At the Foot of the Cross

We read the Passion of Christ in church on Sunday — the account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, his indictment by the chief priests and the crowd, his humiliation by the Roman soldiers, his walk to Golgotha, his crucifixion and death. Our rector asked us to imagine ourselves within the story. What did we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel? Which character did we identify with? He gave us time to sit with this experience in lieu of giving us a sermon, a bold and powerful move.

I found myself at the foot of the cross, one of the women weeping as I watched my friend and mentor dying a painful, humiliating death. The disappointment was palpable. What had happened to all our lofty goals? We were going to transform the world, to bring a new ethos of love and equality, to make God’s kingdom visible on earth through our radical example of trust and active caring. Jerusalem was going to listen to us the way the hill people of Galilee had done. Now this: Our dreams shattered. Our leader dying on the cross. His followers scattered in confusion and fear. A shameful, ignoble end to a bright and shining vision.

The disappointments of my own life merged with those of the woman at the foot of the cross. The disappointment of my mother’s emotional abandonment as she dealt with disappointment of her own. The disappointment when other authority figures drop the ball on their commitments. The disappointment in love, which has never been the fairy tale promised in childhood. The disappointment in not achieving success as a writer. Underneath it all, the disappointment in life. I thought it was going to be such a great adventure. Sometimes it is. But often, it’s this: A journey through a gray and broken world. People hurt you. They let you down. They die on the cross, or in their beds, or in a thousand other ways before the physical death ever comes.

What is there to hold on to?

It may be time to forgive the disappointment, to forgive the world for not being everything I wanted it to be. To forgive other people for not being perfect. To forgive God and to forgive myself. But not yet. That comes with Resurrection Sunday, when we realize there’s something beyond death on the cross. Now we don’t know anything except the bleakness of this moment, the terrible, painful loss of the ideal we have cherished.