free to die, free to live

I believe that this little story captures the essence of Easter:

A prison guard once told Nelson Mandela,
“Do you not know that I have the power to have you killed?”

Mandela responded,
“Do you not know that I have the power to go to my death freely?”

In Mandela’s willingness to die, he experienced the freedom to live. This scene is reminiscent of Jesus on the day of his death (John 19:10-11a):

So Pilate said to Him,
“You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?”

Jesus answered,
“You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above.”

There is a mysterious fullness of life that is offered to those who freely accept their death. In that way, Good Friday (Jesus’ death) is actually quite a lot like Easter (Jesus’ new life).

Similarly, there is an element of death in Easter.

We often associate Easter with the icon of a triumphant, dazzling Jesus that has ‘won the battle’ once and for all. As I browse Facebook, I am confronted with dozens of images of angel fanfares, empty tombs, and perfectly-groomed portrayals of Christ.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A

This is important, and it is even central to the Easter story. However, let me offer an alternative Easter narrative:

God loved his creation so much that he wished to dwell in it. He loved us enough to became a vulnerable human, and lived a beautiful life. Then, he was betrayed by his own friends and brought to be executed by the very people whom he had created out of love.

If I was God, Good Friday would have been the end of the story. Why would any reasonable God want to rise from the dead in order to live again with the same people who had killed Him?

"The Wounded Healer". Ecce Homo, Georges Rouault.

“The Wounded Healer”. Ecce Homo, Georges Rouault.

And that is the mystery of God’s love: he could have chosen to leave, but instead he chose to stay. He could have chosen to remain dead to us, but instead he chose to live.

What, then, does this imply about our relationships? If God has chosen to remain with the people that murdered Him, how do we have the right to abandon our relationships with those who have betrayed us? And how are we called to accept and remain with ourselves when are tempted by self-rejection?


In closing, I offer you this song from the late 90’s that beautifully describes the life that can be borne from a freely chosen death:

So may you, I, & all people freely choose to remain engaged in this messy world and in so doing find new life!

 

Brother Joe Babcock, ofm cap

A native of Port Washington, WI, I am a friar-in-formation for the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph (Midwest USA). Click here to read more...