Good Friday Separation

The One who had gone through utter isolation and known our griefs laments with us at this time.

A man of sorrows who had experienced the ultimate separation: In a crisis, his followers deserted him, even his closest denied him; above all, the physical torments on the cross couldn’t match the pain of searing separation from his Father, forsaken.


He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

–– Isaiah 53: 2-5


This song has been on my mind all week. An apt meditation on this Good Friday as we’re all going through separation like never before. I chose a minimal video with just the words and the music. Take a 3 minute respite in your isolation this Good Friday.



A Good Friday Trial


“Then went the jury out, whose names were Mr. Blindman, Mr. Nogood, Mr. Malice, Mr. Love-lust, Mr. Live-loose, Mr. Heady, Mr. Highmind, Mr. Enmity, Mr. Liar, Mr. Cruelty, Mr. Hate-light, Mr. Implacable, who everyone gave in his private verdict against him among themselves, and afterwards unanimously concluded to bring him in guilty before the judge. And first among themselves, Mr. Blindman, the foreman, said, I see clearly that this man is a heretic. Then said Mr. Nogood. way with such a fellow from the earth! Ay, said Mr. Malice, for I hate the very look of him. Then said Mr. Love-lust, I could never endure him. Nor I, said Mr. Live-loose; for he would be always condemning my way. Hang him, hang him, said Mr. Heady. A sorry scrub, said Mr. High-mind. My heart riseth against him, said Mr. Enmity. He is a rogue, said Mr. Liar. Hanging is too good for him, said Mr. Cruelty. Let us despatch him out of the way, said Mr. Hate-light. Then said Mr. Implacable, Might I have all the world given me, I could not be reconciled to him; let us forthwith bring him in guilty of death. And so they did; therefore he was presently condemned to be had from the place where he was, to the place from whence he came, and there to be put to the most cruel death that could be invented.”

–– John Bunyan
Pilgrim’s Progress



Staying Awake in the Garden

I came across this image in Biola University’s Lent Project. It is by the Austrian children’s book illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger. Among several awards she had won, Zwerger received the acclaimed Hans Christian Andersen Medal for illustration—the highest international award given for “lasting contributions to children’s literature”.

Staying Awake in GG

Its title is Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, from her book Stories From the Bible. Without condescension, Zwerger’s image speaks with clarity such that a child can easily grasp its essence. Three people dozing off, each against a tree. From a distance, under a massive dark cloud, a tiny, lone figure walking towards the ominous void. The illustration is perhaps one of the rarer perspectives that accompanies this narrative:

“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”    – Matthew 26: 36 – 46

What struck me is how modern the feel; these three guys could be anyone. And they are so casual too, like, barefoot in the park. Considering the horrific mission their Master is facing, their body language speaks avoidance, indifference, and, even betrayal. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak – blame it on the good supper – they’re totally oblivious while their Master in a distance, alone, is fighting the most anguished battle of his life.

Are these guys named Peter, James and John? Why, they could be you and me.


Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar (1966): A Timeless Parable

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted. 

— Isaiah 53:4 ESV

Several days before He is crucified, Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey. I love this scene. If there’s any cognitive dissonance in the crowd, here’s the stark message for their bewilderment. The King for whom they are cheering is not to be a glamorous celebrity. Rather, like the donkey, He comes as a humble servant, one who carries their load, and ultimately, even lays down his life for them. His kingdom belongs to another world.

Marie and Balthazar


As with my Easter viewing from previous years, I watch a film by the French auteur Robert Bresson. Bresson’s work has a transcending and spiritual quality that is deeply moving. In Au Hasard Balthazar, he creates an unusual metaphor using a donkey as his protagonist. We follow Balthazar as a young colt, loved by his first owner Marie. We see him grow up, weaving his life among different owners. We also see Marie grow up. Despite her love for Balthazar, she cannot stop the encroachment of evil, or maybe she is simply powerless. She does not defend Balthazar when a gang of young men abuse the donkey, tormenting him, whipping, mocking.

