Vacation time grips the imagination of Westerners. In Britain, it is now possible to buy an airline ticket on the Internet for a few pounds, then land in a European city for a quick break, boosted by the elixir of novelty and the thrill of just being able to do it. A different language, a different currency, a different climate and adventures await. And why not? The best way to understand your own culture is to live in another.
Easter morning is the defining place and moment of Christian space and time. It is the Christian Genesis: male and female in a garden, darkness becoming light. The first day. It is the Christian nemesis: death and despair displaced by life and hope. The last day.
Mark’s Gospel is some kind of joke. It announces itself as the story of the Son of God, but it doesn’t begin with glory. Instead it starts in obscurity in the wilderness. It portrays the disciples—surely the leaders of the church in Mark’s day—as bungling fools. They watch Jesus perform one miracle, then doubt his ability to do the next.
The one who voices Psalm 51 is on the floor before God, utterly ashamed and as dust before glory: “My sin is ever before me.” The symptoms of sin are gradually displaced by the greater reality of God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned.” The speaker does not look outside for an oppressor to blame, but inside, to the “inward being,” for a heart to be renewed.
It was Boxing Day 1989. Romania was in turmoil. The previous day, President Nicolae Ceausescu, unable to quell the tide of dissent in Bucharest, had been tried and executed. Now no one was in charge. Western reporters flooded into the country from the south, searching for someone who could speak English.
Imagine being crucified. Imagine, first of all, the physical torture. Brutal hands forcing your body into a contorted shape. Hammer and nails piercing whole frontiers of agony in hand and foot. Sagging lungs dragging your thorax down, so that every breath is an increasing effort, a fight against suffocation.
The religion of Israel is a great theater. Moses goes up on the mountain and the clouds close underneath him like curtains. He brings down the commandments, and the children of Israel are unimpressed. Solomon builds a huge temple. Inside, behind a great curtain, is the Holy of Holies, where the high priest, like Moses before him, communes with the Lord.