Meditation on the last words of Christ: “It is finished.”
Good Friday, 10 April 2009
Central Christian Church, Fairmont, West Virginia
Christ did not use those English words. He spoke in Aramaic. His words went from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English, with possibly other languages thrown in before we heard our version of them. Usually, our translation is “it is finished,” although another accepted one is “it is accomplished,” which in English is at least a little different. So, I don’t even pretend to know exactly what the message was. Something ended. What? The crucifixion. That wild week in Jerusalem from the “Hosanna!” on the way in to the “Crucify Him” on the way out. Christ’s three-year whirlwind ministry, that was over. And His earthly life, his heartbeat, The End.
In every beginning, there is the seed of an end. The Book of Ecclesiastes talks about “a time to be born, a time to die, a time to every purpose under heaven.” The Byrds, a folk rock group, put that to music in the ‘60's. That’s where I first learned it. It’s hard to get used to the fact that you have to have an end. There has to be an end to your earthly life. There even has to be a last time you walk into this physical church. But the really tough nut to crack is that in every end, there is a beginning. Somewhere in my reading over the years, I ran across this:
“Living is a process of continually being born again. The trick is to learn how to make that crucial exit without suffering the trauma each time.”
So on that oddly named “Good Friday,” the days of delusional kings ended. The day of a genuine King arrived, and his crown of thorns was more noble than anything gold David and company ever wore. When the crucifixion was finished, so were centuries of blood sacrifices. The cross took that one big sacrifice, even though I still don’t understand it. It was the end of the Old Covenant, and the dawn of the New Covenant, the one that we commemorate at His Table. We crossed the line between “Some day . . .” and “We’re here . . .”
It would be nice to come to Good Friday service, continue last night’s Tenebrae time of deep mourning, recoil at the details (even though the wounds we talk about aren’t nearly as gruesome as the real ones), then spend Saturday in some sort of vigil/limbo/ sackcloth/prayer thing. Then we’d get up on Sunday to springtime sunshine, shout “He is risen!,” and after church head home for the race or the ball game or to sneak some chocolate bunnies, and that’s all there is. Easter over, the end, we now return to our regular programming.
It doesn’t work that way. In this weekend, there is a beginning. I’m finding that being a Christian isn’t easy. It isn’t even easy to be a clueless Christian. Christ’s end on earth created a new beginning - in this case, an obligation – to speak His Word; to act according to His Word; to help the other person to her feet when she falls; to get up ourselves when we fall; and never to give up. And we do that until for each of us, “it is finished” or our mission right here and right now “is accomplished.” Then we have another new beginning. Just what that is, I don’t know. I just know that where He’ll take me is better than where I’ve been.
[LaJ did two meditations, one of which I would grade "superior," and I've urged her to flog it around for publication. She writes in a more conventional, smoother and better organized fashion than I do, not nearly so personal or curmudgeonly.]
Big Doin’s This Day
Things have been sewage in a blender since Thursday night. Or even Vishnu on a rotisserie. We’ve seen arrests by non-police and what amounts to four trials. The first, by the Sanhedrin, found our guy guilty of something they didn’t name, but they couldn’t think of a punishment. The second was a fizzle because the tribune moved jurisdiction to the locals. The local sort-of-king had a jolly time and kicked the case back to the tribune, who found our guy not guilty, then ordered him executed anyway so the rubes would shut up.
And this morning, the tomb is empty.
Something is going on, I tell you.
This is my path.
Beats me what your path is. If you don’t have one, I hope you find one. Sometimes, the darn thing will come and find you. Oddest thing.
Universal Lessons from Easter Experiences
Thursday night was Maunday Thursday and a time in the Christian Church for a service known as “Tenebrae.” This is Greek (I think), roughly translated as “time of darkness.” It represents the fact that Christ was arrested after dark and was manhandled around Jerusalem in the dark of the night. It symbolizes the spiritual darkness of that next day, as well as the mid-day physical darkness of that again oddly named “Good Friday.”
The religious meaning is all well and good, and to me Tenebrae is one of the two most important and meaningful services of the year. For everyone, It is important to recognize that lessons for life are available in many places and from many teachers. Even if one does not follow the Christian spiritual path, there is a deep and powerful lesson to be found in this idea of Tenebrae.
