17 September 2018

Welcome Back!! (And a Bit on the Exaltation of the Cross)

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I wanted to sort of "welcome you back". It's nice to see you writing once again. I know you never really quit, but you were posting infrequently over the past couple of years and I missed being able to read you. Are you going to be posting as you have over the past couple of weeks as time moves on or is this flurry anomalous? I wondered too if you preached on the exaltation of the cross last Friday? You do the service at your parish on Fridays, don't you? Did you share this already?]]

Many thanks for your "welcome back"! It's a bit stunning to hear from someone who  has kept track of some of the patterns of my life as you have. I don't know how frequently I will be writing here. It really depends on whether folks ask questions and also whether I have anything new to say. Sometimes I am just all "written out", so to speak; other times I am sure that what is of interest to me is not of interest to others. And sometimes what is happening to me in my life prevents me from doing much writing. The inner work I have spoken of has been intense and absorbing but it also sometimes made it hard to know what to share and what not to share. Some things are simply not edifying, and certainly not when one is in the middle of processing them. It takes some distance in order to have the perspective which allows one to write about them in a way which might be of assistance to others. Finally, my broken wrist is mainly healed. The bones have been entirely healed for more than a month but tendons and ligaments were also torn or sprained and those have taken way more time to heal. Even so, my typing is back up to speed so writing is much easier. It may be this recent flurry is anomalous, the result of feeling freer and relatively well; I don't know. We'll see though.

Yes, I did do the service last Friday. Because I had also done services with regard to readings focused on the foolishness of God being wiser than the wisdom of men or the paradox of Christianity, I was thinking along the lines of the way the cross is ordinarily scandalous or how it is that something so awful has become a symbol of the greatest victory of Love we have ever known. Friday's first reading prepared us for this great shift. You may recall it was the story of the serpent being lifted up on a staff and becoming a symbol of hope. I began by wondering how people would react if I were to say one of our students had accidentally let a snake loose in the chapel the night before and we were unable to find it. The reaction was pretty immediate and people shivered, picked up their feet, or exclaimed with feelings of fear and revulsion. I then explained the way the cross had been seen in Jesus's day -- the way it produced even stronger immediate visceral reactions of fear and revulsion.

The idea that such a symbol of cruelty, criminality, failure, human "justice" (oppression, repression), and godlessness could be transformed into the symbol of God's decisive victory over sin and evil, a symbol of God's abiding presence in the unexpected and even the unacceptable place, an entirely new way of  understanding God's mercy as his justice, is hard to imagine; and yet, it is what we celebrate on the Feast of the Exaltation (or Triumph) of the Cross. I outlined this and then read a passage I have shared before -- both here and there. It is taken from John Dwyer's Son of Man and Son of God, A New Language for Faith and is simply the most powerful presentation of what occurs on the cross or why we exalt it I have ever heard or read:

[[Through Jesus, the broken being of the world enters the personal life of the everlasting God, and this God shares in the broken being of the world. God is eternally committed to this world, and this commitment becomes full and final in his personal presence within this weak and broken man on the cross. In him the eternal one takes our destiny upon himself --- a destiny of estrangement, separation, meaninglessness, and despair. But at this moment the emptiness and alienation that mar and mark the human situation become once and for all, in time and eternity, the ways of God. God is with this broken man in suffering and in failure, in darkness and at the edge of despair, and for this reason suffering and failure, darkness and hopelessness will never again be signs of the separation of man from God. God identifies himself with the man on the cross, and for this reason everything we think of as manifesting the absence of God will, for the rest of time, be capable of manifesting his presence --- up to and including death itself.]]

He continues,

[[Jesus is rejected and his mission fails, but God participates in this failure, so that failure itself can become a vehicle of his presence, his being here for us. Jesus is weak, but his weakness is God's own, and so weakness itself can be something to glory in. Jesus' death exposes the weakness and insecurity of our situation, but God made them his own; at the end of the road, where abandonment is total and all the props are gone, he is there. At the moment when an abyss yawns beneath the shaken foundations of the world and self, God is there in the depths, and the abyss becomes a ground. Because God was in this broken man who died on the cross, although our hold on existence is fragile, and although we walk in the shadow of death all the days of our lives, and although we live under the spell of a nameless dread against which we can do nothing, the message of the cross is good news indeed: rejoice in your fragility and weakness; rejoice even in that nameless dread because God has been there and nothing can separate you from him. It has all been conquered, not by any power in the world or in yourself, but by God. When God takes death into himself it means not the end of God but the end of death.]] (pp. 182-83)