As I am struggling with the meanings of festivals I thought I knew well (Holi, Dussehra...), I am also starting to struggle with the meaning of festivals in other traditions.
But what is being commemorated around the world right now is a sort of universal festival, and I am meditating on the awful and awesome events that are commemorated this Friday, which is both Bad and Good. This is a difficult meditation, because we Hindus don't like to meditate on death.
How can a Friday be commemorated as "good" in which a man was not only murdered in what was a knowing and deliberate distortion and miscarriage of justice - but killed slowly and in the most brutal and painful way imaginable?
For me the most horrible aspect of it is not even everything leading up to the death but the casual way in which a Roman soldier thrusts a spear into the man to check if he is dead.
This friday is an invitation to meditate on something from which we want to run. It is an invitation to focus on a fact that we want to think about the least: not only that individual human beings can be horrible, but that entire systems of government can be not only oppressive but totally unjust and unthinkably brutal. That the word is not only filled with beauty and delight but also with deliberate ugliness and extreme violence.
I repeat: even when the man is dead, that Roman soldier sticks a spear into the side of the man who is dying or dead.
Hey, man, can’t you SEE that he is dead?
You may not have known the fact that this man struggled so hard at the knowledge that he could CHOOSE to die or NOT die (and that the most violent and painful of deaths!) that he sweated blood at the choice.
But weren’t you there when he was being beaten 39 times with a flail of several strands of leather embedded and tipped with iron that broke his flesh in several places each time?
Can’t you see the blood that streamed from the gashes that are across his forehead and round his head when the crown of thorns was forced into his head?
Have you never carried wood? Surely you know how heavy and exhausting it must have been to carry across half a town enough wood that you can be crucified on it?
Do you have any idea of how searing it is not just to have nails driven through your hands and feet but to have your whole bodyweight hanging exactly on those nails?
To fight for every breath by lifting your body on exactly those painful spots for each breath?
And can’t you see that at some point long ago the man stopped lifting his bodyweight to breathe so he died because there wasn’t any oxygen going into his lungs any more?
Can’t you see that he stopped breathing long ago?
No of course you can’t see because when he stopped breathing, the sky turned dark!
The record doesn’t say that it became like night, it says that it turned dark.
So it was probably more like dusk or twilight.
One could see, but not see clearly, so you were only doing your job when you thrust your spear into the side of the man’s body so that you could check if he was really dead! Only doing your job.
You had to check the liquid that flowed down the spear into your hand. You had to check that the liquid was not the uniform red blood of a living person but the coagulated liquid in which the red cells separate from the clear plasma like curds and whey.
Now you could see that he wasn’t just dead, he had been dead long enough for that to have happened – probably an hour or more.
Now you had done your duty.
You could go home to a well-earned rest. To your wife and family. For whom you had earned enough money that day so that they could continue to have a good life. A bad friday for the threee men you had seen crucified that day, but for you it was all a normal day's work that your commander might even have commended as good.
But are the day's occurrences simply another miscarriage of justice to an innocent person - or are they good for humanity? For Hindus?
I guess the answer depends on whether a Hindu believes that the universe is a result of accident or that the universe is the result of some sort of plan or system? Further on whether that plan or system is the result of something machine-like or something that might have been organised and put into action by Someone? And if it was the result of the thoughts and actions (and perhaps even the love) of Someone, then whether we want to know that Someone? Whether we can dare to consider that in this man dying on the cross might be the vadhastambh of our Vedas, the Prajapati, the Ardhanarishwara. The fulfilment of all our homams (or havans) and yagnas and aratis and bali and naivedyam and jal or doodh chadhana.
If he really came to give us eternal life as he said, so that anyone who trusts him will find the river of life.
The friday can only be good for humanity, for Hindus, if that death becomes the secret of having in our lives the Internal Guru who can continually guide and transform us into agents of blessing in a world in which humans can be evil and brutal, and whole local and global systems can be exploitative and unjust.
In other words, it is only when the Bad becomes the secret of countering and overcoming evil in the world that it can be Good.
We don't dare to think about that either, because it calls on us to abandon ourselves (prapatti) to someone who does not offer us the peace of stillness or comfort, but the struggle (tapas) with him so that we are also poured out for the Good.
A struggle that can be similarly costly and, in human terms, even Bad.
A struggle against the Bad not only at an individual level but also at the level of national and global systems.
Is it possible that it is only as we are prepared to have even the Bad happen to us in the struggle for Good, that we can discover whether this Friday is something to be ignored or something that is actually Good - and is something that is a means, to others, to Hindus, to humanity, for Good.