Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Little Hymn at Easter

What shall I say or do in kind, dear Lord,
as you did sow your love, your very life,
to body forth such great-springing beauty
that blossoms in my heart all hope and joy?
What shall I say or do, but give my wintered self
to flower as little sacrament – splendor from Easter wood!

The Great Heart of God

The great heart of God — wider, deeper, purer than the twilight sky of the high plains — beats as artery and vein to this labored world. This great plaintive heart — wounded and sinking — pulses, contracts with every hammering sorrow, every gasping struggle, and every weeping misery that mark the passages of the world’s impassioned day. This sacred heart, bloodied as the sublime western light that fills the far horizon, labors through the long night to bear our broken world, blooded now with a sacred passion, to an ever-breaking dawn....

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Saturday

Between the cross and the broken tomb
there is only emptiness—
eternity of death and void

We look out upon the lawn
and note an ordinary light
lying in the grass and such
in an uninteresting way
without intensity or passion.
Still, there is comfort in this ordinary,
the Saturday doldrums of being:
the blade on throat is merely shaving,
the palm cups coffee, not a nail.
Everything is as it should be
as it was and always will be.
In this nice perfection cut loose
from what has been and what will be,
this day suffers not one nor hopes the other,
for there is no depth-descending agony,
just ordinary light on lawn,
the comfort of submission to what is
immediate and banal

Between the cross and the broken tomb
there is now the great day of nothingness
that reflects, is, our windless being—
the ordinary light upon the lawn
slays us while we blink

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday, 9 April 2004

Suffering is like this when experienced –
space and time contracted, compacted;
hammered, hammering; nailed to wooden joint;
relentless, measureless; soul-piercing point.

Suffering is like this. Then it is done.
And in this suffering, it is all undone.

To rise after suffering, after death-swaddling night,
to look upon dawn of unalloyed light
and hear the lark ascend – are to lift the laden heart
to joy ever-surging, with praising but a start;

past all evil, past all sorrow, past all suffering;
striding glory to glory in day of all-springing.

Meditation: Fourteenth Station of the Cross – Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb

In a world that does not know God, there are many incongruities. There are many things that do not fit, things that jar, that clash and contradict. Indeed, in a world that rejects God, there is a fundamental incongruity. There is a fundamental sense in which things do not fit, in which things clash and contradict.

We look at the world around us and sense that the world is not as it ought to be. We sense that life is not as it ought to be. If we are honest, we sense that our lives are not what they ought to be.

We see all of this in this fourteenth station of the cross. We see that things do not fit, that things jar, that things clash and contradict. We see a fundamental, terrible incongruity – a fundamental clash and contradiction.

At first reading of this station, this fundamental incongruity may not be apparent. There is a niceness about the description of Jesus being laid in the tomb. There is a kind of simple yet formal elegance in the portrayal.

Jesus has died. A rich man – Joseph of Arimathea – petitions Pilate to let him take the body of Jesus for burial. Pilate consents. Joseph takes the body of Jesus, wraps it in a clean linen cloth, and lays the body in a tomb. It is a new tomb, carved out of rock in preparation for the death and burial of Joseph himself. Joseph, however, graciously gives up his burial place so that it may be used to hold the body of Jesus. The details in this written account convey a simple but reverent elegance in the removal of Jesus’ body from the cross and the placement of his body in this rock tomb.

Yet, as we consider deeply the scene confronting Joseph, the scene we are now contemplating, we realize the realities were anything but nice or elegant. The body of Jesus was tortured, mangled, bloody. How very difficult and messy it must have been to get his body down from the cross, to pick his body up and place it on this large piece of cloth, to wrap his body in this cloth, to transport his body to the rock tomb, to pick up his body again to lay it in the tomb, and to roll a large stone to seal the tomb.

The linen cloth would no longer have been clean and lovely. It would have been stained with dirt, sweat, and blood from the body of Jesus. The hands and faces and clothes of Joseph and others who took the body of Jesus down from the cross, placed it on the cloth, wrapped the cloth around it, and picked up the shrouded body of Jesus would have been dirtied and bloodied by the effort. Those who took the body of Jesus to lay it in the tomb would have been emotionally distraught and physically exhausted. Then they would have had to walk away from the gravesite of Jesus, from the tomb holding the brutalized remains of the one in whom they had invested so much faith, hope, and love.

There is nothing nice in this scene, in this action. There is no elegance in laying Jesus in the tomb. There are only incongruities and contradictions – a clean linen cloth terribly stained with dirt, sweat, and blood from extreme cruelties; a rich man’s newly carved tomb used to shut away the humiliated and broken remains of a man condemned by religious and political authorities. There are only fundamental incongruity, fundamental jarring, fundamental contradiction. This ought not to have happened. Life ought not to be this way. People should not be killed. People should not die horribly. Clean linen cloth should not be used to wrap mangled bodies. Rock should not be carved for dark, bleak tombs. People should not lose and grieve for dear friends and family. The Son of God should not be rejected and killed. Life ought not to be this way.

