by Andrew Krinks
It’s hard to believe forty days have passed—forty days since I rose from my seat in the back of this auditorium and took my place before our beloved “Father” Hearn. Forty days—since his thumb spread cruciform the black ash of last year’s palm leaves on my forehead. And what a mystery that those very leaves that welcomed Christ the King to his death served now to summon me to my own. Yes, a whole forty days have passed since I received the gift of those words which sound so much like a death-knell: “From dust you came; to dust you shall return.”
As it turns out, my forty days of Lent did not go quite as planned. More often than not, I failed to fast, failed to repent, failed to turn my mind or my actions around. Luckily for me, however, even though I struggled to observe Lent, Lent, as it turns out, did not struggle to observe me. Within only a few weeks time, one thing after another served to remind me of my dust-like existence. Indeed, I was reminded that everything is broken. First it was my car. I failed inspection, had to get it repaired, too expensive, had to get a temporary tag. A few days later, Lindsey’s dashboard started lighting up with warning signs. More repairs—more money that we didn’t want to spend.
But then things got more serious. I started getting new pains in my abdominal area—an area of my body not unfamiliar with pain in recent years. Not only that, but Lindsey started having more trouble with her foot and ankle—an area of her body that has plagued her with surgery after surgery and daily exercises for years. A few days later, my beloved sister, mother of two children, went through the trauma of having a possibly-dangerous cyst surgically removed, as well as the equally painful wait for results. And then there is my close friend in New Jersey, twenty-four years old—tall, strong—struggling to come to terms with the testicular cancer invading his body. There was also the woman in her forties from the church I grew up in—sweet, funny, quirky—dead from a heart attack in the middle of the night, one daughter and a husband now wading through the waters of grief.
Everything is broken.
And that’s just my immediate circle.
Only weeks before these things happened, there was the earthquake in Haiti: unimaginable death and poverty, needless suffering, a long history of injustice swelling into unfathomable casualties when the earthquake struck. I lamented these things, and I did my best to sit still with it, to let the terror shake me. And then there was the death of those we’ve worked with on the streets of Nashville and even come to know as friends: the buoyant, jubilant Popcorn, the tiny, softly-sleeping Cherokeewolf. And then there was the state-sponsored execution of a criminal: Cecil Johnson, a man who, so we heard at the vigil, spent his last days repentant, laughing and praising God. Nevertheless, he, along with so many others, are returned to dust.
Everything is broken. Men and women suffer. People are oppressed, overlooked, and criminalized. Women and children sleep under bridges, in cars, alleyways; under tarps, in the mud, sick, tired, hungry. Death abounds. We are but dust.
So, needless to say, I am grateful that Holy Week is upon us. But to be perfectly honest, strange as it may seem, it’s not because of Easter Sunday. No, it’s because of tonight. And tomorrow, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Why? Because when we stand with full attention in the dark, empty void of these days, we remember that we have a companion in our mortality: God himself. Indeed, we even have a partner in our weakness, in our suffering: God-made-flesh. God-who-dies. God-who-is-weak.
What scandal to our ears! A weak God. A vulnerable and dying God, a God who even doubts God from the cross of Calvary: my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? But more than all of his miracles, more than all of his healings, this is the reason I follow Jesus. Because he is weak, because he takes the downward path of humiliation, the way of human mortality.
But to say that Jesus is weak is not say that he is passive, or that he doesn’t demand everything from us. On the contrary, we are called to take up our own crosses and join him—to join him in places we’d really rather not go. Indeed, we are called to stand with him in the void. The void of the desert, his forty Lenten days, the beginning of his self-emptying, his kenosis. We are called to stand in that void where live the poor, the widow, the outcast, the prisoner, and the stranger—those who are weak and those who suffer. If we don’t know them, so reads Matthew 25, we don’t know him. And let’s be honest, if we get to know them, sooner or later, we will learn to see the truth of our own weakness, that the power we thought we had was as dust. But we ought not fear, for where there is weakness, there God is.
