A personal Easter reflection on the Friday in Easter Week, April 26, 2019
This morning, a dear friend and I, over strong cups of Columbian dark roast, mused, soberly, about our mortality. We didn’t think our tête-à-tête morbid. Rather, as each of us continues to move through our seventh decade (seemingly speedier by the day!), we are aware that we have more life and labor behind than before us. Thus, we considered our conversation, in a word, timely, and, in another word, real.
At one point, he said, “Paul, when I pass…”
I interjected, gently, “When you pass? Where?”
“You know,” he answered, “when I leave.”
“Leave?” I asked.
Catching my point, my friend laughed and I with him at his employ of these still standard, socially acceptable euphemisms for death. Afterward and throughout this afternoon and into the evening, the more I thought about it, the more I contemplated or rather re-contemplated the gospel story of the death of Jesus.
The Bible doesn’t dress up Jesus’ death in artistic allegory. The depiction is real. Jesus was arrested without justifiable cause, tried and convicted without incriminating evidence, stripped naked, spat on, beaten and bloodied, compelled to carry the instrument of his own death, nailed to a cross, nails tearing into his flesh, left to hang there, and finally, exhausted, suffocating under the weight of his own body.
Life is not always like this, but it is like this. Innumerable, horrible moments – before and after Jesus’ death and unto this day, and, doubtless, beyond – are innumerable and horrible. So, at least, Jesus’ death squares with our worldly experience. It’s real.
As such, we can look through the lenses of our lives, our experiences of being human, at the mirror of this story in the hope, in the trust that we might glimpse a fair (not comely, not pretty, but honest) reflection.
The image I see is sin.(1) From the Greek, hamartia, literally meaning, “to miss the mark.”(2) Sin, as I understand it, is less about iniquity, our falling short of some standard of morality and more about our falling short of an essential human authenticity. We, by nature, are less than true to ourselves, to others, and to God.
From the beginning of time, it seems to me that we have dealt with our sin in two basic ways.
We internalize it, blaming and beating up on ourselves, listening to the long-playing, never-ending psychological tapes of our characteriological flaws, which we, sometimes, objectify as if they were separate, wholly other beings.
We externalize it, blaming and beating up on others, recording and reciting their flaws; sometimes, demonizing them, their flaws becoming for us the personification of their whole human beingness.
Either way and to whatever the degree, we seek scapegoats. We make victims.
Some of our historically grandiose efforts, we call wars. Some of our acceptable, legal efforts, we call justice. But whatever, no matter, a victim is chosen, blame is cast, violence is done, blood is shed.
Whenever I am reminded of this fearsome, fulsome aspect of our humanity, I see afresh the wonder and feel the power of Easter. The resurrection of Jesus, which, necessarily, involved his death on a cross, tells me that God joins us, sharing in our concrete experience of life as we know it. Even more, God takes the side of the scapegoat, the part of the victim. Still more, Jesus’ resurrection means that there are to be no more scapegoats, no more victims.
“No more!” This is the cry from heavenly places and deepest earth.
“No more!” This is the cry from the heights of our reason and the depths of our hearts.
Nevertheless, another Easter Day has come and gone. And, like Easter Day and everyday before and after it, we live in a world that has not understood or embraced this message of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, this message of the cross and the empty tomb. And in that invincible ignorance, a world that keeps seeking and making sacrificial victims.
I wonder. What in heaven’s name, what in the world would life look like if we acted as if the Easter message were true? If we, with the words of our lips and the deeds of our lives said, “No more!”?
(1) Usually, I would speak only for myself, however, here, I do dare say that what I see (i.e., sin) I consider common for and in all of us.
(2) Previously, I wrote about sin (paulrobertsabernathy.com: My Theological Opinion…On Evil and Sin, March 28, 2019)
Illustration: Detail, Crucifixion of Christ, Matthias Grünewald (c. 1470-1528). Note: I favor this depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus because it presents the unsanitized reality of his bloody, gory death.