The gang leader is Gérard, whose sadistic, mean streak speaks for human depravity. He would pour gasoline on the road to cause unsuspecting drivers to skid and crash. He and his gang would watch nonchalantly from a distance, gratified that their prank has worked. He steals and deceives. What is a donkey to him if he does not even have the slightest respect for other humans. Once, to prod Balthazar to move forward, Gérard ties a newspaper to his tail and light it on fire.

The Gang

Throughout, Balthazar lives his life quietly in a parallel course to the growing depravity of the humans he serves. He suffers their cruelty in silence, occasionally he would bray in pain, but he continues to bear his load, pull a cart, or do whatever he is prodded to do, even a circus act. Due to neglect and maltreatment, he often becomes ill.

As she grows up, Marie discards childhood innocence and seeks to gratify her sensual pleasures. Against the protest of her parents, she falls for Gérard. She could have another choice, one who offers her genuine love, Jacques, the son of the owner of the farm where Marie and her parents reside. Jacque would come by every summer from the city with his father and sister to stay on the farm. When they were still children, they had spent endearing moments together with Balthazar. Jacques has declared lifelong commitment to Marie. But Gérard is a more instant and attractive outlet for Marie. Ultimately, she is dealt the harshest blow and most degrading abuse from Gérard and his gang as they rape her. Bresson spares us the ugly scene, but in the chilling aftermath, we see the young men walk away, nonchalant, throwing her garments on the ground behind them. After that tragic incident, Marie runs away. Her father is grief stricken, and soon falls ill and dies.

Gérard is unrepentant. After all, it’s self-serving lust he seeks; his callousness is most disturbing. In the last scene, we see he uses Balthazar to do one more job for his gang. They are to smuggle goods across the mountainous border. At night, he loads up his goods on the donkey and leads him to the border. From a distance, he hears gun shots from armed customs police. Gerard and his gang flee, abandoning Balthazar on the mountain. But it’s too late for Balthazar, he has been shot.

The final scene is most moving. In the open field, Balthazar walks slowly, haggard, blood streaming from his leg. He finally lies down, still carrying the goods Gérard has put on him, the load of sin. He breathes his last and quietly dies, alone.

Like Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest, Au Hasard Balthazar is an apt meditation for Good Friday. But not just for this one day, their timeless message is like the Easter Season itself, a moveable feast.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples


Related Posts and Links:

Diary of a Country Priest: A Book For Easter

Diary of a Country Priest: Film Adaptation

Video of Robert Bresson on Au Hasard Balthazar

Saturday Snapshot March 30: Tenebrae

Tenebrae is Latin for shadows. I was in a Tenebrae Good Friday service yesterday, a symbolic visualization of the Easter narrative.

7 candles

Seven lit candles were gradually extinguished between scriptures, poetry, and music, symbolizing the imminent death of Christ. Ultimately only the centre flame, the Christ candle, was burning. Momentarily, it too was snuffed out.

“Then [Peter] began to curse and swear, ‘I do not know the man!’ And immediately a rooster crowed.” — Matthew 26:74

Total darkness.


Later, the single Christ candle was relit… the resurrection, light illuminating darkness again. The solitary flame is in the lower left in the above photo.


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books. These two photos were taken from where I sat, using my iPhone.


The Power of Aloneness


Before the resurrection was the death.
Before the death, the long path of suffering.
Before the suffering, the lonely struggle,
Agonizing solitude.

The Garden of Gethsemane,
Epitome of aloneness.
Even the closest would fall asleep
But one kept watch, awake for all.

Sweat dropped like blood
A heart pierced before nails were hammered in.
The soul cried out no, not this cup
But oh, not my will.

Not fear of sinews tearing from the joints
But the searing pain of separation
A Father who would leave totally alone
the tainted Son of Sin.

A prostrating prayer, a yielding spirit
The power of aloneness thus transformed.
As He got up from that rock, He had risen
Ready to accept the kiss of death.

I would never know the nailing pain
nor the bitter taste of that dreadful cup
But let me feel the power of solitary rest
To stay awake and rise and conquer death.



Poem by Arti of Ripple Effects
On the Eve of Good Friday, 2010.

Photos taken by Arti in Israel, 2007.
Top: Via Dolorosa, Bottom: A Garden in Jerusalem

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