I have never cried like that.
They nailed Jesus to the cross, and I cried.
I cried because they shouldn’t have done it. They shouldn’t have beaten him. They shouldn’t have stripped off his clothes. They shouldn’t have crowned him with a crown that cut into his flesh. They shouldn’t have driven the nails through his hands. They shouldn’t have stood at his feet and mocked him.
How inhumane can humans be?
Pilate’s wife tried to tell them. I always wondered about her. I wonder what terrifying dream she had. (Was it as terrible as the one I once had about my son, the one that had me sobbing and heaving in the bathroom at 2 am?)
As I watched my priest nail the icon of Jesus to the cross, it was as if I was watching my own son, or my own brother, or my own friend. It felt utterly and incomprehensibly wrong.
I know all the answers about sin and sacrifice and eternal life and fulfilling prophecies and new covenants. But when I sit and meditate on those answers, the question still pricks: Why?
One of my friends told me, “Maybe he had to enter into death in order to redeem it.”
What does redeem really mean? Does it mean our humanness is taken away and replaced by something divine? Or does it mean that we quit being what God intended for humanity to be? That we began to be inhumane instead of human. And so God decided to embody the entire human experience – even death – so that we could embody his image in our humanity.
Maybe God never wanted to take our humanity way. Maybe he wanted to take our inhumanity away. He went through the very worst that humanity has to offer: physical assault, merciless killing, contemptuous mockery. Maybe he let himself suffer that way because he didn’t want anyone to have to suffer like that again. He wanted us to be fully what he had created us to be: humans who love.
Maybe – dare I say it? – God needed to experience what is was like to be human in order to be a better God.
In the Orthodox icon of the annunciation (when Gabriel told Mary she’d have Jesus), Mary is holding a spool of red thread, which represents that God was woven into humanity – he became human in her womb. In some Orthodox icons of the ascension, Jesus is literally floating on clouds as his followers look up at him, and in his right hand, he’s holding – you guessed it – a spool of red thread. When Jesus went back to heaven, he didn’t leave his humanity behind. He took it with him. He stepped in our shoes, put on our skin, became one of us, and was changed forever.
It is Good Friday, or Holy Friday, as we say in the Orthodox Church. This morning I will return to church and will see Jesus still hanging on the cross. I will help my children decorate his Bier with flowers. If I can stomach it, I will lean down and kiss his feet. And I will weep over his suffering. I will weep for the humans who’ve been tormented by their own kind. I will weep over my own faith-wrestling. I will weep for my own lack of understanding. I will weep because I am human, designed to look at the world and feel a great compassion.