This profound piece of art grabbed our hearts when we visited San Francisco (Scott's parents) in January. The artist took actual pieces of an African-American Baptist church that had been destroyed by arson, and depicted them rising in a resurrection. The charcoaled scraps of wood are themselves extremely material, tangible, and hopelessly damaged. Yet the installation gives them both an austere beauty earned by their destruction, and an earth-defying anti-gravity upward-rising trajectory. The actual effects of evil, the aftermath of hate, are being transformed before our eyes as they resurrect in a glimpse of a Kingdom-among-us dimension.
Today, on Good Friday, I find myself thinking about this exhibit. Evil at our fingertips, and in our hearts, every day. Yesterday on rounds as we progressed around the Newborn Unit, starting with our 630-gram 25-week premature boy who almost certainly cannot survive and then moving on from sickest to most stable, we came to a moderately-sized preemie who was under the blue lights for jaundice. The intern started presenting her data as I turned off the blue, to evaluate her jaundice, and I noticed her color was rather sallow. So I started to examine her, only to realize she was dead. We did CPR for a short time, but this baby was stiff, with the wide pupils of a brain long gone. It seems in the morning the nurses had noticed her abdomen very distended, and stopped her feeds, but no one on our team knew, and by the time we realized we should have changed her antibiotics when the jaundice started, it was too late. In February I had 27 deaths in 28 days. Death is horrible, and ugly, and depressing. Poverty plagues this area. HIV/AIDS affects numerous children on our service. The wages and living conditions of women who work long hours on the flower farms are far from just. The passive-aggressive attitudes of some of the health workers drag us down. Scott's dad's brain injuries grieve us. My own compulsion to correct, fight, criticize, form an opinion rather than listen with compassion, gets me in trouble. I feel sorry for ourselves too quickly. In short, this world is a mess, evil burning through our attempts at worship in a thousand ways less obvious than a burned church.
It is only with a eyes-open view of reality that Good Friday comes into focus. The suffering servant, Isaiah says, had no form, comeliness, or beauty that we should be attracted to him. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with all the depths of grief, hate, destruction that humans devise. Like the church above, he was attacked and violently destroyed.
But in the moment of that dissolution, a profound shift takes place in the universe. The Friday of the cross becomes good, because an actual power goes out like a drop of blood and water whose ripple affects the entire space-time continuum in all directions. This year, the truth has jumped out from the page, that the cross isn't just a legal execution that tallies and account paid, so that we are somehow judged free in spite of all the mess we are actually in. Rather the cross is the fulcrum of a reversal of all that is wrong, an actual cleansing, and actual change in us and in the world. The pieces of the burned church rise up to become a cathedral of God.