This morning I heard a truly beautiful narrative on the meaning of the cross and Good Friday here. The text seemed so thoughtful, I have transcribed it below.
Beyond all the hypocrisy and pomp, above all the pain and confusion caused by the church, this is truly the essence of the who Christ is.
"As you stand there, in this strange, powerful mixture of recognition and horror, bring bit by bit in the picture, the stories upon which you have lived. Bring the hopes you had, when you were young. Bring the bright vision of family life; of success in sport, or work, or art. The dreams of exciting adventures in far off places. Bring the joy of seeing a new baby, full of promise and possibility. Bring the longings of your heart. They are all fulfilled here.
Or, bring the fears and sorrows you had when you were young. The terror of violence, perhaps at home. The shame of failure at school. Of rejection by friends. The nasty comments that hurt you then, and hurt you still. The terrible moment when you realized a wonderful relationship had come to an end. The sudden, meaningless death of someone you loved very much. They are all fulfilled here too.
God has taken them upon himself in the person of His Son. This is the earthquake moment, the darkness at noon moment. The moment of terror and sudden faith, as even the hard-boiled Roman soldier blurts out at the end.
But then, bring the hopes and sorrows of the world. Bring the millions who are homeless because of flood or famine. Bring the children who are orphaned by AIDS or war. Bring the politicians who begin by longing for justice and end up hoping for bribes. Bring the beautiful and fragile earth on which we live. Think of God's dreams for his Creation, and God's sorrow at its ruin.
As we stand here by the cross, let the shouting and pushing and the angry faces fade away for a moment, and look at the slumped head of Jesus. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Him, here, on the cross. God chose Israel to be His way of rescuing the world. God sent Jesus to be his way of rescuing Israel. Jesus went to the cross to fulfill that double mission. His cross, planted in the middle of the jostling, uncomprehending, mocking world of His day and ours, stands as the symbol of a victory unlike any other.
A love, unlike any other. A God, unlike any other."
Today is Maundy Thursday, the day Christians commemorate the Last Supper.
This piece seems particularly appropriate for today. Although the lyrics deal with the mystery of the common birth of Jesus, I find the mystery continues to the last moments of his life - the moments of that last meal.
So much in this life is thrust upon us suddenly. We have no idea its coming, we are completely unprepared, and afterward we are never the same again.
We all know the feeling. What seems like a normal day is suddenly changed into a day we will never forget. A phone call comes that completely takes our breath away. The doctor delivers news that we have been dreading to hear. News arrives that a friend is in deep trouble, life threatening trouble. An ordinary day becomes extraordinary. Filled with shock, pain, confusion, wondering, and sometimes panic.
And then, when the day changes, we must face it. We cannot flee.
For the past week or so during Lent, and coming now into Holy Week, I am struck by the moment in which Simon is abruptly thrust into the path of Jesus. We know he was from Cyrene, which is now Libya. But beyond that, and the names of his sons, the rest is mystery. What was he doing in Jerusalem? Why was he beside just this road, at just this time of day? Was he there by accident, or did he plan to be there? Did he hear the noise along the Via de la Rosa, and come running to see what was going on?
Here is an otherwise ordinary man, thrust into a day he will never forget. Just like we have been at one point or another in our lives. And, someday it will happen again, to us all.
We have no idea why Simon was there, or why he was compelled to carry the cross. Luke's gospel emphasizes the coercion of Simon, citing that he was seized, the Cross of Christ laid upon him, and forced to carry it behind Jesus. It’s unclear here even what the motivation of the Roman soldiers was. They may have feared that Jesus, thoroughly beaten by the Romans, may not survive carrying the Cross long enough to be crucified. Or maybe they caught something in the eyes of Simon that made them want to force him to become a participant in this cruel parade. Was there something there in his eyes? Fear, or shock, or horror? Perhaps a fleeting glance of compassion?
Simon was caught up in a moment of cataclysmic significance. He thought he was just standing beside the road. But really, he was standing at a place where Heaven and Earth were colliding. And after this day, nothing would ever be the same again.
We all face days, and moments that change us forever. And most of the time, we do not enter these events as willing participants. Neither did Simon. But I wonder, and I am guessing that afterward, he was never the same again.
The universe has aligned against me. I have been selected to appear for jury duty. Welcome to the Land that Time Forgot.
As I write this, I am sitting in the 11th floor of the LA County Criminal Justice Center, a lovely mid-60s architectural mistake in downtown LA. I am in a room of about 150 other semi-conscious, reading, semi-comatose, sleeping, and staring-off-in-the-distance souls. This room is called the "Juror Assembly Area". Perhaps a better name would be Terrestrial Purgatory. But this Purgatory has wireless, thank you God!
