Friday, April 3, 2009

This date

I'm a date person.  As I've said before, due to some quirk in my brain, I can retain birthdays, anniversaries and other far less important dates in ever expanding file cabinets in my dusty head.  When I think of all the important things that could fill my mind, I'm aware of how superficial this 'gift' really is.  Nevertheless, it's part of me, and makes me interested in dates.  And there's a wonderful side-effect of this knowing: many days, when I jot down the date at the beginning of a journal entry, my brain moves to a person who celebrates a birthday, or an anniversary, or, sometimes even a home-going to heaven. Today is no different.  From the time I awakened this morning, I've been aware of this date, especially because today is also a Friday, just as it was in April of 33 AD.

See, this is one of two dates most historians and astronomists believe that Jesus died.  The other date is April 7, 30 AD. These dates are based on when Passover was, which can be conclusively discovered via Jewish calendars.  There's some controversy based on the actual number of Passovers in the gospels (John puts it at 3), and when Jesus was born, which was sometime between 7 and 4 BC.  It grounds the gospel in history for me to understand that the crucifixion happened on a specific date. I understand the rhythm of celebrating this holy moment on a Friday so that we can also celebrate the holy moment that comes on the third day, the first day of the week.  But knowing the date, living with it as a real moment in real time, sends shivers up and down my spine.  Jesus isn't myth, he lived and breathed and had a birthday (though there's no way of knowing when that actual day was--some say October, others claim it couldn't have been in winter because the shepherds were in the fields, which they wouldn't have been in the cold of December), and he died on one date, not a fluctuating  Friday related to a pagan celebration of the spring's equinox. 

But I also like that this year, April 3rd is on a Friday, that one of the two possible darkest, best days of the year happens the day before the Sabbath, just as it did when He let out His last breath and commended His Spirit to God.  On this very day, 1976 years ago (or four days hence, 1979 years ago), at this exact time of day, He had already been taken down from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea, and taken to a tomb some place in Jerusalem.  His body was bloody and limp, though rigamortis may have begun to set in in the spring heat.  Seriously, think of that--His body stiffening in death, blood no longer flowing, He was really and truly dead.  As dead as anyone can be. Think of His bruised and beaten body, with the gaping holes in palms, feet, the gash on his side.  A thorny crown still puncturing the skin of his forehead.  A real man, real suffering, real death.

Many--MANY--over these 1976 + years, have insisted that He wasn't really dead when taken from the cross, that His disciples made up the whole thing.  But it doesn't hold water, anymore than His sword-punctured-hip held water.  The man lived, and then He died.

The end.

Except not the end.  April 3 happened.  But so did April 5.  Or April 9th, if you'd like.  I earnestly, seriously, thank God for this day, but if Sunday wasn't coming, if this was the end of the story, we would never have heard of the man Jesus.  He'd have been only another in a long line of would-be prophets, madmen with messiah-complexes.  I wonder how many others the Jews had put to death over their long history, people who believed they spoke from God, who told uncomfortable truths.  But when their lives were cut off, it was the end of the story, the end of the movement.  The end. 

Only this once, only this Man, only God could die on a Friday, live again on a Sunday and the whole world was changed forever. 

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