Flooding the Depths
Beloved in Christ,
In the magnificent preface to his book, Faith and Violence, Thomas Merton recounts a story from Rabbi Baal Shem Tov. Two men travel through a forest, one is drunk and the other sober. Along the way they are attacked, beaten, and robbed. When they emerge on the other side, people ask them how it went. The drunk man quickly replies, "We had a great trip. Everything was fine." The people ask, "Then why are you all bloody and your clothes torn?" And the sober man says,"Do not believe him. It was a disaster. . .be warned by what happened to us." Merton uses this as a parable to reflect on how the American Church in the 1960's was largely asleep to the systems of violence being perpetrated in manifold ways both at home and around the world.
Many people, both in and outside the church, imagine that faith is a program that spares us from pain and suffering. In its most superficial proclamation, the Christian hope can come across as simply a wish to escape the challenges of bodily existence for some ethereal afterlife. In the face of the massive brokenness, injustice, and pain in the world, it can make us look like the drunk man emerging from the forest.
Holy Week, which begins this Sunday, offers a sobering and transformational corrective. Walking with Jesus from the soaring expectations of Palm Sunday, to the betrayal and loneliness of Maundy Thursday, to the catastrophe and agony of Good Friday, brings us into the depths of human cruelty and depravity, and the shameful injustices perpetrated by those who are desperate to maintain power.
Holy Week is not particularly popular, and attendance at its liturgies is generally a tiny fraction of Easter Day. It makes sense. Keeping Holy Week demands something that is hard from us (in addition to going to church several days in a row). They ask us to come face to face with the pain in our own hearts and lives, the suffering in the world, and the systemic sins in which we participate and are complicit. It hurts to do that.
But, beloved, here's the deal: unless we sit with Jesus in the depths of the real pain and loss that being human inevitably involves, then Easter joy really is mere anesthesia, a facade of wishful thinking, another distraction, and we are no different than the drunk man emerging from the forest. Easter is not a nice idea, it's not a useful metaphor, it's not wishful thinking. Easter is nothing less than the God who made all things entering into the bitter depths of all the suffering you, and I, and the whole world knows, and defeating death itself, not by becoming one more violent actor on a violent stage, but by flooding the depths with perfect love. As we walk the way of the cross with Jesus again, may we see our own and others' suffering, wide eyed and sober, not as ones without hope, but as people who know that the power of Jesus has set us free, and enlisted us in God's project to flood the whole broken world with the healing waters of love.
Grace and Peace,
The Right Reverend Craig Loya