What Do We Live For?

Today, the sun is shining. The bars and cafes are packed with folk who have ditched their thick coats and heavy boots. From wide-flung windows and back gardens, cheerful music and happy voices ring out. A special meal is prepared and a glass of wine is drunk, or two. After a long and cold winter, the people of Scotland are now, just as the people of Jerusalem did then, making the most of their festival, their long weekend away from work.

But not for one young man.

Not for the people whom he loves and the people he is loved by.

For us, this is the end of all things.

The end of what?

What did Jesus come for? What was His purpose? Why did He live? And why on Earth did He not run when he had the chance?

Because it didn’t have to end like this.

At about quarter to midnight last night, I was sitting on a tile floor that seemed to be getting colder by the minute. The sunshine had gone. The friends from the upper room had gone. The meal had long since been eaten and my stomach was beginning to grumble. On that cold tile floor, I had a certain sympathy with Peter and James and John as they nodded off in Gethsemane. And I started to wonder – what are we all still doing here? The garden is open. The road is over there. The people who are going to come to arrest you aren’t here yet. Run. Run, for God’s sake, while you still have the chance. Why can’t we change the story? Why couldn’t He?

He was his father’s son, and his mother’s son, and Joseph’s, too, and they had taught him well, raised him up right, and now, on this darkest of their days, this brave and beautiful boy, now become a man, says, these are the things for which I have lived and they are the things for which I am prepared to die. Not for this man the path of least resistance. Not for Him to betray his principles and his integrity.

For me. For you. For the whole world, even the parts that turned their backs and declared that they wanted nothing to do with it.

For peace. For love. For equality. For justice. For freedom. For fairness.

For truths that I hold to be self-evident, but which led to Him being branded a radical and a terrorist. Truths that He refused to betray and for which He was killed. Truths for which people are still being killed today. As I sat there last night and asked why He didn’t run, I thought about Jesus, yes, but I thought about the ones who came after him. The brave men and women of integrity who said, these are the things for which I have lived and they are the things for which I am prepared to die.

And now he’s gone.

The churches have been emptied of God. The world is cold and dark, the singing voices are silenced, and it feels as though we might never be happy again. The light of the world has gone out.

What do we do now?

What do we live for?

And what would we die for?

Advertisements

‘What are you doing here?’

Raphael watched as the coins fell into Judas’ hand.

Judas bowed to the priest, but there was no response. Judas flinched and looked afraid. Had he really expected more?

Raphael sat in a pile of feathers. They’d been at the temple all morning, and one by one, Raphael had plucked a fair patch of wing. He was angry — at Judas. At the priests. At the crowds as they prepared for the passover. Even at the lambs — poor things — who were everywhere, and causing chaos.

But mostly, he was angry with himself. How had it come to this?

As Raphael tidied the lost feathers into straight rows, seeking comfort. He barely rose his head when Michael appeared.

‘What are you doing here, Raphael?’
‘You saw, didn’t you? He went to the priests. We cannot stop this now.’
Michael looked unperturbed. ‘What made you think we could?’

Raphael scowled at him, and stood to walk away. Michael stopped him, holding his hand on his shoulder.

‘Raphael, what are you doing here?’

‘I tried to stop him. Someone had to! Ever since he saw that Centurion — saw power, and looked there for salvation — I’ve been pleading with him. “Judas, please. This is not who you are. You want Justice. You want Salvation. Stay with us. Jesus is the one you need.” He just kept shaking me off, and told me to go back to Peter.’

Michael laughed, ‘He wasn’t wrong — in that at least.’

Raphael was furious. He was not prepared to concede that Judas was right about anything — after what he’d just done?

Michael spoke again, ‘Just out of curiosity: when did you stop hearing the hissing?’

Raphael looked confused. ‘The hissing? It began when Judas met the Centurion. It lasted for a few days, and then it stopped.’

‘No, Raphael. It never stops.’

Raphael shook his head, trying to dismiss Michael’s words. But he knew he was right. It never stops. So when had he stopped hearing it?

‘What did Judas want, Raphael. Think: why are we here?’

‘Judas wanted his own way. He wanted to be the one to fix everything. He couldn’t bear it that Jesus chose Peter — that he trusted Mary. He couldn’t bear that he was not the one.’

‘And so?’

‘And so: that is why we are here.’

‘No. That is why Judas is here. Why are you here?’

Raphael opened his mouth, but found no words. Before he could speak, the truth hit him.

‘I am like him…’ he whispered, facing more fear than he had ever known.

‘No, you’re not. But finish the thought.’

‘I wanted to be the one. I wanted to stop him.’

‘Yes. But why were you sent?’

‘I was sent to work with Jesus, to learn from him, to befriend Peter.’

‘And Judas — did he seek healing?’

‘No — but he needed it. Someone needed to try. He had to be stopped.’

‘Maybe not.’

Raphael’s anger flared again. ‘Of course he did. Look what he’s done! If you had helped me, maybe we could have stopped him.’

Suddenly, the sound of hissing returned. Raphael heard it swirling around him — there in his blame. He began to sob.

Michael came to him, and held him in his wings. ‘Raphael: no one asked you to save him. Let it go.’

‘But to fail now! How could I have failed now — when it matters so much?’

‘You failed because you failed. We do sometimes. It’s what happens when the world won’t conform to our will.’

Raphael looked up, and saw that Michael was smiling. Raphael was cross — but he began to see his own folly. Finally he laughed, and the hissing faltered.

