From Good Friday’s ‘No!’ to Easter Sunday’s ‘Yes!’
EDITOR’s NOTE: Over many years, author, pastor and counselor Benjamin Pratt has talked with Christian communities about the deep drama that unfolds in what Christians call Holy Week, the observances leading up to Easter. Sometimes, as in this column, he draws on illustrations from his literary research into the moral lessons in the novels of Ian Fleming.
By BENJAMIN PRATT
Author of Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins
Bond, James Bond 007 was married only once. Then, in one of the most shocking turns in the course of Ian Fleming’s novels—Bond’s wife was shot and killed by Bond’s archenemy on the day of their wedding.
Bond began to lose his edge: He didn’t show up for work; he began to deal with his loss by drinking, eating too much, gambling, losing his sense of mission. His boss, M, had Bond examined by psychiatrist-neurologist Sir James Malony who reported to M that Bond was in shock, and that his behavior was quite appropriate. Then, he concluded with the startling line: “We must teach them that there is no top to disaster.”
Everyone of us has a top to disaster. As we are seeing in the ruined streets of Ukrainian cities, that trauma varies widely: the death of a child, rape, torture, loss of a home. In our own country, during this pandemic, so many of us have lost jobs and homes, suffered from life-threatening conditions from COVID to cancer.
When we go over the top of our disaster limit we are prone to reduce our world to a small, predictable, controlled safe place. Risking our talents is the last thing we are prone to do.
But, Sir James Malony says an even more remarkable thing in response to M’s request of help for Bond. His answer is “We must give him an impossible job.” In contrast to our thought that he should take a month on a cruise liner, we hear that “he should be given an impossible job.”
So M sends Bond on a mission to infiltrate and destroy a castle created for people who have lost faith in life, a castle where people can kill themselves. (Bond could have been one of those who had gone to kill himself since he had lost faith. Instead he has come to risk facing and destroying it.) The man who created this castle of death is the same devil who killed Bond’s wife. By confronting and killing the devil of despair, Bond confronts his own despair and is on the road to healing his own wounds. (Yes, it is an allegory that is as much about the inner journey as the outer journey.)
How is this relevant to our journey toward Easter in 2022?
Christians around the world are entering Holy Week, which contains the three most important days of the Christian calendar. Holidays focus on history. That’s the way most of us approach the ancient traditions and family customs that we love to repeat each year. But, the yearlong cycle of Christian holidays are much more than that. These seasons are timeless, yet they also are very clear invitations to affirm our personal journey as God’s people.
Now, in Holy Week, everything converges in a kaleidoscope of life and death, hope and tragedy, community and isolation. In these final days before Easter, we pass through enormous sorrow and abandonment as we move toward the spectacular joy we proclaim at Easter. On Good Friday we experience the top of disaster, recalling how Jesus was tacked to a tree—his spirit broken. Holy Saturday is a long period of waiting when, some Christian traditions say, Jesus descended into Hell. Easter brings resurrection—in this life and the next.
We might think of Friday as the day of “No!” As we personally experience Good Fridays, life throws us against a rock, tacks us to a tree, devastates our innocence and dreams for our marriage, our country, our children, our lives. That “No!” breaks our spirit and almost destroys our faith in the goodness of God. On such Fridays, the pain is excruciating, and it is appropriate to be angry, enraged and in deep grief.
Saturday is “I don’t now.” We move—as Jesus’s followers did 2,000 years ago—into a soft cynicism or despair. We can’t stay in Friday’s intense pain, but we haven’t reached Easter’s joy. Saturday is the janitorial day. We can’t mourn; we can’t celebrate; we don’t sing Alleluias. So, we get up and start moving through our many tasks. Grief and anger from Friday evolves into a flat, soft, lazy, cynical bitterness, a spiritual deadness. This is life without any spice, vitality or vigor. This is spiritual accidie—a term I describe in my books on Ian Fleming and on coping with the challenges of caregiving.
