760 our life and our death will do something to make those fields live again
Day 760: Good Friday, April 15, 2022
our life and our death will do something to make those fields live again
A bug on a branch swept away down the river still singing his song
- Issa (1763 - 1828)
Today, we remember Jesus’ torture and execution centuries ago in Roman occupied Jerusalem, and also recall the points in our lives when we experience suffering.
If you have ever had the challenging experience of teaching a Sunday school class at this time of year, you have probably seen the class agnostic innocently smile up at you and ask, “Why do we call it Good?” She is probably not very interested in the fact that in the 13th century Anglo-Saxon mixture of languages, “good” and “holy” were interchangeable, or that in some places it is called “Sorrowful Friday”, “Long Friday,” or “Great Friday” — she wants to know what is supposedly good about it! And certainly she is not going to buy the old Catechism answer that Jesus by his suffering paid for our sins.
We don't like to face the fact that suffering is a part of life. But we can get a more complete understanding from our poets and prophets. First Emily Dickinson (1830-1886).
After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?
The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –
This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –
That “Hour of Lead” is still ticking away all around us. As I am writing these words, news is coming out on my phone about people suffering, and dying, from the COVID-19 pandemic and from the brutal atrocities in Ukraine and other places. Friends are suddenly without income or freedom.
My thoughts turn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) who was a German pastor at the center of Protestant resistance to the Nazis. He was arrested, and later hanged less than a week before the Allies liberated his prison. He wrote once,
The Bible directs us to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help us. … The world’s coming of age has done away with a false concept of God and opens up a way of seeing the God of the Bible, who achieves a place and power in the world by his weakness.
It is in our shared humanity and weakness that I feel very much in solidarity with Jesus of Nazareth. How we handle these “Hours of Lead” is something that people of all ages around the world have to face.
We can barely stand the thought of anyone being nailed to a cross. When our Sister Marti (1939-2016) was only weeks away from succumbing to pancreatic cancer she wrote,
The branches are bare
I didn't see it happen –
one leaf at a time.
So there he is, this gentle wise man of Galilee breathing his last in a sadistic Roman execution. What must have been his final thoughts? Perhaps it might have been something similar to Basho’s (1644-1694) famous poem as he was dying,
Sick on a journey,
but my dreams are still roaming
over dried-up fields.
Like Jesus of Nazareth and Basho we will all leave dried-up fields behind us but God willing, as our Muslim sisters and brothers would put it, our life and our death will do something to make those fields live again.
- Good Friday Reflection by Brother Toby
From our Jewish Sisters and Brothers at Jewish Voice for Peace:
Freedom and slavery, liberation and oppression, are both always present and always possible.
We arrive at the Passover table breathless, with the salty taste of authoritarian racism ripe on our tongues.
We arrive at the Passover table full of awe, with the rise of grassroots popular movements insisting on connection across borders and walls.
We arrive strong and grateful for one another; for our ever-growing movement for justice and liberation.
This year we dedicate our seders to all of us, to our insistence on intersectionality, from gentrification to colonization; we are organizing to disrupt the root causes of displacement and violence at home and abroad.
May you find moments in this seder to exhale, to lean your head on the shoulder of a friend or comrade, to feel yourself arriving on the shores of liberation.
May you find moments of fierce righteous rage that motivate you to re-commit to local and national organizing.
And may you find moments to carry one another across, your pain and your losses, your visions and your victories, because this time it’s all of us or none.
L’Chayim, To Collective Liberation,
JVP Rabbinical Council