Friday, April 22, 2011

Death Of The Son Of God

The scene from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is iconic. After voluntarily going to The White Witch's camp, offering himself as a substitute for the crimes of Edmund Pevensie, Aslan the Great Lion is humiliated, his mane shorn. He is bound and gagged and set roughly on a table. The White Witch, her face flush with triumph raises the knife and plunges it in Aslan's heart. The noble beast breathes his last. The White Witch, an almost erotically charged look of satisfaction upon her face, declares the final end to the great Lion, and moves on to the battle with the Pevensies and the armies of Narnia.

This too-obvious allegory of the crucifixion never ceases to move me. It also makes me wonder if people understand that, on that Friday afternoon, God died. The day belonged to the Adversary. The signs and wonders reported in the Gospel of St. Matthew - the rending of the veil in the Temple; the rising of the dead saints; the darkness at noon - can be understood, I suppose, as marks of victory. Yet, whose victory? With the veil in the Temple torn, the God of Israel has departed. The dead, vomited out of the ground like bad beef, are not to be embraced but feared. In these hours and days before the real ending of the story (which should always be borne in mind, but at the moment set to one side as we contemplate this moment of pain, suffering, agony, Godforsakenness, and death) these walking dead are a blasphemy, a violation of the Divine order.

As a side note, I suppose, we should consider the betrayal of Judas. As I've read The Gospel According to Judas, with the author I have to ask how Judas' betrayal is qualitatively different from the abandonment by the disciples, the denials of St. Peter, and even that final abandonment by God. On that Friday, in the midst of all the horror and pain, Jesus comes to understand the lengths to which he must go, the loss he must endure. Pain and death are a part of life, of being human. Any reading of the Gospel narratives leads to the conclusion that Jesus' predictions of his own passion are rooted not in some weird Divine foreknowledge, but the all too human realization that the only way his path leads is the very sticky end of a Roman cross.

So, how important then is Judas' betrayal in the overall scheme of things? Jesus made the choice to follow the path to which God, his Father, called him. He walked it, understanding it led to the Hill of the Skull, outside the city gates. Judas was paid, to be sure. No less dishonorable, however, was the fleeing of the Apostles. No less a betrayal was St. Peter's insistent denials, "I do not know this man." No more final an act of abandonment was that moment when Jesus, his strength already stretched and tested by a night of no sleep, the ritual humiliation and torture of the Romans made even more so by the crown of thorns, hangs on that cross and feels and knows that even his Father, even the God in whom he trusted, who walked with him, called him, loved him, gave him the Disciples, has left him utterly, and completely alone. In that moment, Judas' betrayal is as nothing to that cry that God has forsaken Jesus, that he hangs there in pain and humiliation, alone.

Even if there is some small part of Jesus that understands this is not the real end of the story, how is that any consolation for the utter, hellish knowledge that there is a gulf, a final separation, between himself and the God whom he called Father? How can that chasm be crossed (no pun intended)? To die is one thing. To die in the full understanding that even God is no longer there . . . there is no hell hot enough or cold enough, no eternal darkness trapped in the madness of one's own thoughts, that challenges my own sense of loss more than that single moment when Jesus cries out, from the depths of his now objectless faith, that even God, along with his Disciples, has abandoned him.

Seems to me the silence of the grave, the coming darkness, would be welcome. Even if it offers nothing. Even if, as that abandonment makes a mockery of all one's hope, all one's love poured out for others. Even if it gives no meaning to all the pain and humiliation, it seems to me far more welcome than the never-ending torment of the eternal moment that Jesus, moreso than any person who has ever or will ever live, is utterly, completely, totally alone. No God. No victory. No friends to stand and watch him.

On another note, isn't it funny that the old pagan Day of the Dead is considered a day to celebrate all things spooky and even evil? Isn't it odd that we dress up this night in the midst of autumn with all the trappings of a bad horror show when here in the midst of spring the real victory - Pyrrhic though we understand it to be - of death and hell, the abandonment by God not only of the Divine Son, but the very real death of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, provides the true moment when evil is triumphant?

Like the trussed-up and shaved lion, over whom Susan and Lucy Pevensie weep, when Jesus is taken down from the cross he is quite dead. His eyes would have been cloudy, his jaw gaping. If he wore a loin cloth, it was probably soiled. There may have been very little blood in him, since he had gaping wounds in his feet from the nails placed there; with his heart having stopped hours before, the blood pulled by gravity would have started pooling in his legs, only to run out those huge holes. Since it was near dark, his body would not have been ritually purified; the flies who had come to feast and lay their eggs would be a cloud. All the ways nature has of making death ignoble and inhuman would have been present.

It is impossible, this side of the resurrection, to completely live in and grasp that moment, to live in the despair of Divine failure, abandonment, and death. All the same, we need to recall over the next thirty-six hours the very real, very horrifying thought that worse than death triumphed that day. Abandonment, betrayal, denial, meaninglessness all win. Death may seem welcome, yet the eternal moment when one sees the triumph of nothingness, the helplessness of God may well chase us down even as the light fails, and silence engulfs Jesus.

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