The dark sacred time-space of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday is largely lost in sunny American optimism and happy consumerism. While we are broken and pained enough, as a culture, to appreciate tragedy, we work overtime to avoid it. Cue the chocolate bunny and the painted eggs: who needs resurrection if there is no death?
I like American confidence and prosperity, as do many from around the world who seek to live here; a “can-do” attitude is better than desperation. However, there’s a difference between confidence and bravado. Increasingly, we’re full of a bravado that looks confident and hopeful, but which in reality only masks our fear of the dark. Anything that has the faintest whiff of loss or diminishment is hidden off-stage, at great cost to our ability to reckon with the bedevilments of our age, political and otherwise. Religion is often complicit in making the mask.
True religion unmasks our denial, and points us to the dark sacred time-space of Gethsemane and Calvary. These are places of loneliness and agony that we already know deeply, but try to forget. What would be helpful is for us to acknowledge their presence; and most helpful would be to acknowledge their presence in some form of communal observance. (All of ancient Athens gathering to watch Sophocles’ drama of Oedipus comes to mind.)
Life is tragic– not ultimately tragic, but truly so. Any confidence worthy of the name needs grounded in the rich soil, the life-giving soil, that exists only through the mystery of death.