And, Sunday? “YES!” We yearn for Easter, when we are reborn with new directions, new possibilities. It is the day of a clean and restored heart. We are able to sing praises and live with purpose, compassion and gratitude. The Psalmist writes: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit, not a cynical spirit, not a bitter spirit. You will not reject a humble and repentant heart, O God.” (Psalm 51)
Let me be clear what I am not saying. I am not suggesting that we get ourselves off our own hands by attending to others or a larger mission. Turning outward comes after we have done the painful interior work of feeling our loss. You may be aware that hospice will not accept volunteers who are not at least one year away from a significant death.
Eventually, the grief journey must include turning outward to heal the losses and grief in ourselves in what feels like an impossible risk.
Perhaps real recovery takes place only when we take our own wound and turn it outward to give generously and with gratitude to others.
This year, many Christian churches will be including prayers and other symbolic signs of our solidarity with the people Ukraine who continue to suffer seemingly endless cycles of violence.
Alfred Lord Tennyson said, upon the death of a close friend: “I must love myself into action lest I wither in despair.” Henri Nouwen, the late Catholic priest shared that “the wound of Jesus is like the Grand Canyon, a deep incision in the earth’s surface that has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and meaning.” The wounds of Jesus have become a source of beauty for many of us.
Our wounds may become a source of beauty and meaning for others also. The pain can end and the healing take place when we take the beauty of our own pain and extend it as a gift to others. As their hurt is healed, so is ours.
Let me illustrate by the story of a real life James Bond—a sheet metal worker named Michael Flocco. Michael and his wife had only one child. He was killed when the plane went into the Pentagon on 9/11. It was an over the top disaster experience. Michael stopped going to work, he sat at the kitchen table every morning looking at the family photo album which contained pictures of his son. He started with coffee but by lunch he was hitting hard liquor to drown his pain and grief. One day, Michael’s wife saw an ad for sheet metal workers needed to repair the Pentagon. She cut it out and placed it in the family album. That morning Michael found the ad and called his boss and told him he wanted to go to work at the Pentagon repairing the building. Michael’s choice to work repairing the very building where is son was killed must have felt like an impossible job. It became the place he began to heal his soul and recover his life.
It became a place for Easter Joy!
Care to learn more?
Read the other related columns …
This is one of four Jewish-Christian-and-Muslim holiday columns in mid-April 2022 that include photographs of endangered holy sites in Ukraine. Here are links to all four of them:
RABBI LENORE BOHM writes Passover’s power to inspire action: This year, we will be thinking of Ukraine (the accompanying photographs shows the Brodsky Synagogue in Kyiv).
RABBI JACK RIEMER calls us to Proclaim a Passover ‘Dayenu’ that lifts up the people of Ukraine (with photos of the Kharkiv Choral Synagogue, the largest in Ukraine).
MARKING RAMADAN, Victor Begg reminds us that All of Our Faiths Call on us to be Peacemakers (with photos of the Al-Salam Mosque in Odessa).
REFLECTING ON HOLY WEEK and EASTER, Benjamin Pratt draws on illustrations from Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins and 007’s Moral Compass (with St. George’s church in western Ukraine).
And for more on Benjamin Pratt …
VISIT BENJAMIN PRATT’S AMAZON PAGE: Go to his author page and you’ll learn more about him, plus you’ll see links to three of his books.
Benjamin Pratt writes: “I have been bewildered by the staying power of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, envy, anger, sloth, covetousness, gluttony and lust. It was not until I began reading and studying Fleming’s ‘Bond, James Bond,’ that I was convinced that Bond was a knight out to slay these contemporary dragons threatening our lives. All of Fleming’s 007 tales follow a common theme that he identified in his first Bond novel, Casino Royale, as parables about evil people. Fleming’s stories have considerable mythological, allegorical and theological depth that are compelling to this day. Fleming found most of the traditional Seven Deadly Sins to be closer to virtues in contemporary culture.
While an editor on the staff of the Sunday Times, Fleming suggested the famous London-based newspaper publish a series of essays on the traditional Seven Deadly Sins. Fleming later saw that this collection of essays was published as a now out-of-print book called simply, The Seven Deadly Sins. In his Foreword to that volume, Fleming lays out seven modern deadlier sins, a list that turns out to be a roadmap to his overarching intention for writing the James Bond novels. Fleming’s modern sins that will send people to Hell are: Avarice, Cruelty, Snobbery, Hypocrisy, Self-righteousness, Moral Cowardice and Malice.