Doubtful reflections on a very old story
The death itself is not an unusual one. We say that it is, we tell the story of the horrors and humiliations that preceded it and dwell on the pain of the nails pressing into the flesh and the body stretched and hung and pierced as if he was suffering more – and more horribly – than anyone ever suffered, as if that was how he earned the right to wash away all the wrongs we have done. But it isn’t true, is it? Lots of people were crucified. It was a brutal, nasty, torturous death but it was also an ordinary one. Mundane. Thieves and robbers, criminals and liars, innocents and the unlucky all died that way. And there have been so many other terrible ways to die over the centuries, over human history. We’re very good at cruelty. We’re very good at killing. We do it so often. So the beauty here is not unlocked by the ugliness of the dying or the death. The miracle is not in the suffering, which is ordinary. Another man dies. Another body is broken. Another heart stops. So what?
I don’t know.
I’m writing this on Good Friday afternoon, as an act of reflection at the very moment in the story when the sky grows dark and all hope is apparently lost. That’s very familiar to us, it’s the kind of moment written into the fabric of our being and the stories we tell and have always told. The heroine is lost in the forest, the superhero is powerless and defeated. We know this bit. We know how dark and bitter it is. We weep, we too feel lost. But we also feel in our bones, in reaction to the story, that a happy ending is coming. The dawn will break, an ally will come, the battle will be won.
I’ve lived this though, with those I have loved in real life, as you may have too. Those were bitter times. There was no rescue, no third act, no resurrection for them. True, humans are stronger than we know and more inventive and some of us find a way to endure the unendurable, but not all. Some of us are beaten. So when Easter makes a promise in the saddest moment, when it tells us everything will be all right, that is sometimes so very hard to believe.
‘Take your myth, take your legend, your parable, your foolish story, your fallen king who will rise again and go and tell it to someone more gullible.’
That’s what I feel like saying.
There’s something deep and very, very old here and perhaps older and bigger than the faith structures people have built around it. And because it is ordinary, because it suggests the extraordinary exists beside the mundane, then somehow and against my will and common sense it speaks to me.
I don’t know what it says. I’m still listening.
What do you think?