by Linda Hunt
In a Palm Sunday service, our Episcopal 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 and culminating with Easter morning’s joyous resurrection 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 that 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’ body and spirit.
To imagine His sense of human betrayal and then lingering for hours with almost unbearable physical suffering, this is the heart of a Biblical story that confounds. Then, to also imagine His mother watching helplessly adds 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 and comforting Jesus, one who lived radically and demonstrated justice and love for all. When my husband Jim, returned from Bolivia one spring, he mentioned noticing the difference in their creative focus throughout Holy Week, especially the elaborate parades and passionate ceremonies on Good Friday. In contrast, Easter Day celebrations seemed low key.
“In countries where so many persons endure marginalized life, there appears to be a deeper identification with the love expressed by the suffering Jesus and His passion?,” Jim noticed. “In America, I wonder if we seem to prefer our focus on Easter Day, with our emphasis on the risen Christ because it is 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 especially find compelling: the three hours of daytime darkness while Jesus slowly died, the veil in the temple rent in two from top to bottom, and the earth quaking when Jesus “yielded up His Spirit.”
And though I doubt I’ll ever fully understand the “why” of the crucifixion, those hours of dark anguish and agony, the meaningful words from one hymn ring true. “O, the deep deep love of Jesus. Vast,
unmeasured, boundless, free.”
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 May dawn to deliver news that our 25-year-old daughter Krista had been killed in Bolivia when a speeding 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 vision, “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 heart-shattered lives. There are times when each of us are immersed in unexplained mystery, in immeasurable sadness. When I hear stories from persons who are walking in the 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.
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 the research that show that even if one believes in life after death, it doesn’t take away the yearning, the longing for 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, “what was it like to be living in eternity? Had she met my brother Larry, also killed in his twenties in a car accident, or reunited with her grandparents, and her close friend Heather, who died of cancer at 22?”
This gave me a tiny glimpse into what the disciples and Jesus’ mother Mary 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 Great Gift that finds far deeper meaning after Lenten services that encouraged my restless resistant heart to contemplate the mystery of the Great Sorrow. For this I am grateful.
Linda Lawrence Hunt, Ph.D. is the author of Pilgrimage through Loss: Pathways to Strength and Renewal after the Death of a Child (Westminster John Knox Press) and co-founder of the Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship. Her blog site is www.pilgrimagethroughloss.com<
image: Good Friday on the Santa Anita Canal by Diego Rivera