“It is a burden he should never have had to bear.” –Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring
In these last few minutes of Good Friday, I have been collecting my thoughts on what today means. It means something slightly different every year that passes. In the years that I went to Catalina for the days leading up to Easter, the death of my Savior meant something different from any year before. When I was a child, we prepared for it with Stations of the Cross, washing of feet, and a Seder meal. The choice of death, on my behalf, means something different every year because life means something different each year. I mean something different.
This week I watched the film Inglourious Basterds. The film itself is relatively irrelevant here except for its violence. While much less than I expected, its graphic nature was perhaps worse than I anticipated. I flashed back to my Senior year of college. As we finished studying the book of Mark, ending obviously with the Crucifixion, I was deeply struck by the gore of it, the depravity. The way that humans torture each other, mock each other, humiliate and pain each other will never cease to perplex, sadden and sicken me. We watched the death scene from Braveheart after reading the passage, a visual of the sort of scene we had just experienced. I felt myself growing angry and disgusted as it played, looking away for much of it. After reading about Jesus’ death, we watch a blockbuster film that profits from the depiction of a tortuous death. It just sat entirely wrong with me. Those feelings about violence came back to me watching Basterds and I really digress into this only to show that Easter means something different. I still was uneasy with the violence, but not in the same heated, emotional way that I was on the island. Life is different this year.
Tonight I sit in front of my television as the first installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy plays. Appropriately enough, Gandalf just plunged into the depths of Moria with the scary fire monster. All three films are playing this weekend, culminating on Sunday with the Return of the King. The blueray dvds release next week, so I am sure this is tied to the sales of them, but I can’t help but think that it is also deeply tied to Easter. As a literature and theology student, I spent a lot of time analyzing christ-figures in art. Any number of characters in this epic qualify for that title, but I was thinking of Frodo in particular tonight. He is similar to Jesus, but so different. They both bear loads, on behalf of the world, that they did not deserve, if you will, to carry. They travel through hell and back, literally seeing the “end of all things.” They leave this world, at peace and ready, leaving behind a world that they saved. Frodo is much more human, in some ways. Jesus tells Peter to stay alert, reminding him that, “the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Mark 14:38) I grew up thinking that this was in reference to His own feelings, to His sacrifice, but it refers to His companions. When Frodo begins to fall under the ring’s power, this phrase comes to mind. He wants to do right, to be good, but there are things that humans (or hobbits) fall prey to. We are weak. No matter how noble the intent, people are frail. Eventually, Frodo ends the ring’s reign and Peter and the other disciples become the church, but it’s messy and a long road. There are missteps and ugly mistakes, but the spirit’s willingness outlasts the flesh’s weakness.
I’m going to leap again, since I’ve already been all over the place here, to Aslan. As I’ve been rereading the Chronicles of Narnia, there has been so much that has amazed me. Lewis is brilliant. The thing that strikes me every time I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is the scene at the Stone Table. This actually starts as Aslan quietly walks to his death, alone. The girls watch him leave and follow for a bit until they are caught. He tells them, when they beg to follow, “I should be glad of company tonight.” This is the second thing that strikes me about Aslan, Frodo and Jesus. There is an immense loneliness and isolation in their stories. As the lion approaches his slaughter, he goes quietly and willingly, with no hesitation and fear. Jesus’ prayer in the garden has always touched me. He is a willing sacrifice, the payment for all sin, but He asks if there is another way. It is not weak, nor cowardly, but honest. He is willing to do His Father’s will, but if there is a way out of what is coming, He wants to take it. He is sorrowful, scared, lonely and anxious. This makes the whole story so much more beautiful, powerful. He didn’t do something that was easy. It was scary, and He wanted out. He didn’t want out enough to deny God’s will, but He didn’t want what was waiting.
I have perhaps the lowest pain tolerance in history. I fear almost everything that might bring discomfort. I know the feeling of dread, the clenching nausea that rolls from my stomach throughout my body. I know fear. I know loneliness. I know what it is to feel, whether it is true or not, that no one else can possibly understand my pain, my isolation, my fears. I can relate to a God who wants to do what’s right, but really is scared of the cost. I like that my God knows what it is to feel alone. Not because I want God to feel sad or be pained, but it means He knows how I feel. He knows the desperate feeling of just wanting to feel connected, the empty ache of being left by those He loves. He knows my racing heart as I wait to get a shot, because He felt the terror of impending pain. While my pain cannot compare to His, my isolation paling in comparison, He knows how I feel.
Today is a day to remember that Jesus, God with us, chose a brutal death. He died. A man that walked this earth and sat under this sun, that saw the flowers bloom in spring and had a favorite food and a family, died. He chose death so that people He never knew, people who curse His name, people who killed Him, would have salvation from damnation. He died. He chose the hard, scary, lonely road to death for me. His victory will be celebrated in a couple of days, but today, His lonely sacrifice is the focus.
“I am sorry I brought this upon you, my boy. I’m sorry that… you must carry this burden. I’m sorry for everything.” –Bilbo, The Fellowship of the Ring