April 2009

Standing at Golgotha

I wonder if any of his friends went out to Golgotha the next morning to look at his empty cross.  Was it still there silhouetted against the rising sun?  We know they were confused about everything that had happened, I would be too.  We want so much to keep life just as we know it. We would permit no loved one to die like this. The agony in such a loss has no name. It can only be felt as it tears up all the securities and leaves us in shambles.

If they had the choice, his friends would have kept Jesus just as they had known him. But his death, and our own, is not by choice but by necessity, like birth. Strange that our lives of choices begin and end with necessities. The night before, his friends pleaded with Jesus to stay with them. They knew he could do signs and wonders. Why couldn't he do this?  He seemed eager to die.  They were just as eager to have him remain.

They understood his death as a betrayal. Isn't death somehow a betrayal of friendship?  Isn't it the ultimate act of infidelity? Isn't a parent's death the cruelest form of child abuse? Does not death make love provisional and somehow unbelievable? If you leave me when I need you most, if you leave me when I cannot find my way without you and I don't know where you have gone, where is the love?

We, on the other hand, are never eager to depart. The first savior we seek is one who can spare us from the death we cannot abide. We want to stay young, pretty, and healthy and stay like that forever. We should be grateful our search is in vain. Such a savior would bring safety by confining us to a life limited to sameness.  Sameness imprisons us, locks out the future, and incarcerates us in the present. Sooner or later it would unsettle us with fear about a different future and with those who might impose it. Eventually we would be frightened of our own incapacity to generate new dreams and fresh visions.

What did they think when they saw the empty cross? Did they still believe? Did they have faith? Absence makes apostates of us all, at least in the first experience.  It's presence that makes us believers.  The ultimate act of faith is to see possibilities in emptiness.

Did they look at the empty cross with a sense of relief that the agony and the pain had stopped. They saw how much torment the human heart could bear before all the life is shaken out of it. We're they grateful when the crucified one was, at long last, taken down and that his hopeless search for comfort on the cross was finished.  They may have been, nonetheless, grateful with regrets. Death raises questions about whether it was avoidable.

The empty cross is an ambiguous symbol. We have learned little in our life if we have not understood that ambiguity is the way certainty manifests itself to sensitive and loving people.  The God of life is an abstraction until he dies.  Then, God is inescapable, buried in the deepest levels of human history, like seed not yet wheat.

The cross is empty now. They tell us the tomb will be empty also. Golgotha finds possibilities, presence in emptiness. Golgotha is the form emptiness takes when it is time for the present to pass. Until we lose everything, we cling to the present. We cannot give ourselves fully to the future while clutching the present.  Emptiness first, then Resurrection. There is no birth without an empty womb. There is no burial without an empty cross. There is no Resurrection until our hearts are so desperately empty that only the Spirit can fill them. In a few weeks, we'll go with him to Golgotha. We'll wait for the cross to be emptied. In the morning we'll see it outlined by the rising sun.

Fr. Timothy




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