The year is 1637. You are a priest, who has travelled to Japan in secret, to learn whether your former teacher has in-fact abandoned Christianity, as is rumoured. You travel from island to island, encouraging tiny groups of Christian believers, who are hiding for their lives. You are eventually captured by the Inquisitor, who tortures other believers in front of you in an attempt to make you renounce Christianity.
This is the setup for Martin Scorsese's film Silence, based on Shūsaku Endō's novel of the same name. It is a devastating, haunting portrayal of faith in the context of human suffering, and it forces us to consider the question, "Where is God when he seems to be silent?"
Towards the end of the film, the Inquisitor offers to end the torture of the villagers if the priest will simply tread on an icon of Jesus. The priest is deeply torn, forced to choose between dishonouring Christ to save the villagers, or honouring Christ and causing further pain and death to the destitute brothers and sisters. Eventually, the priest hears Jesus speaking to him out of the icon, gently inviting him to go ahead and step.
This week, the Holy Week between Palm Sunday and the Crucifixion & Resurrection of Jesus, I am thinking about the God who enters Jerusalem on a donkey with no greater fanfare than palm branches. The God who only beggars and sinners recognize and show honour to. The God who eats and drinks with his friends and tries to prepare them for what is to come. The God who is arrested and falsely accused, and eventually put to death by the very people he created, so that they would know he would never lift a hand against them. The God who is resurrected from the dead and who gives us his own spirit to live by so that we can be one with him forever.
Right now I am thinking about the God who endures so very much between Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday.
And also this:
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
- G.K. Chesterton, The Donkey