TUESDAY OF HOLY WEEK
Gospel Jn 13:21-33, 36-38. You will follow me later
In olden days I used to take a few days to drive to Monte Oliveto, my monastic motherhouse in Tuscany. It was a lovely drive, on good French roads. When we got to the Italian border, however, there started an endless series of long and short tunnels, too narrow for modern traffic and filled with insane drivers.
The tunnels were not as lovely as the rest of the drive. They swallowed you into darkness and then expelled you into blinding Mediterranean sunlight. There was no predictability, some lasted miles, others a few hundred metres. I remembered this when writing yesterday about the unlovely Year of Covid we are still struggling through.
We talk about it as ‘the crisis’, forgetting the other crises we were not coping with before Covid and which are still waiting: climate change, democracy, globalisation, the crisis of meaning that underlies addiction and systemic abuse of all kinds.
‘O, no,’ you may think, ‘not all that. Why don’t you say some nice things about Easter instead?’ I agree and will try. But the good news of Easter won’t penetrate us if we don’t understand what we are passing through in the tunnels of our mind. Resurrection comes only after death not as a sedative for the pain of dying.
It would be an absurd understatement to say the Crucifixion was a crisis in the life of Jesus. Death is not just a crisis. It is an end. Whatever faith and hope we may have, an end has all the signs of finality. Ask anyone, even a believer, who has lost a loved one. It is the unreportable, indescribable experience: what Hamlet called the ‘undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns’. How can we talk truthfully about somewhere we have not yet visited?
Crisis can make us depressed. But death is more than that. It may sound strange, but it is easier to find true hope in the experience of death than in dealing with a crisis. This is because, in death, all images of what we hope for also perish in its dark tunnel. Hope is born only from the death of hopes. So, we hardly recognise real hope when it arrives just as the disciples did not recognise the risen Jesus when he returned to show himself in a new light. Understandably, they had given up. They were either running away or returning to their fishing nets. Hope only appears after the exhaustion of false hopes and when all attempts to deny reality have failed. Real hope is part of resurrection, light after darkness, life after death.
The mystical term for this is ‘dark night’. As in the autostrada tunnels, the dark night is impenetrable. You can’t see beyond the end; and the endless going in and out of the tunnels wears down your faith and even what you thought was your capacity for hope.
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ This is the point of no return; but it is also the turning-point