Reflection

thoughts on holy saturday

I walked away from the Good Friday service last night with a goofy grin on my face. It was the same kind of goofy grin I wore on the day after my wedding. The privilege of intimacy brings an uncontainable joy. This Good Friday, I received what I had been dreaming of all year, and maybe, in some way, all my life. I received the privilege of bowing before the cross.

The cross is the symbol God chose out of all things in the world to display his glory. I have fallen so short of the glory of God. These past few days, I have realized, predictably, that I am so much less like the woman who anointed Jesus than the disciples who fell away when things got tough. Holy Week is only a microcosm of the whole year, and of all of life; how can I be that dear woman now, when I have been those disciples all along? And on these, most holy of all days, I’ve felt the grumpiness of my soul, and my selfishness. When I arrived at church, on Thursday, and on Friday, I knew that I had nothing to give. No costly perfume, no tears. I’ve fallen so short of even a faithful human being, let alone the glory of the Faithful Human Being. But this is the very power of the cross.

It is God’s power in the cross by which that gap was bridged, is being bridged, and will (amen) finally be bridged. In the cross I find God’s power to restore me to himself. Only by his death on the cross, and my death there, will we finally be united in new, glorious life. So the cross is the very power of God.  At the cross, his blood and water anoint me, and I am accepted, called beautiful.

I understood this last night, and could hardly bear the wait for my turn to embrace the wood of the cross. I cried in my seat, just imagining it, yearning for it. And finally, after watching hundreds and hundreds kneel before the cross, they released my row. I ran down the steps, beaming, and joined the line, and I sang the songs a little too loudly. I made it to the cross, and I knelt there, and I took up too much room, because I pressed my face against it rather than just a hand, and I knelt there, and felt the presence of God. No words, no tears, no costly perfume, just me and the glory of God that I’ve so longed to meet again—his love, his joy, his peace—anointing me. The only, the best place on earth. And I kissed the wood at the foot of the cross, and walked back to my seat, overjoyed and triumphant. Yes, by his cross, I can be the dear woman who kissed his feet.

All my life, I thought that the day my knees would bow before Christ and confess him as Lord would come at some eschatological moment. But I did not dream that Christ is present, even now, and that I may bow before him, here. A real, physical bow before the living Christ. The cross is the window through which I behold the crucified God, and the place at which I kneel before him. I know that I must make it my practice to daily kneel before the cross, the glory of God. How else will I attain it?

And now, it’s Saturday, a day to rest, a day to reflect. Today we wait. But this waiting is unlike the first. We’ve already read the end of story, and we know how it ends (or, begins). We do not huddle together in a closed room out of fear. We wash our faces, and don clean clothes. We enjoy the sunshine and the warmth of this spring day. Our waiting is in anticipation, even joy, because we heard his words: It is finished. And we know, a new thing will begin.

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Prayer

O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Collect for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany from the Book of Common Prayer

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Central to Paul’s understanding of the cross is the belief that it is the free gift of God to a wicked and corrupt world. This point was and is offensive to those who want to make their own unaided way through life, or who suppose that nothing much is wrong with the world or the human race, or indeed themselves. Free grace is obviously correlated with a radical view of human wickedness and the threat posed by death. For those who want to remain independent, being ruled by grace appears almost as much of a threat as being ruled by sin and death. But this is, of course, absurd. Grace is undeserved love in powerful action; and love seeks the well-being, the flourishing, of the beloved, not their extinction or diminution. To look love in the face and see only a threat is the self-imposed nemesis of the hermeneutic of suspicion.

N.T. Wright on Romans 5 in the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary

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Reflection

the cross

Good Friday at Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem  (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Good Friday at Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

On Maundy Thursday, after washing each other’s feet and celebrating the Last Supper, we shrouded the cross, stripped down the altar of its adornments, and changed our robes to black. We processed, perhaps one hundred of us, down the dark streets of Wheaton, in utter silence. We bore the cross, that emblem of love, to our neighbors.

A few days earlier, a friend, a former Catholic, told me about the long Maundy Thursday night he spends praying in churches throughout the city. It seemed like a foreign kind of religiosity. I didn’t understand.

That night, I followed the cross for two miles, in the unseasonable cold. My lower back was stiff, as if my spine were made of rusty gears. The grating sound they made, turning, was the pain I felt. But I pushed my weak, weak body. I followed that cross with all the strength I had. Somehow, I was joining myself with Christ in his agony on the Mount of Olives. Christ’s passion was real, and near. I had never wanted to gaze too long into Christ’s passion before.

When we came back to the church, it was mostly empty, and so still. We sat (oh, sweet relief) around the baptismal font, the few of us left, and we were so quiet. We sat, and sat, some singing softly, some praying, one weeping. My heart was still. I did not pray. What would I pray? When someone you love suffers, you don’t say much. You sit up with them. Though I did not pray, my silence was filled with peace and comfort, and a longing to be near to Christ. But I still did not understand.

My strongest memory of Easter, before now, was from when I was about seven. My little brother Aaron was sick, so my mom stayed home with him. I sat in one of the pews of our fundamentalist Baptist church with just my dad, and endured the sermon. That Easter Sunday sermon, absurdly, was about the crucifixion, in vivid medical detail. My whole body squirmed in discomfort. My breath was shallow. The cross stood in judgment over me. The cross was my fault. And for many, many more years, this was what it meant to me.

This year I celebrated Good Friday, and the cross. For the first time in my life, when I saw the cross, I saw love. God had been preparing me for this. As I learned to share my suffering with Christ, and came to know Christ suffering with me, the suffering of the cross ceased to stand outside of me, to judge me. Instead, it drew me near, and I met Christ there. I met Christ there. His love, oh, his love.

Before that moment, Eddy’s love for me (what a beautiful, self-giving love) was the strongest love I knew. Eddy’s love was how I pictured God’s love, if I believed in God’s love at all. Afterward, I understood how women could be nuns, and I wept for the Parousia. Oh, Christ, give me one more vision of you.

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