An Easter Reflection

Posted: 30 March 2013 in Faith and Life

Warning: Christian theological stuff ahead. Not for all tastes.

You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes well you might find

You get what you need

(The Rolling Stones)

Where is God? I’ll tell you. We’ve killed him, you and I! We are all his murderers. But how could we have done this? How could we gulp down the oceans? Who gave us a sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from the sun? Where is it going now? Where are we going now? Away from all suns? Aren’t we falling forever, backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions at once? Do up and down even exist any more? Aren’t we wandering in an infinite void? Don’t we feel the breath of empty space? Hasn’t it become colder? Isn’t night coming on more and more all the time? Shouldn’t we light lanterns in the morning?..

God is dead, God remains dead, and we have killed him. How can we, the worst of all murderers, comfort ourselves? The holiest and mightiest thing that the world has yet possessed has bled to death beneath our knives!

(The Madman in Nietzsche’s The Gay Science)

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, la ma sabach tha ni?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

(Jesus, from the cross)

Of course, what the Rolling Stones don’t get into in their well-known song is… “What happens when you get what you want?” (They did not answer it in that song but perhaps they started getting into it in this one).

Or maybe better, “What happens when you get what you think you want?”

And what do we want? What do we really want? (Or at least what do we think we really want?)

And what does any of this have to do with Easter?

Well let me riff on the Stones a bit here and suggest the following breakdown of “holy week”—which ends with that fateful day that changed everything.

So let’s call Palm Sunday the day we get what we think we want. Monday through Thursday are about waking up—first in disappointment, but later in a childish tantrum rage—when we realize that, in fact, we did not get what we thought we wanted on Palm Sunday. Thursday is the day, finally, when we get what we want. Followed by Friday when, shall we say, the “implications” of what we want (and what we got) become painfully clear. And Easter? Well, we’ll get to that in a moment.

On Palm Sunday we said we wanted a king—one that would get the feet of those damned Romans (those damned parents, that damned school teacher, that damned government, my damned upbringing, my damned “friends”, my damned responsbilities…) off our necks. Oh sure we said we wanted a king but what we really wanted was someone who would take care of all the crap that was holding us back and let us be free—liberated to be the kind of people we deserved to be.

We wanted autonomy.

This is what we have always wanted. And if Adam was too cowardly to take the step to act on that desire, well then Eve was there to lend him a hand and all this means is that all of us wanted it. We have always wanted it and we have worked pretty damn hard for a pretty long time to get it. What I am saying is… this is in our hearts. This is our dream. And we are “for” kings or presidents or others who will help us get it but we will also turn on all of them when they either fail to obtain it for us or when we get a taste of it (but never the real thing); and the only difference between democracy and revolution in this regard has to do with the quantity and quality of blood that is spilled to try to get it (and kick out those who don’t deliver).

So Palm Sunday wends its way pretty predictably to Maundy Thursday because once the hosannas die out and the reality of what this guy is saying and doing becomes clear, and we realize that he intends to bring the whole mess down on our heads (at least that’s how we see it in our “wisdom”) and instead of freedom we will only get more of the same old bondage shit. Well, we get mad—I mean, really mad.

What we don’t realize is that we have created systems that assure us that we will never be made free. We will never attain the autonomy we desire. How do I know that? Because the systems we had at hand led to the death of the only innocent man—I mean the only truly innocent, good, sinless (take your pick) man the world has ever known. Yes, I said “ever”.

So on Thursday we go back to the garden and we pick the fruit again and we say “Thanks but no thanks, God. Would you mind just getting the fuck out of here? We have a long way to go before we sleep and we need our space. We need to work it out. We need you to leave us alone.”

And so on Thursday we finally get what we want. We kill God and with that final breath

We… Are… Free. (Free at last, free at last, thank humanity almighty we are free at last.)

When I was little I was told that when Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” this meant that God had turned his back on his son. The reason given was that Jesus had been loaded down with all the nasty sin of all humankind of all time and God turned away because God is Holy and God cannot look on sin. That is what I was taught. But I don’t think that can be right. I mean, God, by that time (and certainly since) had already seen a helluva lot of sin and God never turned away before. God, if the records are accurate, seems to have turned towards the humans doing all that nasty stuff and continued to pursue them despite the sin (and the desperate situations in which humans found themselves as a result).

Don’t get me wrong… I think Jesus knew exactly what was going on here and I think, in fact, that God did abandon him. But not for the reasons I was taught. Jesus came preaching a message about not what we want but what we need. Jesus’ message was always—you need God. The God who will sustain you. The God who will love you. The God who will walk with you. The God who will heal the brokenness brought on by your dreams of autonomy.

But we did not want to hear that message. We wanted (we want still) to cling to the dream of absolute freedom. The dream of growing up as a human race. The dream of conquering all challenges. The dream of doing it alone. The dream of a tower to heaven. The dream of absolute evolution towards the divine.

(Look, I am talking about what I find in my own heart on the matter. Maybe your experience is different but I am getting old enough to stop bullshitting myself. I know the foregoing is true.)

And so when it became clear that this Messiah was not going to give us what we wanted we disposed of him and… he accepted it. Not only did he accept it, he embraced it. He went willingly to that place of death when he easily could have done away with all opposition (you and I know he could have). And then he revealed the devastating truth of what it means when we get the dream of autonomy. He revealed it to everyone—to all powers, to all people of all time.

He revealed, on the cross, what it looks like when God gives us what we say we want. God turned away and the only just man died in the void that only a madman could articulate. Nietzsche’s mad man was right. When God finally gives us what we say we want… well then all hell really does break loose.

And I think we started seeing that almost right away—certainly by the end of Good Friday—after the darkness and the earthquakes and the gnashing of teeth that comes with the understanding that the universe cannot hold together. When God turns away—when God abandons us—it is the end. We saw it but Jesus tasted and he willingly drank the dregs of the reality of God’s abandonment. “My God, My God…” May as well have been “The horror, the horror…”

Kind of gives new meaning to what Jesus meant when he said “Take up your cross and follow me…” What it seems to suggest to me is that what he is really saying is “If you start down this path with me, you are going to stumble into some dark corners. You are going out in a world in which people have for so long asked God to ‘just go away’ that God has obliged. You are going out into the abandonment.” I know because I have been spending some time out there. And out there, alone—well let me be honest, I think it is making me mad.

But, thankfully, there is Easter. And so we return to the Stones. If Palm Sunday was getting what we thought we wanted. And if Monday through Thursday of Holy Week were about realizing that we did not get what we thought we wanted on Palm Sunday. And if Thursday was the day, finally, when we got what we wanted. Then Easter is about getting what we need (and we did not have to try at all).

What we need is to be brought back from “the abandonment”. What we need is grace extended from a loving Father who is longing to be in relationship with his children. What we need is a chance to choose mutual dependency and a way into living what we were always meant to be: not creators of life, but partners in its sustenance; not the all powerful one, but imbued with power to help heal; not the all knowing one, but having wisdom to live lives of truth; not gods, but children of God—beloved and able to love.

Easter is God showing the world that death cannot impound the truth. It is God pointing out to all of us that the world we have created in our quest for autonomy is not only bankrupt but it is also defeated. It is God showing that the message of Jesus bore about our need for God is true.

Happy Easter.

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