When we were young, our mother would gather me and my sisters on Good Friday to read the story of the Passion. Wearing pajamas and carrying mugs of tea, we sat from noon to three, for once not rebelling against her wishes. She told us that every aspect of humanity could be found in that story – bravery, cowardice, sacrifice, fear, and pride, and that we could certainly relate to one or more of the many characters that are mentioned, even briefly, in the story of Jesus. My Mom said she related to Joseph of Arimathea, a Jewish leader who was apparently too afraid to speak for Jesus in his trial and suffering, but who risked a lot to step forward after His death to claim His body and provide a new tomb in which He could be buried. She may have related to Joseph because she sometimes felt fear that prevented action, or maybe saw herself as someone who did the right thing, but later than she would have liked. I wish I could ask her.
Today, I gathered my family around to watch The Passion of the Christ, and I told them to look for themselves in the story. I found myself over and over.
Like Jesus in the Garden, I know what it is to be tempted by despair, that feeling of utter isolation and fear.
Like Peter in the Garden, who cut off a soldier’s ear, I know what it is to be filled with righteous indignation against injustice, and for my violent actions in the face of it to be utterly wrong and counterproductive. I know what it is to need Jesus to intervene and heal my actions, as He healed the soldier’s ear.
Like Mary, I know what it is to be totally intwined with and to love my child at any cost, to walk with him, to feel her suffering as my own, and to feel powerless to prevent it.
Like Mary Magdalene, I know what it is to be forgiven, for God to step in and defend me, and to have that action change me and make me better.
Like the crowd, I know what it is to be swept up by an idea without thinking it through. When confronted with a choice of a prisoner to be released, Jesus or Barabbas, they chose the notorious murderer over the peaceful teacher. I, too, know what it is to be faced with a clear choice between light and darkness, good and evil…and choose the latter.
Like Pontius Pilate’s wife, Claudia, who warned Pilate against condemning Jesus, I know what it is to have intuition or a dream, and to have it unheard, to be unable to speak loud enough, to perform one small act of courage and then run away.
Like Simon of Cyrene, who was pressed into service to help Jesus carry His cross, I know what it is to have my reluctant efforts lead to unexpected blessings like encountering wonderful people, and gaining understanding, perspective, and wisdom.
Like the Roman soldier who looked at Mary and allowed her close to Jesus, I know what it is to look into the eyes of a person and see their suffering, feel it, do some small gesture, but not be brave or strong enough to do more to stand against the cruelty that impacts them.
Like Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest who called for Jesus’ crucifixion, I know what it is to have my power threatened, and then see that motivate my destructive actions.
There are many people in the story of the Passion who act like a mirror to me. I see my unworthiness, how far I have to go. But I also see the deep love of God for me, and I see an example of humility which I have yet to follow.
Unlike John, who quietly stands with Jesus and Mary and does not turn away, my instinct is to be much more vocal and much less steadfast.
And unlike Jesus, who withstood mockery, pain, injustice, fear, and insults, I rail against them all. I cannot imagine myself bearing any slight, even my little everyday injustices, with the quiet humility of Jesus. I don’t know that I will ever be able to look upon my enemies with love while they are intentionally causing me pain. I can’t imagine even willing myself to do so.
It takes everything I have to pray for my enemies as I am told to do, and to truly want their good is something I’ve only achieved a few times in my life.
I know what it is to fall, to pick up, and carry on, but I don’t know what it is to embrace my cross as Jesus did. That is something that is so counterintuitive to me and to our culture, it would take a supernatural act of grace to change my spirit in that way. I’ve seen others who live like this, so it must be possible.
For today, it is enough and amazing to know that Jesus did it for me, though I deserve it not, though I am unworthy and so far from perfect. He loves me anyway, carries my sin, takes me by the hand, gently leads, teaches, and walks with me still.
Oh, how He loves us.