“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Galatians 6:14
“Please sir, may I have more?”
It’s the iconic moment in Oliver Twist, where the orphan bowl has been scraped clean and is offered up for just one more helping.
We all want more. It might well be the theme song for the consumer age, because there always is something which comes after, at least until there isn’t. For every human being on earth, there does eventually come a moment of no more. No matter the universality of this experience, it always comes as a surprise. I think it was Ernest Hemingway who said when asked, “How does somebody go broke?”, responded “Slowly, and then very quickly”. It means you don’t see it coming even when it is imminent. We are not hard wired to think about no more, because it is not a happy contemplation.
Eventually, life has a lot of endings, especially as we grow older. There are parting of ways with people we thought were friends, the end of a job where you are walking in bewilderment out of a building in front of a security guard, with a few things hastily gathered from your desk. The end of your paycheque when the cupboard is bare, or the situation we all meet eventually, the end of health and life and the mysterious separation that comes with death. We all know about it, but we do not truly know it, until we do.
Good Friday despite being a Christian observation, comes to us all as a universal. I suspect when you see people crying at a Good Friday service, there is a revisiting of personal feelings that are relatable, for the times when there was no more. No more life, no more health, no more money, no more love, you could make a list of those things which make us human. We feel them acutely at Easter when we enter into the journey of Jesus in the suffering which preceeded his crucifixion.
Faith is a funny thing because you cannot enter into a discussion about it without encountering the issue of our finitude. To skirt that human reality would be disingenuous and even cowardly. I don’t know exactly how to feel when I hear about someone who has passed away and a celebration of life will be held. It is not exactly the same thing as a funeral, because it seems to avoid the finality of death and question of what comes next, and even if there will be anything more. Whistling past the graveyard, as it were. No more, is not something we like to compass.
Still, beyond the uncomfortable questions something else may beckon. I watched on Holy Thursday while a mother and father walked tenderly to the alter bearing the offering gifts, hand in hand with their Down’s Syndrome child. They were very attentive as they directed the little girl. She was delighted to be participating in something special, and the parents were both happy and solicitous, taking in her response and guiding her through what needed to be done. It was a scene of obvious love.
It put a picture in my head, a conversation that must have at some point gone on with that lady and her doctor. Down’s Syndrome, is on the decline. It is that way because of how many women on the advice of a doctor, are terminating their pregnancy because of the pain it might bring into the world.
And yet that is not the picture that I saw. Somewhere out there had been a “yes”. What came after was no doubt a mysterious unfolding of the unexpected. The smiles on all of their faces and the obvious love told me that there might still be a lot of happiness and unknown treasure to be found in the unknown.
There is rabbinic story I once read, about a man entering Heaven. He saw a store of treasure and asked about it. His accompanying angel told him, that pile was for those who had spent their lives in service donating their talents in good deeds. They came to another pile, smaller, and the man asked again who this pile of treasure was for. The angel responded that this pile was for those martyrs who had suffered for their faith. Still further on, they encountered the largest pile of all. The man wondered at the dazzling jewels and the bounty that exceeded what he had seen already. ”Who are these for?” he asked the angel. The angel turned to the man and responded. He said, “This is the storehouse of treasure God has reserved for those who could bring nothing”.
It is a whimsical story. And yet, it grabs me. Though just a story, I suspect it to be more true than false. It is also the kind of story that is related to Easter because it gives you reason for hope just when you think there might be no more. In the Gospel story, the three years of Jesus’ ministry also came to an end with a question mark. Despite all that Jesus had foretold about his own death, the disciples could not really wrap their heads around it. Stories of no more, do not engender hope in most human hearts. And yet it’s that gospel subtext that has inspired so many sermons, “Yes, it is Friday, but Sunday’s coming”.
Sunday morning answers the universal question of what is next. When we reach out, the hand which reaches back has the scars from nails that have been forgotten when sorrow turns to joy. There is more. It is called resurrection, and it is the true meaning of Easter.