Thursday, March 20, 2008

Good Friday

I never understood why they called it Good. Nothing that happened that day was good. A gruesome death and I was there, weeping on the hillside, powerless to help my son. And it appeared, at the time, that my son was powerless too, despite his confidence, despite his faithfulness to his call, his clear mission, his understanding of what his spiritual parent desired for him, and for the society around him.

Good. No. I can never call that Friday good. Necessary, maybe, but I wonder. Perhaps I’ll always see my son’s life differently from everyone else. He wasn’t born to die. That much I’m sure of. I cradled my newborn infant in my arms, gazed into his intense brown eyes, those eyes that saw only me. His tiny fingers clutched mine, holding on for dear life.

And what a life. He took such joy in the simple things. The moon appearing in broad daylight, like a slice of melon in a blue sea. The intricate grain of olivewood sanded smooth. He was curious, so eager, into everything, so full of questions. I told him everything I knew, and he pulled from my mind and imaginings, teachings and tales I thought I’d long forgotten. He came with me to the well and the river. We trudged with our water jars and pile of soiled garments. We talked of justice, the law, the words of the prophets. He knew my every thought, and I knew his. He didn’t know at ten, chasing chickens in the courtyard that he was going to change the course of history. He didn’t know at thirty-three, hands strapped to a wooden cross, what would occur after his death.

He did know he was going to die. I knew it too. He made enemies each time he spoke, challenging the law, accusing the powerful of failing to live by the spirit of the law. As his name and influence spread, the religious authorities grew afraid and began plotting. You should have seen the energy around him. That’s what kept us going, kept us believing. We saw the healing that took place wherever he went. Illness evaporated, demons fled. He brought peace to the troubled, health to the sick. Crowds gathered everywhere he went, hungry for the taste of his words. We’d hear them later, walking back to their villages, beginning to question the old assumptions, ready to embrace this new law of radical love.

Word of him spread like wildfire. I didn’t ask my son or his friends to keep quiet, to keep silent to save his life. He said it himself, “Even if we said nothing, the stones would cry out.” Did he have to die? Did God require it? I can’t believe that. I know it came to that, but I always hoped there could have been another possibility, the path not taken.

In my deepest prayers, I envisioned that road. I closed my eyes, emptied my heart and saw a vision of the world Jesus said was possible. Pharisees and Sadducees and Scribes who put away their pride, who let go of their power over others long enough to listen, listen with all their hearts and souls and minds, to the words of my son and the testimony of his life. I saw them kneeling side by side with tax collectors and carpenters and Samaritans in the synagogues and temples, praying for signs of understanding. I prayed for them too, for openness, forgiveness, and mercy. I believed there could have been conversion and reform and hearts turned anew toward God who made us. The promise of a changed world that wouldn’t need death as its catalyst. I glimpsed a world that could embrace the possibilities for life that my son offered.

If it were up to me, what would I call it? Evil Friday? Lost Friday? Brokenhearted Friday? I don’t know. But I do know that the Great One took the events of that terrible day, took the death of my son, the death of hope, and fashioned something new and beautiful from the remnants.

Mary and I found the tomb empty. The smell of embalming spices clung to our hands as we wept into them, finding no body to prepare. My son had vanished. I didn’t know where or why or how. I can’t say that I understood the meaning and impact of that morning we now call Easter. Even after all this time, so much remains unclear in my mind, a mystery.

This is what I do know. The power of love always proves stronger than the power of death. The journey into the abyss can lead us into the light. Grief can lead to rejoicing. Somehow, my son lives on. The message he had for the world is still being spoken. Ordinary people like you and like me have been changed; we have been given hope, not only for ourselves, but for this world, through the life of Jesus. God has carved an eternal place for him in the heart.

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