Dear Son

A Reflection on Jesus' Death

Dear Son,

Thank you for your letter dated March 21. It was good to hear about what you have been up to. You’ve always had a knack for telling a good story. Once again, you are doing everything being asked of you, and doing it so well, under such trying circumstances. Keep it up, my boy! I suspect that things are going to get more difficult, as you seem to be putting a fair few powerful noses out of joint. They won’t like that, not one bit at all.

I confess, I was worried to hear of your plans to go to the big city, especially to coincide with the festival. There will be so many people, the Romans will be on high alert, and the priests will not tolerate you making a fool of them when its meant to be all about them. But it’s a father’s job to worry, and it’s a son’s job to push the boundaries, isn’t it?

Which is what makes this next part of my letter so hard to write. When you set off on this journey, I know your goal was to get to know your people, to share their lives and their struggles, so you could serve them and lead them as best you could. It was and is a noble goal, and you have done so much towards achieving it. From your letters I know that you have made friends as well as made enemies (although not on purpose, you assure me). I know you have listened to people and learned their stories. You have worked alongside people and shared the burden of daily living. You have taught and healed and worked wonders, even though the needs have been endless, and your energy has not. You have done so well.

But your work is not finished. If you really are committed to not merely knowing about, but knowing what it means to be human from the inside, there is one quintessential experience you must undergo. Son, you are going to have to die.

Believe me when I say, I have looked at this from every angle, to see if there were any other way. But there is no getting around it. To be fully human, you are going to have to die.

And, my son, I wish that was all there was to it. But you must let death come to you, you cannot choose its time or its manner. For this is part of your sharing in humanity’s powerlessness before its mortality. Whether it is illness or accident or violence, death comes for everyone, and it robs the person of their life, and it robs their loved ones of their love. Too few live to a ripe old age and enjoy death coming like sleep at the end of a full life. Too often it is early and unforgiving. Too often it results from injustice of one kind or another.

I suspect, from all the trouble you have been causing for the great and powerful of the land, they will be cooking up a particularly horrid death for you, and they will feel vindicated in carrying it out. This is the death you must let come to you.

In dying like this, you will let a great many people down, including those you know and love best of all. So many have pinned their hopes on you, so many already see you as their saviour, but you cannot give them the victory they seek – at least not in the way they seek it. I don’t doubt you will have tried to explain this to your friends, but wild, desperate hope has a way of blocking our ears to anything that disagrees with it. So, even though it will grieve you to do so, you must fail your friends. There is no escaping it. Letting people down, and being let down by them is part of the pain of being human. I suspect you will drink more than your fair share of this cup before the end.

And, I confess my hand trembles now, and it has hovered over the page for a full minute while I dread this next part. But I must write it, as you must go through it, and yours is the greater burden. It is a common enough human experience, even if that commonality does not make it any less harrowing. It goes by many names. Its grandest is perhaps ‘the dark night of the soul.’ The most common is probably ‘despair.’ But what it means in plain English is this: the warmth you feel of my presence will turn chill. The whisper you hear of my voice at the edge of your mind will fall silent. You will be, as far as you can tell, alone and abandoned among your enemies. And, as if that were not bad enough, I will seem either powerless to help, or too indifferent to care. Both has a particular poison to it: the first mocks your dedication to me, the second mocks your love for me. Either way, it will be hell. But this too, is something that almost every human endures, to a greater or lesser degree. And if you are determined to be ‘Emmanuel – God with us’ – then yours must be to the greatest degree, so that no one has known a darkness more pitch black than yours. By this, and only by this, will you be able to be with them in all of it.

I have much that I want to say to you. I want to tell you how very proud I am. You are precisely the son I could have hoped for, and you have done more and better than I could have wished. I want to tell you that I long for there to be a way I could shield you from what is about to befall you. But, your decision to become human has forced humanity upon me as well, and I embrace it willingly. But it means that while you must endure much pain and do so alone,I must watch you suffer, and I must keep silent when you call to me, and I must stop myself from running to your aid and speaking up in your defence. And, I must do this, for mothers and fathers the world over have watched powerlessly as their daughters and sons have suffered and died. They have raged and grieved and torn their robes, and so must I. This is how I become ‘Emmanuel’ too, for them.

But know this, when you die – a piece of me will die with you.

I know this is not the end. But I also know that it will feel like it is, and for a horrible few hours, hours that will yawn out as if they were eternity, you will seem dead to me, and I will seem dead to you. And while nothing could be further from the truth, that truth will be beyond your grasp. I can scarcely believe this is not an unredeemable ending, even as I sit here contemplating all this. The distance from your suffering is my cross to bear, just as the intimacy with it is yours. I wish there was another way, my dear, dear boy. Believe me.

But trust me when I say, this is how we finish this sacred work we have begun. Any other pathway takes us further from our people. Only this road leads us towards them, so that wherever they go, they need never go there alone. This is how we become ‘Emmanuel’ for good, for everyone.

I must go now, and so begins the Great Silence between us.

I am and remain, forever, your loving


  • Mandy Latham

    Beautiful. I love it, Malcolm. Thank you for sharing your creativity once again.
    Of course, my own creative mind immediately begins to edit and rewrite the odd bit. But, how fun!? And how deep and contemplative.


    March 29, 2024
  • Diane Gilliam-Weeks

    Malcolm so deeply grateful you have ‘seen’ this reality. It speaks both to my understanding of God and also my experience as a parent…glad you let God show you the letter. much love

    March 29, 2024
  • Thank you, Malcolm, for again allowing your parenting experience and instincts to infuse and inform your theology. (c/f Our Father is Waiting – ttps://

    March 29, 2024
  • Paula levy

    Appreciate this. Struck by the words…

    There is no escaping it.
    Letting people down and being let down by them is part of the human experience.

    Not because I am bitter but because even with a deep desire to follow the Father sometimes it doesn’t appear to work out. Trying to have a grace filled heart toward myself and toward others when when things are messed up and actions don’t make sense is an ongoing journey. Knowing a piece of my Fathers heart breaks too brings some comfort.

    Nga mihi nui.

    March 30, 2024
  • Jennie Henderson

    Kā mihi, Malcolm – I find this very thought-provoking. I’ve read a couple of novels recently which take different angles on the humanity of Jesus, which I’ve really enjoyed, and I appreciate the perspective you offer here as well.

    April 6, 2024
  • Lisa

    Just my 2c. Jesus knew ahead of time what manner of death he would die; if there had been any ‘letter’ it would have come sooner than Good Friday. Also, God is love, but I thought this letter lacked feeling. A multitude of human words cannot express what action and a simple “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” can.

    April 6, 2024

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