the penultimate WORD
Series 2008 -
The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
‘Twenty-four thousand moons in penance for one moon long ago, isn’t that too much?’ asked Margarita.
The Master and Margarita
The Master and Margarita
Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Spirit my soul to keep
and if I die before I wake
I pray the Spirit my soul to take
When insomnia overtakes us the toll is heavy. And recurring episodes of sleep deprivation begin to approach with alarm and dismay. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is an Easter novel. The fifth Procurator of Judaea, the cruel Pontius Pilate suffered so from the full moon of the fourteenth day of Nissan, the year Yeshua was brought before him. The morality play written in prose has him malinger from one lunar cycle to another.
But if I wake for one more day
I pray the Spirit to show the way
and if I walk this earth for years
I pray the Spirit let wash my tears
Bulgakov interposes the unfolding Trial and Passion with the malignant presence of Woland visiting Moscow. Insightfully redemption is an ever-present activity in the midst of the shadows and darkness that seem to beset us at every turn. This may well have been set in King Square of Saint John, or along the Cathedral Green in Fredericton. This is not a story of the past. Truths allowed only by fiction find insomniacs waking for one more day, and walking this earth for years.
Guilt and regret reveal an inner brokenness that is restless. As self-reliant as we are, our attempt at assembling the pieces of our own discord has us burning the midnight oil in futility. Words cannot be retracted, sentences cannot be annulled and the set jaw turns to cruel granite and cannot be softened.
And if I lend a helping hand
I pray the Spirit to let it stand
and if I fail to do what’s right
I pray the Spirit let shine the light
‘Pontius Pilate always says’ said Woland, ‘the same thing. He is saying that there is no peace for him by moonlight and that his duty is a hard one. … For an occasional change he adds that most of all he detests his immortality and his incredible fame. He claims that he would gladly change places with that vagrant, Matthew the Levite.’
More often hands are wrung out in basins filled with water and dripping of blood. Fictional basins, mind you! But their reality is unquestionable and their contents mirror our failures as we glance at the still water only to have guilt disrupt the image and turn a blushing crimson. Failure to do what’s right wets pillows and we seek a light to lighten our dark night of the soul. ‘Twenty-four thousand moons in penance for one moon long ago, isn’t that too much?’ asked Margarita. Where lies absolution?
As with a thundering blast of a Shofar, Bulgakov has the Master’s declaration echo from the bare treeless hills: ‘You are free! Free! Yeshua is waiting for you!’
And if I find a path that’s straight
I pray the Spirit it’s not too late
and if I die still halfway there
I pray the Spirit my soul to care
As in an Apocalypse ‘the mountains turned the master’s voice to thunder and the thunder destroyed them. Only the platform with the Procreator’s stone chair remained. … Into the garden stretched the Procurator’s long-awaited path of moonlight. The man in the white cloak with the blood-red lining rose from his chair and shouted something in a hoarse, uneven voice. It was impossible to tell if he was laughing or crying, or what he was shouting. He could only be seen hurrying along the moonlight path…’
Eastertide stretches for the Great Forty Days. Thomas was late in learning the news, but not too late. For the rest of us, we share the good news of hope fulfilled and recorded by the Muscovite’s pen – so influential and powerful that Stalin banned its publication. Our laughter, our tears of joy and relief, our shouts of Alleluia! demonstrate our peace on learning that Jesus is waiting for us! We join our voices with Pilate as we run along his path to a holy peace and rest at last.
‘On the night of Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, pardon had
been granted to the astrologer’s son, fifth Procurator of Judaea, the cruel
Copyright © 2008 James T. Irvine
Midi: As the Deer
Illustrations: The Procurator in the full Moon of Nissan
and Pilate and Yeshua [detail] by Charlie Stone