Good Friday: Reliable Narrators
"...all the ends of the earth shall remember"--Psalm 22:27
On October 11th and October 13th, I can tell you what was going on at 10:45am and 8:30am, and on December 18th at 1pm, the days I first held my children. I recall these days, hours well, who was there, how it felt. They are indelibly inked in my brain, on my soul.
As love has the capacity to take us to the mountain tops, so it can take us to deep ravines,
like the week in February when my infant son was hospitalized with RSV, a virus
coating his lungs like tar, making it hard for him to breathe. His lungs eventually cleared, but not before we'd met and gotten to know the entire respiratory staff at the hospital. I later officiated at a number of their weddings.
We remember highs in our life stories, and lows. They have staying power.
Today, from noon to 3pm, we think about Jesus hanging on a cross, suffocating under the weight of the world, and the weight of his body.
Holy week takes us from a mountain top with Jesus, the air still resonant with "Hosannas!" and traveling from that Mount of Olives to Jesus weeping over Jerusalem as he approaches, crying out, "If you, even you, had recognized the things that make for peace!" (Luke 19:42) Much has transpired in this Holy Week...feet have been washed, the Last Supper served, Jesus denied and betrayed.... and today the cross, the instrument of death.
In this last week Jesus says, "Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there you will be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
Now my soul is troubled. What should I say--'Father, save me from this hour'?
No it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.
Father, glory your name." (John 12:25-28)
"Now my soul is troubled...." Jesus says.
This is the deep darkness of Good Friday, the dark story line of humanity, of what we can do to one another, what life can do to us, the story of how God can feel far away and absent, unattentive to our cries.
It's a day when we think of both the light and dark of it all. The "Good" in a very bad Friday.
Southern writer Flannery O'Connor said, "What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.
It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can't believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God."
"Faith is the cross," she writes. Today we remember, as if we were there, we are not far from the cross.
We are in the crowd saying, "Crucify him."
We are in the crowd grieving his murder.
We are in the wings, fearful of devoting our lives to him, denying we know him.
We are selling off our lives, betraying our faith for other things we deem valuable.
We are anointing him for what lies ahead, giving him all we have.
We are playing politics, wanting to curry favor with humans instead of with God.
We are washing our hands of him and whatever claims he might stake on our lives.
We are rule followers, doing our duty, blindly, nailing him and all he stands for, onto a cross. We kill the very voice of God so we don't have to hear it anymore, so we don't have to change.
God seeks to speak to us in human voice, in our language, the language of flesh and blood, through the thin reeds that are human vocal chords. God comes to speak to us
to tell us what God's reign is all about: love, grace, forgiveness, mercy, kindness.
And we humans? We destroy what is not familiar, what challenges us.
We kill the voice of God so we can keep on keeping on with our power structures in place, so we can rule. Instead of God's reign, it will be Our reign, we think, instead of God's kingdom, Ours, which means we are bent, in so many ways, on our own destruction. And, if we think that was then, and this is now, think again.
We take a good long look at the cross, the blood, sweat, and tears of it.
Good Friday is a day we take a long, serious look at the darkness in the life
of faith, because on this day, humanity was trying to extinguish the light.
Before his death, Jesus says, "I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness...I came not to judge the world,
but to save the world." (John 12:46-47)
And we? We as by-standers of faith and/or followers of Christ? How do we take the narrative of the life of Jesus the Christ and weave it with our narratives?
I first heard about reliable narrators while studying The Great Gatsby in high school.
Was the character Nick Carraway a reliable narrator, as he told the story of Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan, and their lives in East and West Egg? In our lives, though we may wish to be, and often I dearly wish to be, we are not omniscient narrators. We don't know the full story. We are not the authors of our stories. We, are not the authors of our stories.
God is. Just as Jesus, in his suffering, trusted God with his story.
Wikipedia will tell you, "A main characteristic of a reliable narrator is his or her proximity in values to the implied author." What makes a reliable narrator? If the narrator tells the truth.
Within the last few weeks, the U.S. House Financial Services subcommittee has been holding hearings about $200 million dollars that were moved three days before the securities firm MF Global Holdings Ltd. collapsed. Jon Corzine, former CEO at Goldman Sachs and MF Global says, "he never directed anyone to misuse customer funds." Edith O'Brien, an assistant treasurer says she was asked to move the $200 million, and there is email proof, that she was following Corzine's orders. Someone in the story is not a reliable narrator.
