It is Holy Week and I am desperately trying to finish embroidering a Pascha basket cover in time for Easter Sunday. This is my first embroidery project, and it shows. Still, I believe the final piece will be a bit like God’s creation: Individual stitches may be crooked and ugly, but when you take a step back you can see that the whole image is good and beautiful. Working on this project stitch by stitch has helped me to engage with Lent in a way that I haven’t before. It has also given my mind respite from a situation that has been troubling my family for the past three months, namely that our town’s small community bank is being merged into a large mutual savings bank headquartered elsewhere.
Before you think I’m being unnecessarily dramatic, I should disclose that the bank’s death may be more powerful and meaningful for my family because of our close connection to it: My husband has worked there for ten years, and his father before him poured twenty-five years of his life into it. My sister-in-law also worked there for a period of time. Altogether, members of my family have worked at this wonderful little bank for more years than I have been alive, and the bank is the reason we moved to the beautiful town we now call home. I grieve for what my family and my community has lost.
It is perhaps fitting that the bell should toll for our bank during Holy Week. Just as the narrative of Christ’s Passion shows us the nadir of human behavior, this merger has also illuminated a host of sins: Avarice, deception, and fear come readily to mind. This merger has brought out the whole cast of characters, from the Judases who rationalize their financial gains, to the Pilates who recognize injustice, and have the power to stop it, but fear to do so. This merger has brought out the worst in me, too. It has caused me to think less of people I genuinely like and respect. Again and again I’ve had to restrain my sinful impulse to judge harshly; to remind myself that He makes his sun rise on the just and the unjust. We have been, all of us, wandering in our wildernesses.
This merger has also impelled extraordinary virtue. It has been so moving to witness the few brave souls willing to stand up, publicly, and to risk the consequences of speaking the truth as they saw it. They are the heroes of this story, though I’m sure they don’t think of themselves that way, and we should all aspire to that level of personal integrity when facing the challenges our lives bring to us.
Some people say the Bible is just a collection of myths; I say it’s a mirror. If we look carefully, we will see both our great capacity for goodness and our great capacity for evil reflected back from every page. We might all be Judas or Pilate at one point or another.
The loss of the bank and what it represented is a tragedy, largely because it didn’t have to happen. At the same time, it seems that it was inevitable. To believe that somehow we are evolving into better versions of ourselves is to deny what any historian or theologian could tell you: Human nature doesn’t change. Wealth and ambition will always tempt us. When we feel fear we tend to let it guide us. For every new virtue we manage to establish, a new vice comes with it. If we put our faith in created beings, we will always be disappointed.
The last thing I will embroider this week are the words at the top of design: Christ is Risen. The pattern calls for satin stitch, a simple stitch used for filling in larger shapes. Yet even in its humility, the satin stitch is very much like Christ’s love, which enters the barren places in our lives and fills them with beauty. It is good to remember that our human institutions—no matter how beloved—come and go, but God’s Word supersedes them all. Christ is Risen, Christ is King, world without end.
And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever . . . (Daniel 2:44)