Friday, April 02, 2010

Cross Ways

A sermon preached at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, Washington, DC, Good Friday, April 2, 2010

In a few minutes we will gather around the font and venerate the cross. In one of the anthems at the veneration, the people say, “We will glory in the cross of Christ.” That makes no sense whatsoever—if you believe that God is all-powerful or if you believe that God is all-wise. For the cross suggests that God comes to us not in power but in weakness. And the cross suggests as well that God does not stun us with wisdom like the best of human wisdom, but rather arrests us with an image and a story that to the world is foolishness. So said St. Paul: “Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are being called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

Try as you may, you will never make “sense” of the cross of Christ. All you can do is stumble over it, dismiss it, or glory in it. It is better to stumble over it or to dismiss it than to glory in it for the wrong reasons. And chief among those reasons would be to imagine that the cross was the way a blood-thirsty god needed to be avenged with a death as payment for human sin. (Not to say that many Christians have not or do not believe that.) But the cross we glorify and venerate is the cross on which God joins in our suffering, becomes one with us at our weakest, experiences the distance that we experience when we are as far away from the Good as we can possibly be, identifies with us when we are most helpless, and literally sets aside thorough innocence in order to take the part of whoever among us deserves the worst.

Not surprisingly, a story says it best, one of the many that we have created to reflect on this stupendous act of enormous cruelty and suffering asking what it can possibly mean. Listen to the story in Helen Waddell’s historical novel, Peter Abelard.

From somewhere near them in the woods a cry rose, a thin cry, of such intolerable anguish that Abelard turned dizzy on his feet, and caught at the wall of the hut. 'It's a child's voice,' he said.

Thibault had gone outside. The cry came again. 'A rabbit,' said Thibault. He listened. 'It'll be a rabbit in a trap. Hugh told me he was putting them down.'

'O God,' Abelard muttered. 'Let it die quickly'.

But the cry came yet again. He plunged through a thicket of hornbeam. 'Watch out', said Thibault, thrusting past him. 'The trap might take the hand off you.'

The rabbit stopped shrieking when they stood over it, either from exhaustion, or in some last extremity of fear. Thibault held the teeth of the trap apart, and Abelard gathered up the little creature in his hands. It lay for a moment breathing quickly, then in some blind recognition of the kindness that had met it at the last, the small head thrust and nestled against his arm, and it died.

It was that last confiding thrust that broke Abelard's heart. He looked down at the little bedraggled body, his mouth shaking. 'Thibault,' he said, 'do you think there is a God at all? Whatever has come to me, I earned it. But what did this one do?

Thibault nodded.

'I know,' he said. 'Only I think God is in it too.'

Abelard looked up sharply.

'In it? Do you mean that it makes him suffer, the way it does us?'

Again Thibault nodded.

'Then why doesn't he stop it?'

'I don't know,' said Thibault. 'Unless it's like the prodigal son, I suppose the father could have kept him at home against his will. But what would have been the use? All this,' he stroked the limp body, 'is because of us. But all the time God suffers. More than we do.'

Abelard looked at him, perplexed. 'Thibault, do you mean Calvary?'

Thibault shook his head. 'That was only a piece of it - the piece we saw - in time. Like that.' He pointed to a fallen tree beside them, sawn through the middle. 'That dark ring there, it goes up and down the whole length of the tree, but you only see it where it is cut across. That is what Christ's life was like; the bit of God we saw. And we think God is like that, because Christ was like that, kind, and forgiving sins and healing people. We think God is like that for ever, because it happened once, with Christ. But not the pain. Not the agony at the last. We think that stopped.'

Abelard looked at him, the blunt nose and the wide mouth the honest troubled eyes. He could have knelt before him.

'Then Thibault,' he said slowly, 'you think that all this,' he looked down at the little quiet body in his arms, 'all the pain of the world, was Christ's cross?'

'God's cross,' said Thibault. 'And it goes on.'

So that is what the cross says. God suffers with us. Such is the love and such is the story of the one who hung there. In our deepest pain, greatest loneliness, worst bondage, or gravest evil, whether we know it or not, we are never far from our Maker and Redeemer, whose pain is greater than human pain, whose weakness is greater than human strength, and whose folly is greater than all the wisdom in the world.

Acostumbramos a recitar durante la Veneración de la Cruz: “Glorificamos la Santa Cruz.” No tiene nada de sentido si creemos que Dios es omnipotente o si creemos que Dios es omnisciente. San Pablo dice, “Los judíos piden milagros y los griegos buscan el saber, mientras nosotros proclamamos a un Mesías crucificado: para los judíos ¡que esándalo! y para los griegos ¡qué locura! Pero para los que Dios ha llamado, judíos o griegos, este Mesías es fuerza de Dios y sabiduría de Dios.”

Luego, ¿que significa la cruz? No es el instrumento por lo cual Dios obtiene satisfacción por nuestros pecados. Al contrario, es el lugar donde Dios viene para participar con nosostros en nuestros sufrimientos. Es el lugar donde Dios nos junta cuando estámos más debiles. En la cruz, Dios asume la parte de malhechor a pesar de que es inocente.

Una historia da cuenta bien. En su novello Abelard, Helen Waddell escribe que un día Pedro Abelard y su amigo Thiebault estaban circa del bosque cuano oyen una grita. Abelard pensaba que era un niño, pero discubrieron un conejo cautivado en una trampa. Abelard abre la trampa y cobra el conejo. El animal pequeño muere en sus manos. El corazón de Abelard está completamente roto, y temblando, pregunta a Thibault, “¿Pienses que hay un Dios en absoluto? Es justo que yo sufra por todos mis errores, pero este conejo pequeño, ¿qué hizo?

Thibault dice, “Creo que Dios está en esta situación.”

Abelard pregunta, “¿Qué? ¿Dices que Dios sufre también como nosotros? Luego, ¿porqué no pone un fin a esta situación?”

Thibault le dice, “No se. Pero yo creo que Dios sufre todo el tiempo, más que nosotros.”

“¿Estás pensando en Calvario?” pregunta Abelard. Thibault está de acuerdo. Le dice que Jesucristo es como una cepa que revela la interior de un arból cortado. La vida de Cristo nos muestra Dios, la parte que podemos ver. Luego, Dios es como Cristo, perdonandonos y salvandonos.

Mirando el conejo muerto en sus brazos, Abelard pregunta, “¿Todo la pena del mundo es la cruz de Cristo?¨

Thibault le dice, “La cruz de Dios. Y la cruz continua por siempre.”

Entonces, la cruz significa que Dios sufre con nosotros. En nuestro dolor más profundo, la mayor soledad, la peor esclavitud, o mal más grave, lo sepamos o no, nunca estamos lejos de nuestro Creador y Redentor, cuyo dolor es mayor que el dolor humano, cuya debilidad es mayor que la fuerza humana, y cuya la locura es mayor que toda la sabiduría en el mundo.

© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2010. For the quotation from Helen Waddell, Peter Abelard, see, accessed March 30, 2010.


Dacneus said...

This is so damned good that the only word to come out of my mouth or brain was,"Jesus."

Dacneus Californiensis

I was assigned as penance yesterday a sonnet on my priesthood. I'll send it when i get back home. Much love to you and Joe.

Frank said...

Please send me a copy of the sonnet. You inspire and shame me all in one.

Valarie said...

This one brought tears to my eyes. WOW...the price Jesus paid for us...are we really worth it comes to mind but I guess we all know the answer to that don't we?