On Good Friday we offer this reflection by Tommaso Bertolasi, guest researcher at Sophia University Institute.
Birth and death have more than something in common. In fact, every time a child makes an appearance on the stage of history, that a man or a woman takes leave of it, the world changes. It is not the same anymore. They are extreme experiences, so difficult to understand that poets and writers have spoken more and better about both of them than philosophers. The metaphor, more than the concept, poetry and art more than speculation, are the language for talking about birth and death. These two experiences also have in common one of the most fascinating objects, source of immense research, something that all human beings experience: the physical body. The body is the first and last experience that everybody has of themselves. In being born and dying, the body is put on the ropes and assigned a limit.
Perhaps this is why Good Friday can make us think of Christmas. That God-child who, in Bethlehem, resembling Mary, his mother, made the fascinating Mystery of the Father of Life shine through. Outside the walls of Jerusalem, on Golgotha, he resembled any other dying man, and he showed the tremendous Mystery of an apparently absent Father. The bodily parable of Jesus is inscribed between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. They are also the two opposite consequences of the immensity of human freedom, so great that even God does not interfere with it.
The Christian God is a paradoxical God. The fate of Jesus’s body was already sealed at Christmas, just like the life of every human being: one day it will end. But why does God become a human being if he knows that sooner or later he will have to die? The incarnation, becoming flesh of the Word of God makes Christianity a truly peculiar religion because it makes the human body, not so much a mere trace of something that is absent, but an icon of a God who is present. God is present especially among those who love each other, and this is not possible except through relationships that are embodied in real human beings with their ways of living and acting. And yet, it took many centuries, and perhaps it will take even more, before we start to put aside a certain mentality that equates the human body with sin.
Now, if the body – and with it, in some way, all of creation – is an icon of God’s presence, in this very difficult time that all of humanity is going through, in front of the suffering bodies of so many sick people we often ask ourselves where this God is. I believe that Good Friday can offer not an answer to this question, an answer that perhaps only God himself can give, but rather an indication.
The Paschal event is within the symbolic time frame of three days. Temporality is the other side of corporeality, it provides the structure for human experience. The marvelous parched faces of some elderly people show how much these two dimensions are intimately connected to each other. One of the possible messages of the Paschal Triduum is that suffering, anguish, abandonment and death that affect the flesh are experienced within time, a precise span of time. Only a sick person or someone who has taken care of him knows how long that time can last . . .
Good Friday is the passing from Thursday’s supper to Golgotha, following Gethsemane and the trial, a moving into the night of abandonment. And the nights and the abandonments must also pass. If you try to avoid them, you are building an illusion to believe in as if it were reality, living under permanent anesthesia. However, if we come to a stop inside that illusion we risk living as if we were already dead and only a helping hand would be able to get us out of it.
The experience of the many internal and external deaths that sooner or later appear in the lives of all human beings, can be the occasion for a transition, perhaps long, certainly painful and difficult, in which however everything, feelings and values, take a different place, their proper place. The tears that are wiped from the eyes can sometimes be the prelude to a more transparent and limpid gaze on the complexity of the world. A vision of the night that will come to an end, holds the promise of the dawn of a new day – the Resurrection. And just as when we are born there are usually arms ready to welcome us, the paradoxical God of Jesus encourages us to believe that even when we die there will be different arms ready to welcome us.