There’s a saying about leadership (it is easier of course to talk about than do, like many things) that goes along the lines of if you want to lead the orchestra, you have to turn your back on the crowd. I’m wary of anything that suggests that in order to lead people, you must turn your back on them.
Like any saying though, there’s a grain a truth somewhere to be found, and it’s always worth looking at. I’m willing to bet the saying is of course more about not changing with popular opinion than with walking away but just the same.
The Crucifixion in christian terms is somewhat theologically straight-forward, but in Gnostic terms (ancient and modern etc, scriptural and experiential views etc), not as much- in the former both the event and its interpretation are well known, in the latter, different views on the event are present, and yet more differing views are to be found for each of them.
Here’s a few of them- It happened, either as a central lesson or the centre-point of history, and it equates to our own sacrifices and struggles. It didn’t happen, Jesus is chuckling, and it illustrates the untouchability of the spirit, and its distinction and superiority to matter. It didn’t happen, Jesus laughs and some poor other fellow is getting the nails as we speak because they got the wrong guy.
I’m not going to get into all the views or interpretations and I’ll leave the different Gnostic views to our priests and bishops who are much better scholars and theologians than I (which is pretty much all of them, and pretty awesome), but I will get into some of the human elements here to which I feel qualified to speak on by virtue of my own tangled humanity. They may not match your own, and that’s ok- the world doesn’t need too much of me.
What has always struck me about the the stories of scripture- be they canonical, gnostic, apocryphal and so forth, is just how much humanity comes through them, in the people, in the narratives, in their poetry.
Today, Good Friday, can be viewed in so many different lights, that it is hard not to find something to take home here.
It is about betrayal, about darkness, about sacrificing the lower for the sake of the higher, it is about state oppression, about persecution, about speaking truth to power, about broken bonds, broken chains and broken hearts, it’s about rending the veil, and the restoration of paradise, it’s about the love of a mother for her son, a teacher for his students, a student for his teacher, a criminal who turns a corner, a friend that turns away, it’s about denial, it’s about acceptance, it’s about inevitability, it’s about loyalty, about horror, about ignorance, about knowledge, it’s about the life of the world.
In the Liturgical Year course of St. Raphael’s Seminary, we look at the liturgical calendar and how the seasonal progression, feasts days and commemorations, touch upon the journey and spiritual work of the individual Gnostic. More often than not, students look at Holy Week in terms of both the salvation history of the Christian narrative, and as a process of sacrifice, regeneration and reintegration of the Divine and themselves.
The Easter Triduum is obviously a big part of this progression and spiritual work, and the perspective taken is from that of Jesus in the passion narrative.
It is natural, when considering one’s own spiritual journey, that one examines it through the central lens of the central person of the story, but I think because of the magnitude of that story and that person, that we often forget to look at the perspective of the other figures, and the roles and experiences we have and play as ‘other figures’ in the central experience of another person who makes these same examinations.
You may be Jesus in your spiritual journey but to someone else, you’re Peter, you’re James, you’re John, you’re Judas or Pilate, you’re the Magdalene, or the Mother, or Simon of Cyrene, you may be a thief upon the cross, or a centurion, or the High Priest.
We all have roles that we’d like to play, people that we’d like to be, and we all to some degree or another, end up playing out very different roles for other people.
As we are Johannites, and this is the community of the Beloved Disciple, it is very natural I think for us to spend some time in the shoes of the Apostle John, and we should also do so for the Magdalene and Mary, Mother of Jesus, because they are so closely linked in scripture (especially by this very day that I write on now) and powerful figures in their own right.
I started this piece off with a saying about leadership and who leaders must turn away from, but there’s another focus in the saying that gets overlooked because so many people place the weight on the people- and that’s the orchestra.
We look at it as a case of who we are turning away from, but what we should look at here is what are we turning towards?
John isn’t turning away from the people, he’s turning to face the Divine in a person, Jesus. See the difference?
This is a role we can always play, I’m not going to tell that it’ll be easy, but the option to face the Divine in each other, especially in their darkest times, is always available and often unfilled. Step into it for the sake of someone else.
It can be a ministry of presence, bearing witness and sympathy to their struggles, like the trio at the cross, even though they, and you, may be powerless to stop it.
It can be a ministry of caretaking- when we welcome others into our family and circles of friends, when Mary is entrusted to John’s care, and John in turn becomes a son to his now mother, and Mary to a new son.
Indeed, when darkness descends and the Divine seems so far away, is it not unto each’s other care we must go? To tend what remains of the Divine on earth in the presence of our fellow humanity.
Tell me of an age in human history, or a time in your life, when that is not relevant or important to do for others or have done for you.
We, as a people, as individuals, as communities, will not make it collectively or individually, to the Easter Sunday of our lives unless we do these things for each other.
Nothing will stop you from being a Simon Peter, or a Thomas (and there are plenty of times where we could all use more Simon Peter or Thomas) – any person who isn’t passionate or skeptical about their paths will not journey the length of it, but nothing stops you from being the Beloved Disciple either.
Hard choices and hard circumstances should make you want to fight harder or question more, but hard choices or hard circumstances will not necessarily make you love more.
For that, you have to turn towards it and step into it.
+ IOHANNES IV,
Sovereign Pontiff and Patriarch