They wanted to ask you, “Who are you?”
But they knew it was you:
all “Body 2.0” in a “Body 1.0” world.
My inner child, the one who loves you the most, says:
I want a turn!
Teach the rest of me to trust you more,
because Hope sometimes feels
like an explosive
strapped to my chest.
O root beer, my old friend:
How I will enjoy spending time with you again,
this Easter Season.
You’ve crossed my mind, lately,
but to be honest I haven’t missed you much:
I knew you would be there,
still waiting, after my short walkabout with the Rabbi.
I hope I will appreciate you more,
after making a little space for
“humans do not live by food and drink alone,
but by every word coming from the mouth of God.”
I hope your sweetness
reminds me, just a little, of
“taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who trust in him.”
It will be good to spend time with you again.
Cheers and kisses,
From my book, O Beautiful Dust:
All-powerful and Sovereign God:
This is the third day, when you raised your Son,
the world’s Saviour and True Light,
from his rest in a garden tomb
by the power of your Holy Spirit.
This is the day when you broke forever
the power of death, annihilated hell,
and condemned evil by your just judgment.
This is the day when all whom you call friends
celebrate Jesus Christ, firstborn of all creation,
through whom you call the whole universe
to enjoy you forever.
Grant that we,
living joyfully within in your story of liberation,
may do justice for all,
love others with acts of deep kindness,
and walk with you humbly
in the glory of your Triune radiance.
This is the third day,
when your people shout their deepest praise:
1. I have a good friend,
a fiery and earthy poet and activist,
who wondered aloud among friends
if there was something wrong with him
because the Feast of the Resurrection
doesn’t move him as it does others.
…but I don’t feel anything…
He reads his Bible, and he prays,
and that’s it.
2. Sometimes I wonder if he is a stronger Christian than I,
more disciplined in the Way of Life,
because he does the stuff,
works for justice,
tells the truth
without the holy “heebie-jeebies” that someone like me craves,
and then wonders what’s wrong when they are absent.
I wonder if, as he says, there’s an element of “performance Christianity”
in the emotion I sometimes feel in this time of year:
The Word going down to the bottom
of very thin soil. What happens
3. But mostly I just want to say,
to him and to anyone else who says
…but I don’t feel anything…
It’s possible that only God knows
what it feels like
–in the depths of Godself–
for the universe to shift on its axis.
From N.T Wright’s Easter Oratorio, a passage that never fails to move me about Holy Saturday. I remember a lecture in which he read the last stanza, and, as a punchline, added: “And on the eighth day, New Creation.” Ponder the mystery with me in these last moments before the sun sets on this holy Sabbath:
On the seventh day God rested
in the darkness of the tomb;
Having finished on the sixth day
all his work of joy and doom.
Now the Word had fallen silent,
and the water had run dry,
The bread had all been scattered,
and the light had left the sky.
The flock had lost its shepherd,
and the seed was sadly sown,
The courtiers had betrayed their king,
and nailed him to his throne.
O Sabbath rest by Calvary,
O calm of tomb below,
Where the grave-clothes and the spices
cradle him we do not know!
Rest you well, beloved Jesus,
Caesar’s Lord and Israel’s King,
In the brooding of the Spirit,
in the darkness of the spring.
― N.T. Wright,
I believe it was Karl Rahner, writing of Holy Saturday, who said:
Today is the day that “God is dead.”
The Eastern churches say:
On this holy day the creator rested from all His works.
As I ponder this paradox,
it seizes me:
If Jesus had not been willing to do this,
this Gentile boy might know nothing
about the character of God.
TRIGGER WARNING: mentions of rape, death, physical violence.
The radical Good News of the Messiah Jesus, according to John (12:27-33, brackets mine):
[Jesus said:] ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.
Abject and Crucified One:
Give us the grace and the courage to walk as children of light,
and include us now in the life of your coming Kingdom,
where you reign for ever and ever.
Critical theorists use the term abjection to refer to things that “disturb identity, system, [and] order”—the abject is “what does not respect borders, positions, [and] rules.” Something is abject when we feel so threatened that we have a visceral, gut-level response: fear, vomiting, revulsion. We know something is abject when we fear the world as we understand it will end—or even explode! Abjection, paradoxically, makes our worldview coherent, but only by making it the repressed centre of our understanding.