Early in the Tenebrae service, the church is “stripped.” All of the decorations, finely embroidered cloth, candlesticks, gilt-edged Bibles, everything shiny and pretty, flags, all of it is removed. What cannot be removed is shrouded in black. Symbolically, the church is reduced to nothing, a bare room, zero. There are similar teachings in other philosophical systems and training experiences, where students or candidates are set upon a path which at some point leaves them (at least symbolically) totally destitute and totally alone. The student must turn her thoughts inward and really believe that she has no house, no money, no job, nor even food for her next meal.
These times happen to us, to each of us. Thinking about them is painful, but vital. Considering them in advance, symbolically, is healthy and helpful. These times and trials may sneak up on us. And so it helps us to make this journey in a symbolic world, where it’s easier to organize our thoughts to prepare just a little for the times when the placid pond of our life turns out to be a toilet bowl, and someone pulls the flush handle.
Think back: I bet you remember a day which started out as an ordinary day, and you remember getting up on this ordinary day and doing ordinary things, and yet you remember this ordinary day as you remember almost no other ordinary day, because as the day went on something extraordinarily bad happened. Suddenly, you were in a different world or maybe you were no place or no world at all, at least not one that you recognized. There was nothing around you that you could identify and hold onto and no one who you could talk to. These are our times of darkness, these are the times we are reduced to total destitution, be it destitution of purse, or heart, or spirit, or body.
And when it happens what can we do? Do we rely on people? Oh, we know a lot of people. I bet you have a lot of acquaintances. It is a hallmark of West Virginia life that we appear to have so many, many friends, for we use many personal endearments in conversation. People we know fairly well are often “buddy” or “honey” or “sweetie” or the like. And in a time of a little need, it doesn’t cost much to reach out to someone, it does not require a strip of flesh, merely a little time. But what about the occasions when you have real trouble? Can you rely on your acquaintances.
As a “character” and a curmudgeon, perhaps I have fewer acquaintances than other people. I watch others go to social functions (elimination dinners come to mind - a duller form of entertainment I cannot imagine) and “work the room.” I am amazed by that. How in the world do you walk up to total strangers, introduce yourself and start a conversation? It’s all quite beyond me. One of my former partners has a daughter, Lisa, who is magnificently gifted at communicating with total strangers. I am in awe of the way she works a room, has people talking animatedly to her, and genuinely smiling at her. As for me, at those affairs, I will get my coke or my stage prop beer (which will last all night with about three sips), take a seat off to the side, and if someone wants to talk to me, by God, they are welcome to come and talk. Well, these are not the kinds of relationships that one depends on when life takes a horrible turn.
So the concept of friends now comes to mind. How many friends do we have? How many friends do you have? Who do we rely on? Who can we safely rely on? And after a few of these toilet flush experiences, and after we are burned by people we regarded as friends, who will we then be willing to rely upon? Perhaps that is a strength of this symbolic journey to the place of destitution, that we can think upon these things and find what matters to us and who matters to us and what we can depend on im ourselves, and who we can depend on in our lives.
This journey to destitution can also give us perspective and even joy. A part of my routine is that on most days, I meet my buddy Dave for coffee at Classics Café and we solve many of the world’s problems before Fairmont has really come awake. We sit at a table right at the front window where we can observe the scene and see the people driving bym walking by, many of whom wave at us and we wave back. We are right up by the front door, so we always greet whoever comes in, and since Dave sits closer to the door, he will pop up and open the door for the bread man or the coke man when they come to deliver, and then make a grumpy response when I again make the stale joke about him needing striped pants if he is going to be a doorman. Last week, a guy we hadn’t seen for months came in one morning. Weather has been moderating, but it was a pretty chilly morning, with the temperature somewhere in the 30s. Nevertheless, this guy had on his knee length shorts, sneakers and a Hawaiian shirt. He had bushy shoulder length hair and a Fu Manchu mustache and looked like he’d had a hard working man’s life. But he was perking along and he was upbeat and he got his cup from Jeri and filled it with coffee from the urn and sat down a couple of tables away. He took that first sip of coffee and smiled and you could tell was on his mind: “Man, that’s living.” I’m not sure, but perhaps if you can go there to that place of destitution or to that place where life has been hard maybe you can take that first sip of coffee and say, man, that’s living, and be content with what you have.