It’s what a friend of mine calls “empathy fatigue.” When the adversary is a big, huge entity (government, commerce), I call it abject fear.
Slander, false accusations (and people do run during that one), victimization. Why would anyone expect a rallying, working, devoted team of supporters and activists if Christ’s own disciples crumbled at the one moment of crisis?
The Erstwhile Easter Message:
For me, Easter always meant the true Message: no matter how bad it gets, you can come out renewed. Ultimately, God always wins. Christ rises from the tomb, faces his disciples, gives them their message (which, if you asked me, we totally messed up).
It was a sign of hope: hope for victory, hope for survival, hope for transformation. So Easter for me always overshadowed Christmas in terms of spiritual significance.
Once upon a time.
I was accused of things I didn’t do when I was trying with every cell of my being to do the right thing, to bring love and hope into the dark world for a few people. Friends crumbled and ran and hid once it looked like the people in power had won and I had lost.
Some people might compare the one person with the power to truly help me to Pontius Pilate, a weak figure who, caught in the middle a formidable force and a lone, innocent figure, chose the path of power. I’m okay with that comparison. Truly okay with it.
I begged God not to let the worst happen, not to let evil destroy my life that was my family. I begged God to spare little helpless people the suffering they would go through at the hands of corruption and blind hatred. Deep down I knew how helpless I was.
I’d love to offer you some conviction that I, like Christ, rose out of the darkness triumphant and unrecognizable, renewed to be reunited with God.
If I did, I’d be a liar.
Maybe I’m still in the tomb, in the darkness, waiting for my transformation to be complete. Maybe it’s a metaphor of hope, of the miracle that happens to some people, but not all of us.
I don’t know. I wish I did.
I wish this Easter could mean victory and hope this year. But it doesn’t.
But it means something.
It means that in all the millennia of mankind’s existence, there is at least some frame of reference for my experiences – some narrative the truth of which aims straight at my struggles: they aren’t my imagination. And if some two-thousand-year old scripture can point its narrative finger at this experience, then it’s a struggle that’s inherent to mankind, maybe even to Christ himself.
And when friends and acquaintances run, deny, fall asleep on the watch, even rat my little innocent ass out, I’m still not alone. Somebody knows. Somebody went through it. He got out okay. Maybe I will too.
It doesn’t offer me much comfort, but it does offer me some.