To enter into the Good Friday narrative, of Jesus, Suffering Servant, a human being who is "Beloved" of God, who is the embodiment of a loving God, who has done everything right, and gets tortured for it? To enter into this, is to realize the tragic nature of life. Easter will shine and tell us the rest of the story, but today? On Good Friday we remember a sadness so deep that the earth shakes, rocks split, the curtain rips, the light seems to flicker, then fade to black.
Can we pin our woe on the cross, and let it hang there? Can we ask God to bring meaning to our suffering? Can we pray for deliverance from God, from whatever it is that hurts us, trusting God to deliver us in some way, shape, or form? Can we brave the loneliness that comes with doing the right thing, in an environment that may not honor that? Can we cry out, "God, into Your Hands, I commend my spirit?"
Either the story is ending here at the cross, the story ends with death, the story ends with denial, betrayal, suffering, and loved ones witnessing this suffering, which, for those of us who have lived that, we know what that is to witness a loved one suffering. Either it ends here, or something else is happening. God is choosing a different ending, but we have to wait for it. Meaning attaches to suffering, eternal life is coupled with death, hope emerges from our very darkest of days.
The American philosopher William James, referred to people who had survived great illness or loss as being "twice born"... They have "drunk too deeply of the cup of bitterness to ever forget its taste, and their redemption is into a universe two stories deep."
You know people, and I know people, who have had to drink very deeply of the cup of suffering. I had a friend, who has experienced great suffering, email me just this week saying, "Holy week is always a tough one for me to get through."
It reminds me of a story that was covered over. People did not want to admit the truth, but the truth surfaced in two people who insisted it rise, who would not let it be buried with time, would not let it be submerged any longer in the salty waters of the Baltic Sea. The truth will always surface eventually, and as Jesus says, "the truth will set you free."
This story is from Yantarny, Russia, known as Palmnicken, during World War II. It's considered the last Holocaust Act of World War II, and one no one knew about it, because so many tried to change the narrative, in fact, a whole community said, "It never happened." But, two voices came forward. Two voices said, "This is a true story."
"At the start of the death march in Konigsberg, they numbered about 7,000 -- the vast bulk of them women, most quite young, all clad in wooden-soled shoes, thin rags emblazoned with yellow six-pointed stars and telephone wire belts on which were strung their cups and tin-can bowls. By the time they reached a vacant lock factory in this nondescript seaside village, after two days and 25 miles of brutal winter weather, there may have been 4,000 left," writes Michael Wines, of the New York Times. No one was ever tried or sentenced for the death of the 7,000 women and children. The two credited with remembering this? Both Christians, Gunter Nitsch, whose family were Nazis, and Martin Bergau, a teenage eye-witness at the time. Nitsch, who was a child at the time, was often that he was making up the story, that what he recalled was not true. There was no such narrative, according to the community of over a million who denied the story.
Of the death march 7,000 women and children, there were 13 survivors. Dora Hauptman, one of the fifteen, swam deeply into the Baltic after a man told her, '''someone must survive to describe their barbarity.''' Shot once in the hand, she crawled ashore and was taken in by a heroic German woman, Bertha Pulver, who hid her until the Red Army arrived on April 15."
Nitsch wanted this story to surface, to be known, to honor the missing, the murdered.
He worked hard to get this story out. There are still people who deny it ever occurred.
How is God working in the narrative of your life?
How is God working through the suffering in your life?
How are you, as a reliable narrator, of your life? As a reliable narrator to the story of faith that has been passed to you, which you pass on to others?
Sunday, we hear the next chapter, how the Author of our lives has writ large the story of salvation and resurrection, the "More to Come!" of eternity. The story continues with the Risen One appearing first to the women, then to the disciples, and to many faithful witnesses.
This is our story, as people of faith. To "...proclaim the Lord's deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it! --Psalm 22:31
"Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" the Apostle Paul asks, "Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" (Romans 8:35-39)
This Good Friday, live out the answer to these questions with your life.
You are charged to live out your story....
― Flannery O'Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor
--"Email Ties Corzine to Missing Funds," by Mike Spector, Julie Steinberg, and Aaron Lucchetti, The Wall Street Journal, Saturday/Sunday March 24-25, 2012 edition.
-"Yantarny Journal; Russians Awaken to a Forgotten SS Atrocity," by Michael Wines, The New York Times, January 31, 2000
Follow Rev. Susan Baller-Shepard on Twitter: www.twitter.com/yoursbc