I fell out of attending church services many years ago, but I haven’t shaken the habit of reflecting upon certain events with ritualistic precision. It’s Easter Weekend, so I send cute bunny ears to the kids in my life, and I eat some Reese’s eggs, and I think about Jesus.
Jesus was a man about my age, considered a threat to the local Roman authorities, even though he was a small-town preacher who didn’t encourage violence among his followers (save for one memorable incident where he upended some money-lenders from a Temple by force). He didn’t get married, but instead spent his time with a chosen “family” of friends and supporters: those who believed as he did, and wanted to share that message.
He was considered a political threat, though. So much so that he was betrayed by a friend, dragged through the streets, beaten and bloodied, and left to die by hanging suspended from nails driven through his feet and his hands.
And then, the story goes, he came back from the dead. Hallelujah. He is risen!
There’s a lot that you can take from this story. Some years, I think about pain. What it means to lean into pain, to embrace it and accept it, even as you can see how meaningless it is, how petty and small on the part of those inflicting pain upon you.
Some years, I think about the soldiers. The people who were just following orders. If they enjoyed the act of beating and torturing, driving iron nails through skin and bone. If they enjoyed the sadistic elements, or if they were bothered by their complicity.
Some years, I think about Pontius Pilate. How he gave the people a choice: free Barbaras, or crucify Jesus. How the people voted. How the people won.
Some years, I think about his friends. How they laid low, afraid to publicly grieve and mourn, for fear that they could be next. How understandable that impulse is. How frightened they must have been.
Some years, I think about Mary Magdalene. (In fact, I’m thinking about her a lot this year because I literally just learned that there’s no evidence supporting the idea that she was a prostitute. None! That fact blew my mind.) There’s a bunch of conflicting accounts of which Mary, and which other women, were actually in attendance to discover that a tombstone had been rolled away, but I think about what it must be like, to pack your bag of spices and embalming oils, to emotionally prepare to see the three-day-old body of your friend. What it must have felt like to realize it was missing.
Some years, I think about the rest of Judea. The folks not really portrayed in the story, the background extras. All the people shopping and cooking and bathing and eating and sleeping and raising their kids and working at their jobs, those for whom crucifixions were just, like, a thing that happens on Fridays. The vast majority of this community that wasn’t really paying attention to this story as it unfolded around them, unaware of what it would mean to people for thousands of years in the future.
I think about the other dudes being tortured on the crosses next to Jesus, and I wonder how we live in a country that still executes criminals. I wonder how many people who support this policy are in church today, singing Hallelujah, He is Risen.
I think about the soldiers driving nails into Jesus’ skin, and I wonder about our soldiers today. I wonder if any are kept awake at night now too.
I think about the protests yesterday, how people peacefully gathering in large groups is still considered a threat to those in power. I wonder if there will be more betrayals. More decisions rooted in fear.
I think about how many people are packed into church services today. I wonder how many will nod and listen, then go home and post on Facebook about how crucifixions are an effective way to deter criminal behavior, or about how Pontius Pilate was justified in his use of excessive force. How they will sigh over dinner: what a shame, these people in the streets, so angry. So many of them are so poor, so dirty. Something ought to be done.
I wonder what church services look like inside prisons or hospitals today. I wonder what they look like in churches made of immigrants, in churches made of poor people, in churches for the wealthy. I wonder what this story means to each of them.
I wonder who will listen to this story, and I wonder how it will be remembered. I wonder what this story says about us, when we gather and listen to it. I wonder what we remember. I wonder what we forget.