Somewhere in his fifties, a friend of mine looked back on his life and concluded it was a waste. There had been jobs, good ones, but no meaningful career arc. He had joined several faith communities that crumbled to dust and ashes. A succession of friends and ex-wives had taken advantage of him. His small business bumped along without much growth.
In his view, he had helped no one, gotten nowhere, and it hurt. More than that, it looked like despair, and despair can eat you alive.
He’s doing better now, thank goodness. So much better, in fact, that his story may not have come to mind except for the Bible passage I read today.
As part of the Christian Holy Week, I’ve been revisiting the story of Jesus’ last days. Today’s reading involved his hanging on a wooden cross until (so I’ve been told) he suffocated. Somewhere in the narrative, the full force of his suffering struck me.
It wasn’t just the excruciating physical pain that comprised his suffering. He was also (if I read the story correctly) naked on that cross, hanging in a very public place. Moreover, his friends had deserted him. The authorities mocked him mercilessly and, in the process, showed a deep misunderstanding of what he was all about.
In those few hours, at least according to the Gospel of Matthew, there was no sense that anything about Jesus would survive this. He would be gone and his message forgotten. Perhaps he too felt the same despair my friend has felt.
The Christian story of Jesus doesn’t end there. It goes on to describe his resurrection, his reappearance to his friends, a resounding triumph in every way. But we celebrate that on Easter, and it’s not Easter yet.
So for now, I’m inclined to dwell on what, for me, is Christianity’s greatest assertion: that in the person of Jesus, God became a human being—and being human, God experienced the worst we have to face.
That may or may not make it easier to stare into our own abyss. Sometimes, though, knowing our Creator has been there too—and stands in solidarity with us there—is the greatest comfort we can find.