(I had a last-Sunday-of-the-month appointment with a good guy I home teach. He was unable to keep the appointment because of conditions flowing from a frightening mystery illness that’s troubling him. So I wrote him a note, enlarged very slightly for posting here.)
Harvey (name changed to protect the innocent),
You may wonder why this is coming so early--I mean, there are still 23 hours left in the month. But this is the message I was going to share last night.
I've been reading in Third Nephi about how the believers felt about knowing that the Savior was finally walking the earth. They were really glad. The signs of His coming had literally saved their lives. They knew He was the Son of God, they knew He was healing and teaching. They had even heard that He was going to die for them. But He hadn't, yet.
I wonder if they thought much about that last part. Those in the old world who walked right by His side didn't. For us today, it's a matter of spiritual history, fulfilled prophecy, and clouds of witnesses. For them, it wasn't. Yet.
But for Him, it was. Always. If we choose a certain perspective, we can look at all He did through the lens of the Atonement. But we don't have to. He had to. I found myself wondering what it must have been like for Him to know in every moment of His ministry where it all was heading. What would it be like to know that you were going to suffer a death more painful than anyone before or after you? He had seen deaths that would sicken us and freeze our blood. (I'm thinking of times He just stopped it so He wouldn't have to see any more--the flood, the burning of Sodom & Gomorrah, the cleansing of Canaan, and the annihilation of Mormon's Nephites. After the dark hours of destruction that accompanied His crucifixion, the Savior’s voice was heard all over the land, declaring that city after city had been destroyed “that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up any more unto me against them.”) He had seen the worst pain and killing imaginable.
He invites us to see one another as He sees us, and to see all of Creation as He does--with love, compassion, and joy. I wonder if that also means that we're invited to see Him as He saw Him--to see Him cleansing a leper, knowing that He was going to feel the pain of leprosy in the garden, to watch Him write in the dirt, knowing that He would suffer the betrayal and shame and self-loathing of both the woman taken in adultery and the stone-throwers. He knew both the horror of looking down the barrel of a muzzle-loader trained on the heart of a prophet, and the damning rush of pulling the trigger. Horrible things, but He said something about having "descended below them all."
The disciples must have felt unutterably appalled and hollowed-out when the Lord was crucified. The mercy for us is that we never have to go through what they did. We know what happened on Sunday morning.
Of course, the more deeply we are able to feel the sorrows of the garden and the cross, the more deeply we'll feel the wonder and joy of the empty tomb. Sometimes I'm awake enough to imagine that everything that touches us for good or ill is a generous invitation into that depth, and that light--an invitation to feel and understand and appreciate the Atonement of Christ.
In the interest of chilling a little, I don't think the arithmetic is 50/50. I have a hope that's tantamount to testimony that someday we'll see all sorrow, even His (which was Ours), as the dark eye of the needle through which we enter into a joy that "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man," and into a peace "that passeth understanding." C. S. Lewis opined that all of Hell, which seems vast and limitless to the folks who are there, can be contained in the smallest chink between paving-stones on the outskirts of Heaven.
Heaven is good. See ya there.