Easter As It Was
There was always something at Easter, usually a band competition that took the family away. Mum and Dad and my brother would head off and I would be sent to stay with my grandparents over the period. It was convenient, and of course my grandparents just loved the opportunity to have me under their care of the extent of Easter. So I would arrive on Thursday afternoon and my grandmother was gleeful. She knew she had me, that there was no escape and that the weekend that followed would be torment and humiliating. For her, this was a gift, a wonderful time to be savoured.
Good Friday brought the trials and suffering of Christ. We were taken in the afternoon to the house on the hill. The long driveway taking us away from the street and then down the stairs to the room under the house. It wasn't far I suppose, but it felt like the whole world was so removed, a distance that couldn't be crossed. If we were early the children were left to sit alone in the dark knowing the rules about not making any noise or turning the light on as the adults enjoyed themselves upstairs. I think there was a fair bit of drinking, the smell of alcohol would be present when they returned. This ritual, waiting for them to return, hoping they wouldn't, but knowing there was no escape became well known. There was something familiar about it, reassuring in a strange way. Time alone to prepare, to batten down the hatches and set the mind into the right place. We were all so stoic about it, not one of the children present ever seemed to get upset, we sat quiet and patient for their return.
When they did return there was the sermon. It always started with a lesson, what we must learn, what we must be shown. We had to know the hatred of the crowd, the pain of suffering, we must have strength and trust in the Lord. Death was what He demanded, but suffering too, for by enduring pain we would find his respect and love, and be ready to free mankind from the grip of Satan. We needed to be grateful we had been chosen to suffer, grateful for the pain and the death, grateful we could serve God. We must remember this, don't cry out in mercy, don't beg for it to stop, because to do so would bring shame on us all and indeed on God himself. His voice, his words, so dramatic, so powerful, I wonder why it is madmen always seem so emotive and articulate.
The children chosen to be trialed, always in threes, began their journey. The whipping was first, sometimes with a belt of thick leather, other times with knotted rope, it never really mattered what was used to whip us. I am sure they would have loved some authentic ancient whip, but it was the results, the bruises and welts over bare skin. Pushed over the chopping block, hands held to the floor and the clothing, white shifts, ripped open to expose our back. We have been beaten a lot in our life, and yet each beating brings pain, you don't accustom to it, you learn to accept it as the way you live, but nothing ever seems to remove the pain. We were whipped, forty times I suppose, I don't remember each strike, they become numbing in a way, the pain intense but the mind not really telling one blow from the next. I remember the cheering and laughing, the adults around us watching, crying with joy as we were tortured. This was part of the lesson, part of the enactment. We were suppose to understand what it is like to be tortured and humiliated in front of a crowd that cheered it on, that enjoyed there suffering because they despised all you were.
There were other trials to endure. Later we would be chided for the fact we wouldn't allow them to truly stab or nail us, somehow we had the power to prevent this from happening, it was because of who we were that prevented them doing what was needed. They got creative though. There were other ways to bring us close to that holy experience. A stick, sharpened to represent a blunt spear slammed down into our side, bringing us to our knees was enough for them, and enough to bring a triumphant cry from the rest that crowded around us. The crown of thorns, the crown of barbwire was pushed down over our head. These cuts, small could be explained away if anyone saw them. The blood would trickle down our sweaty forehead, stinging our eyes. There was a lot of pain, but we had to be honourable. We could cry, there was no stopping those tears, but never cry out for it to stop, never show you were anything but willing to endure these trials, that would have been unthinkable, and there were worse trials and punishments than what we were experiencing.
There were two different crosses, two with their eyes to tie the child into, ties that bound the arms and feet to the cross with rope or chain. The ropes tied around the wrists and upper arms, holding our arms outspread, and the one around our ankle holding our legs together, uncomfortable and awkward to stand. See this was the training cross, we were allowed to be bound to it, allowed to have the ground beneath our feet. The ropes were tight, not giving any room for movement and it made standing difficult, but there was ground there, there was some relief in the ropes as they had control, you didn't have to concentrate to stay in place. The other cross, the one in the middle, was an act of sheer will. You had to hold on, your hands gripping the nails at the end of the cross, and there were thin ledgers that acted as a frame for your body. But nothing held you to the cross, you had to concentrate, force your body to stay in place no matter how painful it became.
And the pain, there is something about pain that comes from within your body rather than from the outside. That is what Good Friday means for us, pain. There becomes a point when the pain of having your arms outstretched, the ache from the bruises over your body, and the constant unending torment takes over your mind. You can't really think anymore, you can't form anything out of the mist in your mind. The pain takes over; it rules your body, your mind, and your spirit. It removes all understanding, all time, and indeed the world. You know suffering and you don't question it. That is what life is for. And some time later, it could have been years or minutes, I don't know, you are taken down, declared dead and bound in white cloth. It is over, it is done. Death welcomes you.
There were times when we weren't chosen for this honour and test. It shames me now to admit it, but I was always so relieved when it wasn't me. I wanted some other child to suffer. I wanted one of them on the cross that night. This we were told was how Jesus' faithful felt, pleased they weren't the ones to suffer, turning away from Him so to save themselves. We were no different than those that denied Him back then, that turned away from His love and teaching. It was a shameful thing, and yet there was secret joy that it wasn't us. We didn't care that others would suffer intensely that night, we weren't martyrs, and we weren't beautiful and light. There was the same ugly cruelness in us that didn't care who else suffered as long as we were ok.
There is still much debate from those that experienced these events over what happened next. For some we were simply dead, we died on Friday and were judged by God. The vagueness of the experience is simply what happens when you are in the presence of God. They don't question it; they refuse to believe anything else. Others claim they returned to our grandparents' house, left in bed and fed sedatives to recuperate after the torment of the night before. Either way Saturday blurs into non existence. It simply became a non-day, time passed but without us in it.
On the first day, Friday, Jesus died, and on the third day, Sunday he rose, bringing with him God's love, life and hope. But on our third day we rose to find only failure and rejection. We were not good enough in God's eye. We had failed the test and our unworthiness brought shame and hatred to the rest of the group. We were told when we stood before God he saw inside our soul and all that resided in there was sin and filth. They had tried all year to make us pure and worthy. They had drummed lessons into us, and they had tried to purify our body and soul. And it was all for nothing, we had failed them, we had disgraced them. We had learnt nothing. We had wasted all that work. We were bad, evil, and ungrateful. The failure was of course ours.
All that hatred and disgust would erupt then. We had to be punished. Not so much to learn a lesson, there would be lessons to come, but this punishment was simply a result of our failure. We had let everyone down, the chance to "become" lost because of our filth. There were beatings and rapes, but their hatred exploded in other ways. Shit forced into our mouths, smeared over our body. Dead animals inserted inside us. All this to show what filth we really were, that our disgust had been witnessed by God and was now known to them. We were a girl of dirt, filled with sin and filth. We could expect no love, no peace for we deserved nothing but the filth we laid in and the hatred of those around us.