‘My timing was bad, wasn’t it?’ Raphael asked, chagrin.

‘How can we know? The failure isn’t the point, really. It’s what you do with it. What happens next?’

Raphael had calmed down, and they were walking together around the square.

‘I was sent to help Jesus, to learn from him, and to befriend Peter…’

Michael nodded. ‘So, shall we find them, then? The passover is near.’

wing-held darkness

Zadkiel looked slowly around the crowd. Mary. Mary. John.  Most of the others had fled.  But as his eyes searched he saw familiar faces. The blind man. The woman who had bled. Those who had realised that suffering was not the end of the world.

But this suffering might be, he thought.

Jophiel knelt on the other side of the clearing, tears streaming down his face as he recorded the fugue that had begun with those hard struck nails.

Michael seemed unflinching, but one wing reached out.  Feathers brushed the woman he had chosen, who had done her work so well.

On the edge of the crowd, stood Sariel: his work not yet done.

Michael drew close to Zadkiel and said, ‘It is time.’
‘Must we?’ Zadkiel said angrily. ‘God seems to have gone already.’   ‘No. This is just the beginning. You know what we must do.’

Zadkiel nodded and caught Jophiel’s eye.  Jophiel set down his quill, and called the angels to attention.  One signal, and the circle formed: wings locked to forge a wall around the cross.

The tent of absence, Zadkiel realised.  He raised his wings reluctantly, and darkness covered the whole earth.

Their task was to keep God out.  God had withdrawn himself from himself, and become as remote as the deepest fear of the heart.  God stood on the edge of non-being to create a space where he was not, to allow this darkness, this freedom, this choice.

And we bear the weight of it, Zadkiel uttered, still resisting his task.

The darkness held for three hours.  The angels strained with it, letting love and grief, longing and abandonment bash against their wings.

Then Jesus cried aloud, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’  and Zadkiel’s scream filled the heavens.  Michael and Jophiel flexed their wings around him, absorbing the force of his grief and using it to strengthen the circle.

God’s agony pressed in on them too. The sun stopped; the heavens shuddered, and the whole earth stood on the edge of the abyss.

Jesus cried out again, and Sariel stepped forward.  He curled his dark wings around the cross, gently. Then, as Jesus breathed out, his wings snapped shut: cutting breath from breath; life from death.

Jophiel was the first to break the circle, as anguish overwhelmed him.  Myriad of angels shut their wings as the sky was rent and the veil of the temple torn in two.

‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ Zadkiel whispered, the words now fully his own.

Blossom In Spring

It leaves me almost breathless as I read the service schedule for any particular church during Holy Week. How much invisible preparation, how many sleepless nights, how much intensive choreography goes on to make it all happen? Amidst the assumption by many if not all that it will happen (whatever the “it” might be).  And I then think of the many ways different people respond to the week’s journey; as they reflect and engage in open or hidden ways to the depth and challenges of this gloriously moving week-long service.

It occurred to me as I was driving last night that the Holy Week journey is not unlike many journeys we make throughout the year. In our relationships with each other, in relation to our health and in all our endeavours we travel in hope and trust, outcomes uncertain and seemingly all too often ending in pain, but often ending in joy and happiness.

And it also occurred to me, sea sparkling on my left as the countryside sped past me, that for me last autumn and winter often felt like the darkest part of the journey during Holy Week.  Change often makes us feel vulnerable, as if we are stumbling in the darkness. Now that the change forms part of the norm, I am able to remember how to think about breathing again, as the world in springtime around me awakens amidst new life bursting in on my senses.

And as I brace myself in anticipation  of surrendering the reigns of daily work life, soon no longer leading or serving those around me, I wonder how I will react after it is done. More stumbling through the darkness, perhaps, as we  are taught that serving is well pleasing to God. Possibly, but as I look to the hard journey of Holy Week I can remember the hope and joy to come. And that the protective wing of our Creator can nestle protectively around us, that safe haven of love and calm, where we are given permission to be able to stop and stare in silent wonder at the beauty of God’s world.

All too often I have been like either the driver or sometimes passenger in a car- eyes either straight ahead or burrowed into the map; either way missing the world as I speed along. This autumn and winter was somehow different as I followed the crowd along the bumpy road into Jerusalem, unknowing, uncertain, but drawn by a power that was as real as it was invisible. Somehow, a large part of me already knows that I have already sat for many hours, days, weeks, months, years  in silent vigil, waiting for Jesus;  my heart bursting with love, knowing that I have heard the rustle of feathers around my body as God’s protective angels surround me, giving me permission to step out of the darkest corners of my life, enabling me to see, to breathe, to live as if for the first time.

And I thank God for that,  as I am filled with hope and joy even before this week’s intensive and gloriously challenging  journey has begun.

A priest prepares for Holy Week

Anxiety lies like a knot,

a clot,

stopping the flow

and twisting,

blocking

all in its path.

Sleep is distant

as images come unbidden

and lists form

and then get stuck.

Stuck like beads on a necklace

with knots keeping them in place,

preventing them from

sliding smoothly

to and fro,

ebb and flow.

What will it take

to slip the knot

unblock the clot

to let the stream

rush once more

over the pebble dam,

laughing and gurgling,

splashing and foaming,

free to go where it will?

What will it take

to find that clear pool of grace?

The clock chimes

and I’m minded

that it is time to pray.