I can hardly imagine the shock God felt, squeezing infinite love and creativity into the vulnerability of a human infancy. I am equally at a loss trying to imagine what happened in God when Jesus died. If you take seriously the Trinitarian understanding of the reality of God, it’s a little hard to imagine. Jesus felt forsaken; he said as much. But maybe he was not being forsaken; maybe he was being accompanied even into death. Maybe God was dying, too, and that’s why Jesus felt no answering love in his spirit as he called out at the end.
Shelly Rambo argues in Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining that the Holy Spirit in some way persisted, carrying a weak and weary drop of life out of the death of Jesus, bearing it in some way until the resurrection. She describes some kind of role – bearing witness – for Mary Magdalene and the beloved disciple. I would take her description one step further. As Jesus breathed his last exhale, those who were present in some way drew in that dying breath: held that air in their own lungs, where it became part of them, and so carried this breath until sharing it into the air of resurrection.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I want to stay in the middle. Well, no, I don’t want to. I want out of the middle, just like everyone else facing into an unknown, or an unwanted known. We want to race from the crucifixion to the resurrection.
It’s not that we don’t understand the space between the two. We understand all too well. Holy Saturday is where we spend altogether too much of our lives.
“Take this cup from me,” we say. I need to know, and control, and be in charge of my fate. I don’t want to wonder why; I don’t want to ask for mercy; I refuse the breathless, praiseless hell of Sheol. I will praise you, God, even when I have no reason to praise: I will call out that You are in control, that You will not give me more than I can handle, that You’ve got this. I will make an idol of my idea of You, of what I need You to be. Anything to avoid the dead middle of I don’t know and I can’t fix it and I just have to wait.
So, no, I don’t want to stay in the middle. But here I am. And I have learned to live, here. I have learned to see the beauty around me, to feel the love coming to me, to find work worth doing, even in the midst of I don’t know and this is not what I thought it was going to be and I don’t know how to keep going.
When I can go no further, I have friends and loved ones who take up the baton and breath for me, praise for me, pray for me. When I encounter someone else who can go no further, I take the baton and breathe for them, pray for them, even curse for them, in order to bear witness to their unbearable reality.
When Jesus died, and the breath of God was left only to a disembodied Spirit brooding over us, we did what God needed us to do. We took the breath into our bodies, we carried it on, and somehow handed it back to God, hale once more.
I have so many questions … so few answers … but when logic fails me, I take this turn: into what my spirit knows, and my mystic heart holds true. When the nightmare has come upon you, I can breathe through it with you, bear witness to your pain, and eventually reconnect you with your own breath. God did it for us; we did it for God; we have done it for each other through the ages. We can do it still. And every day I live through this middle way, by the grace of God and the breath of my friends, I learn more deeply how to hold space and breath and time: for them, for God, for you.