At the Good Friday service yesterday, I was once again reminded just how out-to-lunch we Christians must seem to the secular world, for whom nothing is holy, nothing sacred, nothing worth our genuflecting gestures. We’re of the Old World, we Christians (most of us, at least), where things are not what they seem, and the world of spirits is another metaphysical modality with which we contend. This is life not on our own terms, but on terms set down before we were born, in the dim and distant past in a God-filled, God-forsaken desert in the presence of nomads and sheepherders.
I imagined Bill Maher sitting in attendance yesterday at the Good Friday service in the chapel (we can assume he was dragged there against his will), and then walking out in disgust not ten minutes into the service over such mindless and superstitious babble. When my priest lay prostrate at the foot of the cross in his regal black double-breasted cossack (a Sarum in Anglicanism), or when he watched like an eagle during the veneration of the cross as it was handed from congregant to congregant, or when we read from the prophet Isaiah, Bill Maher would have been long gone, heading down the 210 in his Lexus Hybrid on the way to his vegetarian lunch meeting of Easter Gazpacho at Truly to discuss the sequel to Religulous. Jesus means nothing to him. He’s likely never heard of the Suffering Servant. To him and his ilk, religious observances are tantamount to treason of the mind. Bill is a fully endorsed product of the Enlightenment, full of bluster but with no lasting commitments. For Bill, living is easy because the distractions keep coming.
For the rest of us, life is difficult but worth the pain. And when happiness comes, as it always does, it is savored among friends and family, given thanks for like manna in the desert. We don’t need to be distracted because we accept the mysteries of life on their own terms. We may be the captains of our ships, but we are not the wind. And we know this. And so, when we read the prophet Isaiah, we understand in some part what he meant. Or maybe it’s not quite that ~ we know more than we understand, and we read Isaiah’s passage on the Suffering Servant accepting the mystery that lies at the heart of things:
Just as there were many who were astonished at him —so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals— so he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
The rest of us stand in awe. And we, like Milton, accept that . . .
“God doth not need Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed, And post o’er land and ocean without rest; They also serve who only stand and wait.”