Once upon a time there was a Sufi sage who needed to travel by ship to a far away country. He had never been asea before, and he boarded the vessel with a child-like wonder. Standing at the rail he watched as land shrank away, leaving only the ocean all around him. After that he found his berth and settled in.
A few days later a huge storm overtook the travelers. The ship tossed like a toy in towering waves that smashed across its deck, threatening to capsize it. All the passengers, and even the crew, were terrified. As people gathered below decks, they found among them the Sufi sage, who amazingly was calm, even curious.
Guessing that this fellow knew something they did not, everyone became a little less frightened. The storm seemed less fierce; their prospects less dire. And, sure enough, the ship emerged unscathed into calm seas and completed its journey.
When they had arrived safely and were disembarking, a curious fellow passenger drew the Sufi aside. “During the storm: how did you know that we would come to no harm?” he asked.
“I didn’t,” the Sufi replied.
Nonplussed, the other blurted out, “Then how did you remain so calm and cheerful? We were out there on a violent sea with almost no protection at all! Only a thin shell of metal separated us from death!”
The sage nodded. “Yes, out there on the sea we had only a thin bit of metal between us and death. Here on land, though, we don’t even have that much protection from death.”
With the shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, we have been reminded once more of how tenuous is our existence. Death walks side by side with us in every moment. We will not get out of here alive, and nor will our loved ones.
But Christ has been here before us. He teaches us the way into and through the transition of death. As we face our inevitable end, with the prospect of pain and fear we cannot, as humans, avoid, let us look to him. He is with us in all our moments, our good ones and our terrible ones. He doesn’t take away our pain any more than his pain on the cross was alleviated. He doesn’t remove our dread and our anger. But he demonstrates to us, by going ahead of us, that there is nothing to fear. He has conquered death. So will we.
The story of Holy week is how our incarnate God, God’s very self, is stripped of everything — friends, dignity, even faith. He embraces huge physical and psychological pain. He goes all the way to the end; he dies. And so we are never alone in our suffering, never alone in our indignity and never alone in our death. Hosanna!!