Hell Is Empty, All the Devils Are Here

Hell Is Empty, All the Devils Are Here April 13, 2017

Maundy.  Christ as the Man of Sorrows.  Alsatian, 1470, MFA, BostonIt’s Holy Week, and I had the chance to hear a high school senior tell his own awesome story. Four years ago he said, when he had stumbled into school with his therapist’s number on speed dial and a dozen razor blades in his bag.

He’d been cutting himself regularly for a while. He wasn’t eating well, nor was he sleeping well, except when he was so drunk he passed out, so drunk his parents took turns sitting by his bed, to call the ambulance if need be. He barely weighed a hundred pounds. And most days he was unsure whether he wanted to live or not.

All this self-hatred arose from being statutorily raped by a middle school teacher.

He credits a number of people with saving his life. A girl in his Driver Ed class, who insisted he talk about it. His therapist, who has helped him step-by-step to learn what a healthy relationship is – he has made his way through a number that were not. Now he knows that love is not about being utterly dependent, and not about being enmeshed in someone else’s fragility.

Now – four years later, he is strong enough to talk about this before a roomful of people, unafraid to say what happened, and unafraid to say how healed he has become. And mostly, able to say clearly that none of this has made him weak. In fact, this has made him strong.

And isn’t this the story of Holy Week? Jesus, being betrayed, being deserted, becoming a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief for his own life. Jesus, covered with cuts, not of his own making, and yet, somehow, a result of choices he has made. Jesus, with God on speed dial, making his way through the days and their horrors. And Jesus, able to say, at Easter, that none of this has made him weak. (His enemies were sure it would) In fact, he says, all of it has made him strong.

As for relationships, he tells Mary at the grave, ‘do not cling to me’. Easter is not about clingy dependency. Easter is not about collapsing on Jesus in tears and giving him all our troubles. Easter is about getting up again. About finding out that we are stronger than the things that have knocked us down, that in fact they have made us stronger.

His friends tell the story. Even the parts where they weren’t there, the parts only he could have known. At the time, he didn’t say much. What victims ever do? But after, this is his strength. He shows everyone his wounds, his wracked body on the cross, his anguish. And says that in it he found the incredible strength to rise from death. And his Easter, his incredible strength, is here for everyone.

So tonight, as we gather at the table where sorrows are named and goodbyes are said, we gather to keep vigil on the process of becoming Easter-strong.

Who is there who can’t be broken? No one. And who is there who hasn’t broken down? Who doesn’t need Easter strength? We all need to rise. From our defeats, our brokenness, our failures, from the relationships that are killing us. From the unnamed devils. And when we do rise, those wounds become badges of our courage, our honor, our strength. They become our ability to live, as God’s own, in this world.
Image: Christ, the Man of Sorrows. Alsatian, 1470 AD. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Vanderbilt Divinity school Library, Art in the Christian Tradition.

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