As I look at the Catholic Encyclopedia, I note that "the sleep of peace" may be a part of Purgatory. A number of those around me are already there.
This place is quite unremarkable. TSA style screening upon building entry (I have been "wanded" twice), a dim and completely uninviting lobby, administrative staff who appear as if they should be cast in a zombie movie, and elevator service that employs all the efficiency of the Victorian Era. It takes from 5 to 10 minutes for one of four elevators to arrive at whatever floor you are on. Hello, LA County....they now have an app for that!
There are about 150 people in this room. About 120 of us have been waiting all day, with only one jury being empaneled to leave the room. This seems strangely odd, and suggests to me that the County might want to take all this money being spent on jury room furniture and painfully slow elevator performance, and instead hire a group of competent judges and/or retired lawyers who can certainly try cases without the need for those of us in this waiting room. I am fine for giving the judiciary more power in this regard. Or, take the money and throw us all a Toga Party. Either would be fine. Its the sitting and waiting that is beyond comprehension.
A feeling of suspicion about the jury system also comes from a number of years of experience as an occasional court expert witness in my work. A number of times I have testified and looked upon a panel of jurors, knowing with relative certainty that these good people had no idea what I was talking about as an expert, and were more interested in when break time was, or what was on TV that night. I know I am feeling like that right now. I would rather watch Dancing With the Stars for an entire day than suffer through this immense and interminable bore.
It is said that "Good things come to those who wait". I am hoping for a pony, at least.
The events of the past several weeks in Japan and Libya have focused my attention on a part of life of which I know very little, if anything.
During the 1960s and 70s I grew up in a home where virtually all pain, disappointment and heartache were ignored. My Mother in particular purposefully distracted me from the pain of others, or made tragic events seem as if they had not happened. When people would ask my Mom how she was doing, the answer was, invariably, "fine". It seemed as thought just about everything was always described as just "fine". "Fine" was one of my Mom's favorite words. As I grew up, I slowly began to realize that the world around me was anything but fine.
And in the past two weeks, the level of suffering and loss we have seen in the world, yet again, staggers the imagination. Entire villages washed away, families torn apart, lives shattered. The stories seem endless, the images riveting, the loss more immense than words could ever convey. There is a depth to this suffering that cannot be plumbed, or written about, or ever understood by most of us.
And this time, so strangely, we were able to watch the tragedy unfold in almost real-time, as a helicopter hovered over the eastern coast of northern Japan, and relayed live video of the tsunami washing away vast swaths of coastland, homes, and lives. Cars and buses which one moment were driving down coastal roads, had become in the next few moments, the final containers in which people would take their last breaths on this planet.
How can one even begin to comprehend the depth of sorrow, when you read of the couple who lost both of their children; because they were moved after the earthquake to the safe area in the playground of their elementary school, only to be carried away moments later by the waters of the tsunami? How can you empathize, how can you cope with this news? This is all too big, too overwhelming. Bright and promising lives, simple seaside villages, dignified elderly Japanese, all washed away in sudden 30 foot tsunami of suffering, obliterating everything in its path.
And in the midst of this, if I am honest, I must ask myself, where is God? Why did this happen? To these people, in this place. We have all read the stories of elderly Japanese who are now facing, yet again, a cataclysm of massive proportions. After the fire bombing of Japan at the end of World War II, and the complete erasure of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the older generation of Japan is bearing a burden for the second time, that no other nation has experienced in modern history. What is going on here? What could be the point of this? I confess I do not know, nor do I understand.
And is there Hope?
Niholas Kristof of the New York Times writes of the Japanese people,
"There’s a kind of national honor code, exemplified by the way even cheap restaurants will lend you an umbrella if you’re caught in a downpour; you’re simply expected to return it in a day or two. If you lose your wallet in the subway, you expect to get it back."
For the better part of the past 60 years, the Japanese people have endured unbearable hardships with dignity and grace. Watching this has brought tears to my eyes. Had this calamity been visited upon us, we Americans would likely be busy blaming one another on cable TV for who was at fault for not being well prepared. The tort lawyers would be lined up ready to sue. And there would likely be looting.
But the Japanese face this all with a quiet resolution that is resolute, yet full of dignity. There is a hiku by one of Japan’s greatest poets, Basho:
The vicissitudes of life.
Sad, to become finally
A bamboo shoot.
I think Japan will rise from this ruble, assisted by the world community, to go on teaching us about order, dignity, and hope. They already are an example to us all.