In his opinion piece in yesterdays Saturday Age newspaper Martin Flanagan wrote:
Each year, Good Friday gets to me in a way that Easter Sunday doesn't. I don't believe in the resurrection because I don't know of anything like it that's happened. On the other hand, I believe good people are tortured and put to excruciating deaths every day around the world.
I thought for some time about that statement. There is of course a great deal of truth in what he has written. Violence, cruelty, torture and death are always thrust before our eyes. Often we try to avoid it, seldom can we deny it, but most often it breeds in us a feeling of powerlessness. If the violence is thousands of miles away we experience a sense of pity and even compassion toward those who suffer, but that "What can I do about it?" thought quickly takes control of our minds.
When the pain, suffering and cruelty are closer at hand, we may try to solve the problem, or remove the source that is creating this misery, but we still harbour the nagging suspicion that hate is stronger than love and suffering does overshadow joy and hopefulness. Of course there is an answer to this apparently insurmountable dilemma and that is that we as a human community commit ourselves to work for hope, justice and compassion in our world. Ah! But that seems so unbelievable. Is it imaginable, let alone possible for our world to embrace such a "romantic" vision of the world and work together for a new world order of peace and justice?
The Bud and the Blossom
I used the quote from the author Anaïs Nin on Palm Sunday that goes "and the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."
Now I know that is a rather enigmatic statement. But there is a fundamental truth about the connection between the cruelty and death of Good Friday and the joy and hope of Easter Day. Let me tell you a story. There were once upon a time two beautiful rose buds on the same rose bush. Both buds came from the same seed and were nourished by the same rose branch. Each loved the feeling of life that pulsated through their tightly-formed petals. The sun would rise on them every morning, the water would fall gently on their outer petals and passers-by would admire their beauty. Neither could imagine anything better than being a rose bud. Then one day a strange sensation came unbidden into the life of each bud. It was somewhat unpleasant. It seemed to take them over and each bud began to lose control of their tightly held world.
With some fear both buds sensed that they were about to die. What they had known since their birth was passing away. One bud held tightly to the world it knew. It would not allow any petal to move beyond its known centre. Strangely, the tighter it held on to its centre the more its outer petals began to wither and die.
Now the other bud felt all the same sensations. The fear of letting go; the rising anxiety of allowing a force beyond its own control to take over. Yet somehow or other the risk of remaining tight in a bud was more painful than the risk of embracing a new and unknown future.
The second bud abandoned the only world it know and opened itself to an unfamiliar future. Its outer petals opened in a glorious display of new life. It grew larger than the bud could ever have imagined. Colour and perfume spread forth from its centre. The blossom became full and vibrant and was admired as a wonder of nature by all who saw it.
Imagine and it can happen
Good Friday is the way the world is! Now it is not the only way the world is. We all know that mingled with the violence and cruelty of this mortal sojourn are many moments of joy, love, beauty, peace and hope. But we want more! Not just for ourselves but for the world of which all of us are inhabitants. Again to quote Anaïs Nin, "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." I suppose that is the moral of the bud and the blossom.
We often focus on the strength and courage with which Jesus faced his death. It may be closer to the truth to say that what happened to him had little to do with his ability to change the situation. There were forces beyond his control that came into play when he challenged the prevailing authority. His courage was in defying the orthodoxy of the day and his resolution to see this challenge and transformation through to the very end.
It is conceivable that Good Friday could have been the end of the story. The death of a martyr. The end of a noble and righteous man who was courageous enough to see a new way of being. The passing away of an innocent person who was foolish enough to believe that good can triumph over evil; that life is stronger than death. And that the greatest experience in life is to love and forgive your enemies.
But it wasnt the end because this was not just a good man dying for a good cause. "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." In an inexplicable way new life emerged from this bud of truth and possibility. It was courage that would change the world and create a new way of seeing. And I dont mean bravery or fortitude, both of which are powerful virtues; it was courage which opened the door to new life. Courage, which means "that which emerges from the heart".
You see, it is not just that this mans life had brought a great teaching or philosophy. That would never have had the power to transform and offer a new way for humanity. Rather, the truth is that "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to the commitment of ones heart!"
But your heart has to be in it
The Good Friday story is all about the body, the death and the cruelty of humanity. But the Easter story is all about the heart, the vision and imagination to see what can be. Marcus Borg, the biblical theologian who sadly died recently and has had an enormous influence on contemporary faith, has attempted to give explanation to this transformation from Good Friday to Easter Day. This is what he says:
It is about the transformation of this world. Jesus was killed because of his passion for a different kind of world. Easter is about Gods "Yes" to what we see in Jesus. Easter is not about believing in a spectacular long ago event, but about participating in what we see in Jesus. Crucifixion and the tomb didnt stop him. Easter is about saying "Yes" to the passion of Jesus. Hes still here and he is still recruiting.
And again from Anaïs Nin, "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are". Those words echo the end of Marks story, "So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." Their heart, the centre of their being, had not yet grasped the vision.
The first followers of Jesus did not suddenly embrace this new message of transformation and new life. They needed to grieve the loss of the one they loved; and then, as time passed, they saw a new way, not as they had seen it, but as they could see it.
As with all changes and transformations it has to do with me, not someone else, and certainly not with those who have power in our world. Perhaps that was the greatest message Jesus gave: