Friday, April 22, 2011
The Cross: A “Bed of Hope”
“There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And dying, it rises above its own agony to outcarol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain...Or so says the legend.” (Colleen McCullough, The Thornbirds) What an apt description of the terror and the magnificence of Christ’s offering up of his life on the Cross!
“It is accomplished.” St. John, more than the other Evangelists, pictures Jesus as reigning from the tree. John’s Christ is the crowned Christus Victor = Christ the Victor. At the beginning of his account of the Gospel, John says: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us...and we have beheld his glory.” Flesh refers not only to Jesus‘ taking on our human form, but to his whole observable life, reaching its highpoint in his death.
The glory, God’s Presence, God’s nearness, is there throughout Jesus‘ whole life, and especially in his dying moment. John clues us in to this by the signs he uses throughout his account: “Behold, the Lamb of God”, recalling the Passover Lamb; Jesus‘ assurance to Mary, in Chapter 2, that his hour hasn’t yet come, and how there’s tension until his hour does come, in Chapter 13; and Jesus‘ declaration, as he cleanses the Temple made with hands, that he’ll replace it with his own body: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it.” Jesus‘ whole life is lived under the sign of the Cross. All that Jesus announces in the passages about his identity and his revelatory work, all his great “I am” sayings, become true at the moment of his death on the Cross. There for the first time Jesus really is all that he said he was: the bread come down from heaven; the light shining out to the world; the door by which you and I enter life; the noble shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep-herd; the resurrection and the life; the true vine, giving life to the branches.
We grieve, we sorrow, over the fact that Jesus died being so misunderstood and mistreated by people he came to serve. We also rejoice because we see, especially in the Cross, the glory of God present and close and at work, bringing us to new life.
In the Solemn Collects of today’s liturgy, we lament all our sins, individual and corporate, “known and unknown, things done and left undone”. Most appropriately, however, we also share today, of all days, Christ’s body and blood, Christ’s real Presence: the beginning of true life forever. The Eucharist has been shared throughout this Holy Week in different ways. We’ve heard over and over the phrase “we proclaim his death until he comes again”. What could create more hope, more optimism, more faith than this assurance! In the meantime, we silently, prayerfully wait.
Traditionally, in Christian devotion, Jesus‘ burial after his death has been associated with the service of Compline, which “completes” the day. There’s an ancient prayer which suggests that our going to bed each night is a reminder of our mortality, but also a reminder that Jesus‘ burial on this Good Friday is a sign to us of the hope of resurrection. We might consider praying it often as we await the life-giving dawn of the Day of Resurrection:
Lord Jesus Christ, who at this [evening] hour
rested in the sepulcher, and thereby sanctified
the grave to be a bed of hope for your people;
help us to abound in sorrow for our sins
which were the cause of your passion
so that, when our bodies lie in the dust,
we may live with you, who live and reign
with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God,
forever and ever. Amen.