Yet it was, and it is. Will it always be this way? From our human perspective, it seems so; it seems life will always be this way. Ah, but here we come to the true mystery of Jesus being laid in the tomb, the deep mystery that assumes and then overturns the reality of our world and our lives, that changes once and for all our human perspective – the divine mystery that by dying Jesus took the place of Joseph of Arimathea in death, that by being laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea Jesus took the place of each of us in our death.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sin, Death, and Christ: Some Thoughts

It is implied or even expressed in the teachings and beliefs of Christians in certain quarters that true and spirit-filled Christians find themselves exempt or healed from distresses and sufferings, whether financial, emotional, or physical. They suggest or outright teach that God supplies all need – and more! – in order to prosper his true and holy people. For real Christians then “need” need not exist, because God wants to rain prosperity down on them like an ever-rolling stream. In this conception God becomes the consummate celestial trust fund.

Reading Romans 5 and 6, especially the transition from the one to the other, provides a radically different truth of the work of Christ. Saint Paul makes manifest the pervasiveness and dominance of sin. And more, he makes clear the pervasiveness and dominance of death as sin’s subordinate. He puts the matter most succinctly: “…sin established its reign by way of death…” (Romans 5:21; REB.) Therefore, it is sin’s death that grips and overmasters us all, so that we vainly curse or despairingly stoop our way through life under the shadow of death’s inexorable doom.

Yet Christ came to save us. Thanks be to God! However, we mistake the work of Christ if we conclude or expect that this salvific work wipes away all our tears and exempts us from suffering and death. Ah, were it so…. But it is not – not yet. First we must know death.

The great grace of Christ is that in him the death we must know becomes his death, not sin’s. We die, but we die in Christ. “Have you forgotten that when we were baptized into union with Christ we were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3; REB.) Death is conquered by being wrested from sin by Christ, who overmasters sin and death even as he submits to sin’s death. Thus he makes death his own, thereby transforming the character of death. Death remains for us; it is not done away. Yet it is radically transformed in and by Christ – in and by his death and resurrection – from an instrument of doom to the most blessed instrument of hope and life!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Saturday in March

The changeable weather in this single day –
from hammering storm
to breathless still, to
surge of new-sprung light –
compresses time and space, and us as well
as through those singular days,
those crucibled three from which have risen
all faith, all hope, all love – in sum
all life worth living, both now and ever

May those days live in us and we in them,
through glory of the three in one, the one in three,
who weathered all our days, our storms, our very death,
to bring us to unending dawn, and joy beyond compare

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

In God's Will

We American Christians tend far too much to the idea that placing ourselves in God’s will leads surely to the fulfillment of our (all too bourgeois) desires for this life: good job; good income; good family; good home; and the like. We neglect – even reject! – that when Christ placed himself squarely in God’s will it led to his crucifixion. “Not my will but thine be done.” We talk and preach of Jesus of Nazareth, God’s Christ, crucified and raised for us. Yet we live as if the cross were almost accidental to Christianity, as if it were actually incidental to Christian existence. Far from that, the cross is essential to Christianity and ineluctably fundamental to true Christian existence. The inevitable point at which God’s love and this world intersect is the cross. It is there that we find Jesus Christ, or we find him not at all.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Paradox and Ambiguity in the Christian Life

I believe deeply that Christian faith is rooted rightly and firmly in the truth, beauty, and goodness of God's incarnate gospel for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I also believe just as deeply that paradox and ambiguity thread through the Christian life. These could be explored in many directions, but ponder in brief just these hints as to how we who seek to follow Jesus experience paradox and ambiguity in the daily living out of faith.

Paradox: because we who are most enjoined to seek and embrace the next world (cf. 1 John 2:15-17) are at the same time those who are most enjoined to embrace this world (cf. Genesis 1 and 2; then Matthew 28: 19,20; and 1 John 3:17, 18).

Ambiguity: because in all we experience in this existence is an ineluctable admixture of mundane and transcendent realities; and also because we of all people know most clearly the depths of sin and the heights of glory.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Minor Thought on Purgatory, Hell, and Heaven

In Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief (2007), Rowan Williams has a very good and evocative discussion of judgment and Purgatory in the chapter “Love, Actually.” While recognizing ways in which the medieval church had gone off track with the notion of Purgatory, Williams makes the following, all-too-true observation (p. 149):

“But initially the impetus [for Purgatory] is surely the recognition that in our encounter with God, so long as we are the complex and self-deceiving beings we are, there will be a dimension of pain. We don’t have to think about an intermediate state, a remand prison, but rather of a continuing journey with God as we become acclimatized to the fullness of love….”

We might take this notion that there will be a dimension of pain, extend and deepen it, and speculate further that we, in our very sinfulness, experience not only a dimension of pain but Hell itself in our encounter with God. Yet in that very experience of Hell in our encounter with God, we also encounter the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, who on the cross “descended into hell” or “descended to the dead” (cf. the Apostles’ Creed and the Creed of Saint Athanasius) to harrow Hell and rescue those who are there. In taking on Hell, Jesus, in God’s grace and love and power, overcomes Hell for himself and for all whom he incorporates into his death and resurrection. Purgatory then turns from Hell to Heaven in Jesus and for us.