It struck me that we celebrate Christmas in the home with a Nativity Scene, a cast of characters – Mary, Joseph, rustic shepherds, an assortment of farm animals, a guardian angel, exotic wise men – crowded around Jesus in the manger…but that we don’t do the same with Golgotha.
At one level, why would we? One is a scene of hope, a new-born child; the other, a scene of death. Yet at another level, why don’t we? These are, after all, the two pivotal points in the Story we tell year after year.
Golgotha is every bit as crowded as Bethlehem. Yet when we distil it all down to a crucifix – or, worse, an empty cross – we lose so much. Even the Stations of the Cross, with their discreet episodes, don’t create a tableau.
For one thing, Jesus does not die alone. He is hung on an execution scaffold with two others, one on his right, the other on his left. John’s Gospel makes it clear that this is Jesus, the king of the Jews, taking his throne, surrounded by his people.
Who are these subjects? Are they ‘bad’ men, deserving of death? Or are they desperate, downtrodden men, who rolled the dice in throwing off whatever burdened them – a thief, against inequality? a rebel, against Occupation? – and whose gamble failed, leaving them to pay the price? Are they a problem to be exterminated; or, ultimately unable to save themselves from circumstance, are they objects of worldly wrath and heavenly compassion?
The truth, of course, hangs between the view from the Right and the view from the Left; pointing to both, holding them together.