In a Palm Sunday service, our Episcopalian preacher quoted from novelist Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, “What we notice in stories is the nearness of the wound to the gift.”
During this liturgical season of Lent, the forty days of remembrance beginning with Ash Wednesday to this Easter morning’s joyous celebration, her words illuminated this faith journey.
In truth, I have often found the Biblical story of Jesus enduring the cross a profound mystery. Was there really no other way? A brutal death by crucifixion seems an unimaginable way to bear the essence in a story of Divine Love, that “God so loved the world he gave His only Son.” In Good Friday services, when Christians around the world gather in remembrance , I find myself restless, even resistant, as we ponder the devastating wounds to Jesus’s body and soul.
To imagine His sense of human betrayal and then lingering for hours with almost unbearable suffering, this is the heart of a Biblical story that confounds. Then, to imagine the anguish of His mother Mary watching helplessly adds even more to the heartbreak.
With daily news of brutal violence racking our contemporary world, I confess to prefer focusing on the daily actions of a compassionate comforting Jesus, one who lived radically and demonstrated justice and love for all. When my husband Jim, a college professor, returned from taking students to Central America one spring, he mentioned noticing the difference in the creative focus throughout Holy Week, especially with elaborate parades and passionate ceremonies on Good Friday. In contrast, Easter Day celebrations were low key.
“In countries where so many persons endure marginalized life, there appears to be a deep identification with the love expressed by the suffering Jesus and His passion,” reflected Jim. “In America, I wonder if we prefer to focus on Easter Day, with our emphasis on the risen Christ, because it’s a story of hope and optimism?” How true for me, I thought.
What we notice in stories is the nearness of the wound to the gift.
Yet, by giving attention to the mystery of the Great Sorrow, we are invited into a deeper understanding of the Great Gift. There are three details of the Biblical narrative that I find especially compelling: the region’s plunge into three hours of daytime darkness while Jesus slowly died, the veil in the temple rent in two, and the earth quaking when Jesus “yielded up His Spirit.”
I doubt I’ll ever fully understand the “why,” of the crucifixion, those hours of dark agony. But the words from one hymn ring true. “O, the deep deep love of Jesus. Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free.”
So though the cross seems confusing and mysterious, the words of writer Rainier Marie Rilke echo my trust in this narrative, “I believe in the night,” says Rilke. This great darkness that embraces everything.
Because near the Great Sorrow lies the Great Gift.
A Gift that our family so needed when two friends came to our door one beautiful May dawn to deliver news that our 25-year-old daughter, Krista, had been killed in Bolivia when a bus plunged over a cliff. Krista and her husband, Aaron, were on a three-year mission of voluntary service with indigenous families in the remote river valley of Banada de la Cruz.
Her last words in a journal expressed the source of her strength and joy, “All my springs of joy are in You.” Her hope was to live in a way that served God and God’s beloved people. Her early death made no sense in our human understanding and our heart-shattered lives. There are times when each of us are immersed in unexplained mystery, in unmeasurable sadness. When I hear stories from persons who are walking in their pilgrimage of loss, in the raw wound of sorrow, the magnitude of the mysterious Gift of Easter emerges. Earth-shattering, curtain-rending defeat of death’s dominion.
For in Christ’s resurrection also comes the astounding promise of everlasting life.
A Poverty of Imagination
Like most of us, I have a poverty of imagination on what eternity might look like. However, there is no question that believing in Jesus’ joyful promise offers a measure of peace while living with the earthly loss of our beloved daughter. But my own experience also aligns with research that shows that even if one believes in a life after death, this doesn’t take away the yearning, the missing of the physical presence for the one we love.
Sorrow carves deep, but now companioned with quiet joy.
As poet Mary Oliver wrote,
“We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same body.”
I recall a moment walking on a high mountain lane near Priest Lake where we share a cabin with friends. For some reason, I began imagining how wondrous it would be if Krista walked towards me down the road. I felt my excitement rise just thinking of what it would be like to see her again. I remember I would have wanted to ask her, “What it is like to be living in eternity? Had she met my brother Larry, also killed in a car accident at 23, or reunited with her grandparents, and her close friend Heather who died of cancer at 21?” This gave me a tiny glimpse into what the disciples must have felt at the astonishing return visits of Jesus, and the joy and hope this infused in their lives.
It is dawn on Easter morning and the aroma of home-baked almond croissants wafts through our kitchen. I am up early to prepare an Easter ham for a brunch with friends at our home. I’m looking forward to Easter’s celebration at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Washington as we join with faith communities around the globe affirming in music and words, “He is risen…He is risen indeed!”
A Gift that finds deeper meaning after Lenten services that encouraged my restless heart to contemplate the mystery of the Great Sorrow.
For this I am grateful.
Happy Easter to each of you!