I got assigned to the first reading on Good Friday. At first, I thought my friend Klara had a wicked sense of humor. We had talked Sunday night about my current mood. She didn’t know that the passage is the fourth and greatest of the Suffering Servant songs, and is often mentioned by people in pain and depression. Perhaps her seemingly random assignment was Providence. I’ve been preparing since then. Reading on Sunday, reading last night, pronunciation tonight, Thursday night. I’ll be in Bond Chapel, so I’ll drop in and listen to my cadence and pace tomorrow before the show. Twice I’ve been in tears while reading it, so this could become catastrophic (and I’ve arranged a backup just in case). On the other hand, I’m professional enough to hold it together, I think, and then it should be marvellous.
Back when I was an undergraduate, this was one of my favorite passages, on both a theological and personal level. I actually stated this was my favorite at a Christian Fellowship meeting back in 1994 or 1995. I think it’s a positive sign that my foundational passage has changed now, to the first reading at the Chrism Mass, verses 1-3 of a different part of the Book of Consolation. It’s still important, though.
I’m typing this now on Holy Saturday, after the service. [You can consider this a special daytime edition of Musings After Midnight.] I don’t think it was my best; I mangled three words, and toned down my full range of emotion. My friend Lisa said that I did a good job, but she is my friend. She did notice that I read verse 10 very forcefully:
But the LORD was pleased
to crush him in infirmity.
It’s such an interesting verse. It’s very non-American, particularly the American television evangelical strain. That Christianity is very positive.
I’ve called it shiny and bubbly. In this world, Christ fixes problems, makes one happy, and I don’t know, makes my teeth whiter. I once got this advertising flyer: “I already feel bad. Why do I have to go to Church?” Intervarsity, at least from my experience, was like that. Their service on Good Friday didn’t read Isaiah. This year, I’ve seen signs for the Intervarsity Easter breakfast, but nothing for Friday. That doesn’t surprise me; the current Passion movie has shifted focus a little, but this is still a Resurrection nation.
At least for one day, though, everyone ponders the Cross. I’ll start with the Gospel, which was chanted in the Calvert service this year. This was unfortunate, because it contributes to a general atmosphere of ephemeralness. [I do NOT like chanting, Latin, violins, and so forth at Mass. Since this won’t go unchallenged, I’ll comment more fully soon.] In specific, though, it means that we parishioners do not condemn the King of the Jews; we do not chant “Crucify Him!” The community loses out, and I lose out. For that is the most challenging part; it disturbs me every year, because it’s true. Verse 5 of Isaiah even tells us that: he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins. And, just to make it clear, by “he” I stand with Christian thought in referring to Christ as Messiah. It’s interesting that some Jewish thought on this passage has changed. Older tradition points to a Messiah, but as Zionism took hold, the suffering servant become the nation of Israel. I’ll hew to the older line.
Now, I return to the older passage, and specifically to verse 10, “But the Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity.” Why was the Lord pleased? How could the Lord be pleased? My version of the New American Bible finds this verse disturbing enough that it adds an explanatory note: “Because he fulfilled the divine will by suffering for the sins of others, the Servant will be rewarded by the Lord.” I’m still confused.
- How can the Lord be pleased to see infirmity?
- Is infirmity part of the plan?
- Is my infirmity God’s will?
- If the Lord is pleased to crush him, is He pleased to crush me?
I’d like to scream about hope, and the taking of our suffering and afflications, but I can’t right now. Most of the pieces I post reach a conclusion. This is not one of them.