Saturday, April 3, 2010

Zinovy at the Cross

Today, it seemed appropriate to post an excerpt from my novel, "Something About The Joy." Zinovy is reading from the little red book his colleagues have been studying in the evenings as they rest from their travels. The book has become a dangerous distraction, slowing their progress toward their destination. Zinovy decides to see what all the fuss is about:

Zinovy didn't know where his reading left off and the vision began. He saw the man hanging on a rough wooden cross, the man who had been called God's 'Passover Lamb' at the beginning of the book. The 'Lamb' was hanging by his wrists.

He was fastened to the cross by large metal spikes that had been driven through the arms just at the base of the hands, where they would hook on the bones, preventing the flesh from ripping further and the body from falling.A small wooden platform about sixty inches above the base of the upright beam supported the feet, which were crossed at the ankle and secured with one large metal spike that had been driven through them both.

The man was nearly naked. Zinovy could see the skeleton of the ribs standing out from the quivering flesh. The joints connecting the limbs were enlarged and grotesquely twisted, the bones pulled out of their sockets by the weight of the body as the cross had been dropped into its seating in the hard ground. The head was bowed over the chest. A crown of twigs circled the brow. Large thorns protruded from the wreath, the ones on the inside pushing into the scalp.

But the most mesmerizing sight to Zinovy was the blood. Bright red and dripping, it was everywhere. It percolated around the spikes in the wrists and the feet, dropping below to form dark pools on the ground beneath the cross. It trickled from jagged punctures on chest and abdomen where lashes from a cat-o-nine-tails had left the marks of a recent beating. It seeped from the head wounds, coming from behind the thorns, running down the face in rivulets, dropping from the chin onto the heaving chest below.

The man was innocent. According to the book, he had miraculously healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind and brought dead people back to life. He had scolded the religious leaders, and spoken gently to the poor and the weak. He had told his followers that the Creator loved them, and that love was the most important thing.

And now he was dying, almost gone, nailed to a cross by men who stood below mocking him, gambling to see who would win the robe they had taken from his body before they had impaled it.

Zinovy closed his eyes, shutting out the sight, but the blood remained. It seeped into his memory and mingled with the blood on the path he had stumbled over after his mother's death. It mingled with the innocent blood of the baby chicks he had loved as a child, and with the blood of the dead lions they had found on the trail.

He opened his eyes once more and, for the first time, he looked into the face of the man on the cross. Into those other eyes. Anguished, yet piercing, they returned his look. Sheer agony was reflected in every drop of blood and sweat that dripped from his chin.

But it was something else that horrified Zinovy. In that brief instant he recognized the face. It was the face of the stranger, a face streaked with tears at Zinovy's grief over the memory of his mother, a face distorted in anguish at the memory of the girls Zinovy had taken. A face, now he remembered, a face from long ago, that had looked on him in love over his mother's shoulder as she explained to him the meaning of his name.

Now that face was distorted, not from the pain of the torn flesh of his hands and his feet, or the rough wood against the lacerated back. Zinovy knew the look of physical pain on a human face and this was not it. And not from fear either. Zinovy knew that look as well. The eyes were filled, instead, with a grief that went clear to the man's soul. Something like horror, a deep revulsion, drew ragged lines around the mouth.

A heartbroken resignation, a resolute determination, and a deep, deep loneliness pierced straight as a sword into Zinovy's own soul, because he had seen that look before.

He had caused that look.

Zinovy's heart melted. It ran onto the ground before him, mingled with the blood from the cross, and was lost in the dark pools of the dying man's sorrow.

"Zinovy" is a Russian name that means, "Walking with God."

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Very Good Friday

I had plans for this day. Yesterday I'd looked through the newspaper flyers and found a sale on a little children's picnic table I'd been wanting to get for my grandchildren. At a very good price.

"Sale starts Friday," the flyer said. Good Friday.

This was a store famous for running out of sale items ten minutes after the store opened on sale day, so I made my plans: wake up early and head for the store before someone else gets my picnic table.

I woke up this morning, happy about my day. Several items I needed were on sale, and I was going to get some good deals. I had a bite to eat and sat down for a sweet quiet time with the Lord.

Reading in John 17:19-20, I was touched by his prayers for us: "I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine." Then, in the garden, his prayers for Himself: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." (Luke 22:42). Then, he left the garden for the cross. Not his chosen plan for the day, for sure.

By the time I had left that amazing world of Jesus' life and death, my shopping trip seemed out of place. Incongruous, somehow. On that first Good Friday, I'm sure many people went shopping. They wandered among the booths in downtown Jerusalem, squeezing the fruit, haggling over prices, then plunking their treasures in their baskets and heading home, satisfied with their bargains. It would have been business as usual for many of them.

But others didn't go shopping. Instead, they followed a bleeding man, who walked up a hill, stumbling under the weight of a heavy wooden cross. Those people missed all the bargains that day, but they ended up being eye-witnesses to the most incredible, the most significant event in the history of the world.

I pondered the loss of what I would miss if I didn't go shopping. Maybe the picnic table would still be there on Monday. It didn't really matter. I'd lost my taste for sales today. I put my list away and turned to other things.

* * *

In a few minutes my five-year-old grandson comes up from his family's apartment downstairs. We sit down to open up, once again, the carton of plastic Resurrection eggs I'd found at our Christian bookstore earlier in the week. Our grandchildren delight in this little, newly discovered, Easter ritual.

Each egg holds a small treasure. The first, a tiny donkey, a symbol of Jesus' ride into Jerusalem. The second, a few silver coins, the price Judas received in exchange for Jesus' life. (A real bargain, as it turned out.) The third, a cup, representing the one Jesus had asked his Father to take away, but had ended up drinking instead.

The next egg, the praying hands, represents Jesus' prayer in the garden.

"Wait," my grandson says, "If Jesus is God, how can he pray to God?" Good question. So begins a little discussion on the nature of the Trinity, at a five-year-old level. (This is, of course, the level at which we all carry on this particular discussion.)

"It's a mystery," I explain. "God didn't give us heads big enough to understand how he can be one God and three persons at the same time. We just have to trust Him."

The little face looks up at me, eyes bright with the wisdom only a child possesses, a small smile on his face. "Maybe when we get to heaven we'll have heads big enough to understand," he says.

I didn't go shopping today. I walked up Calvary's hill instead, hand in hand with my grandson. I tremble to think what I would have missed if I'd been in the store this morning. God had a much greater gift in mind for my grandchildren than the one I had my eye on. A much greater gift for me.

It's been a very Good Friday.