(Reprinted form the Daily Stoic)
In the year 33, a man was put to death in a way that expresses the full cruelty of Imperial Rome.
He was beaten. He was killed—on full display, after being forced to carry the weight of the tools of his annihilation to the site of his ultimate demise…
No, not Cicero, whose head, hands and tongue were put up in the Forum by Marc Antony. Or the Stoic Gaius Rubellius Plautus whose head was cut off and mocked by Nero, or Seneca who was poisoned, had his wrists slit and smothered at the orders of the man he had tutored into adulthood. Or even Justin Martyr, who during Marcus Aurelius’ time, was beaten, whipped until the skin was torn from his body, and then beheaded. This man, referred to as Christus in Tacitus’ writing, was brutally crucified and entombed. Then, three days later, he rose again.
Now, whether or not you consider the events of Jesus’s death to be holy to you or not, there is nevertheless a powerful lesson in them. A man went bravely to his death. A man with his last words said, “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do.”
A man died willingly, believing he would absolve mankind for its sins. And then, from this loss, he and mankind were reborn.
We should take this day, Easter Sunday, as a moment to reflect on the beauty of rebirth and redemption. Especially this Easter, as we begin to see light at the end of the long dark tunnel that has been our collective journey through the COVID-19 pandemic. No matter what has happened, no matter what we’ve done—none of us are beyond redemption. Even in the brutality of Jesus’ execution there is evidence of this.
Well known is the story of the Roman soldier, Stephaton, who as Jesus was writhing on the cross, offered him a sponge soaked in vinegar. This has long been taken as an example of extreme cruelty—in fact, it is the opposite. The Roman legions drank vinegar wine to reduce their thirst. This was an act of mercy, quite possibly at great risk to the soldier.
There is good in all of us, even those of us who have done bad things. There is hope for all of us. The future can be brighter, as dark as the last year has been. Let today, regardless of your beliefs, mark a moment of rebirth. Of rejuvenation. Of reemergence. Tell yourself, as Epictetus said, that you’re not going to wait any longer to demand the best of yourself. Don’t, as Marcus Aurelius reminded himself, choose to be good tomorrow. Choose to be good today. For it is a new day, and it can be the beginning of a new you, too.