So, when we find ourselves confronted with all manner of death, if only we have the faith to remain present in that moment of grief, in the terror of loss, of illness, tragedy, and oppression, chances are, we will witness God. For where there is weakness, where there is suffering, there God is.
So what is it that are we called to on this night, in this room, just days before our Christ is crucified? I believe it is the same thing we are called to in the face of every act of violence, every crucifixion, every tragedy, every moment of suffering we encounter: we are called to tremble. Make no mistake, to tremble is to share in the suffering of others, even Christ. Now our other choice, which we are certainly free to choose, is to sing a happy song, to anticipate Sunday in such a way that we forget what’s going on before us. But let us remember that the disciples, frightened and scattered, were not thinking about Sunday when Jesus breathed his last on the cross. No, they were trembling.
Indeed, it is my conviction that we must take up residence in such a void tonight, with all its terror and loneliness. I believe Simone Weil says it well when she says that “To love truth means to endure the void and, as a result, to accept death. (For) truth is on the side of death.”
But the truth of this death is not simply an abstraction. No, this death comes about because the world cannot handle the sort of truth Jesus brings. Indeed, the cross is not cheap. To follow Jesus is not practical, nor is it efficient. On the contrary, it is foolish, outlandish, and obscene. God-made-flesh? Weak and dying? It’s almost offensive.
To conclude, let us consider Judas. We are all too accustomed to judging Judas, to shaking our heads in disbelief at such faithlessness. But let us take the time to consider what his other option was. In short, it was to follow Jesus into the void, the nothingness, the empty space of naked suffering and death on a cross. If we are Judas, perhaps we are even frustrated that Jesus has refused to raise a sword, to fight back, to take the throne. What sort of Lord—what sort of God—dies?!
Simone Weil has another quote that I find helpful. As she puts it, “All sins are attempts to fill voids.” Lord, anything but the void, anything but standing face to face with such suffering, such desolation. Anything but becoming vulnerable, of giving ourselves away. God forbid I join you on that cross! What did Judas fill the void with? A pocketful of coins. Anything—so long as we not be asked to stand in the shadow of that cross.
It makes me wonder how I refuse the void, how I refuse the vulnerability of loving strangers, of showing hospitality to people who might steal from me, of giving my time only to have my service refused or even shunned. What do I fill the void with? Perhaps it is busyness—distraction. For if I fill my time, the void may become invisible, and I need not think of it. Perhaps it is a well-paying job, perhaps it is even religion itself. Anything that keeps our hopes up, that feeds the illusion that entering the void that Christ takes up is not necessary for a faithful life in service to him.
Therefore, may our final repentance this season of Lent be a turning away from our betrayal of Jesus in his most empty hour. Let it be a turning fully toward, a stepping with both feet into the darkness of his suffering. And let us not forget that to stand in this void with Jesus is to stand in the void with those he inhabits today: those who are weak, those who suffer—the widow, the orphan, the poor, the stranger. It is to stand and mourn with those in Haiti, to allow ourselves to be afflicted by their affliction. For their affliction is Christ’s affliction. We are called not to hurry on to resurrection, but to remain present here for the time being, in the darkness of this room, as well as in the darkest corners of our city. For there can be no resurrection without crucifixion, no Easter Sunday without Good Friday.
Indeed, as Christ himself said, “unless a seed fall and die, it remains only a seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” So we have come here tonight to fix our eyes on the falling seed. Indeed, we have come here tonight to learn what it might mean to become as seeds ourselves.
This is no easy task. As one poet writes, “how / How does one go / about dying? / Who on earth / is going to teach me— / The world / is filled with people / who have never died”.
The answer? Well, there is no answer, or at least no easy answer. For nothing is certain at Golgotha—not even resurrection.
O Lord, teach us to tremble. For it is in trembling that we are transformed.