Who is ‘abject’? A young wife abused by her drunk husband so that he can maintain some delusional sense that everything is under control. A man with severe physical disabilities rolling down the street in an automated chair, drool glistening on his chin—deemed ugly and asexual. A gay man or trans* person beaten, a lesbian woman raped, by some local straight boys as their understanding of gender identity implodes and their internalized male privilege erupts. A child working in a sweatshop somewhere in Southeast Asia as a strapped-for-cash student (raises hand) thanks his lucky stars he can afford to buy shoes that won’t break the bank at the local super-corporate everything-in-one-place store. Abject: Out of sight, out of mind. If it, if they, came to mind, we would be faced with our refusal to face reality—so we don’t let them come to mind, and shove them under again, with our words–or our boots. Careful now—we might be faced with the sheer, stinking and rotten realities created by our own hearts and systems.
Jesus says in John that the world is under judgment, and “now the prince of this world will be driven out.” Jesus has been poking holes in the system by performing signs and wonders, and the keepers of the system, the ones helping to reinforce business-as-usual, want Jesus dead. If they face the reality of what Jesus represents, the whole system will come apart. So they want him to die, and Jesus knows it.
Interestingly, critical scholars who write about abjection say that we face it most in the presence of death or dying. We might be able to process death if a friend tells us about it, or if we see someone’s heartbeat flat-lining on a computer screen—these are things that exist in the symbolic order, things that are more-or-less manageable because they are at one remove from death and dying itself. But if we are present at a death: the death of a friend after an illness, or the implosion of a friendship, romance, or marriage—that moment often breaks something inside us. Reality, or at least the Shadow, comes in like a flood, sweeping to one side everything we thought we knew, everything we thought kept us safe.
According to John, Jesus has recently raised his beloved Lazarus from the dead. Let’s get specific, here: Jesus has raised Lazarus’ corpse to life again. For one incredible moment, the reality of human mortality in a world under the influence of the Satan has been utterly disrupted by the Voice of the Word made flesh calling him to life. And now the world—meaning the system under the control of its prince, the Adversary—is going to put Jesus to death. Jesus is about to become the abject, the shadowy “not-quite-a-thing” that the system has to ignore and suppress in order to continue.
BUT. (When we hear about disaster in the context of the Gospel, there’s always a ‘but’…)
Hear the words of Jesus: “But when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” Without violence, without fanfare, the stark reality of Jesus death has destroyed, is destroying, and will destroy Satan’s ability to keep humanity and our Earth under its control. In the foolishness of God, God makes the Abject One the light of the cosmos and the path to eternal life. The glory of God is the utterly despised and foolish Man hanging on a Roman cross. The ultimate symbol of death and the victory of the world becomes—because it is Godself who hangs there, subverting it—the gateway to the New Creation and the resurrection of the dead.
This is the scandal of the Gospel—“Christ crucified—a stumbling block to Jews” (because the Messiah can’t be a Roman criminal cursed by hanging on a tree, it makes no sense!) “and foolishness to Greeks” (the body is disgusting and corrupt, how could flesh ever save the world? It makes no sense!), “but to us who are being liberated, the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
When we remember the events of Holy Week, and especially when we gather at the foot of Christ’s cross on Good Friday, we find that we are standing in the presence of God, waiting for new life to erupt seemingly out of nowhere, from the very Centre of things. Perhaps the wrong sorts of people: the abused, and the disabled, and the Queer (along with anyone who finds that they, too, are partly responsible for the death and rot in the world), find the favour to walk as children of light. And let us make ourselves available, friends, to let God’s scandalous love, flowing through us, disrupt—if even for a moment—the hold of the Prince of this World over God’s beloved creation, which, in his Cross and Resurrection, Jesus is drawing to completion in Himself. May God grant that we find it so.
(I preached an earlier version of this reflection on Tuesday of Holy Week 2010, at Trinity College Chapel, Toronto.)