The Mystery of the Cross

Holy Week is a natural time for reflection on the cross.  I’ve been thinking about all the different explanations of Jesus’ death and resurrection that I’ve encountered, and about how unsatisfying they all are.  It seems as if all the theological explanations of the meaning of the cross are pushing some agenda, some God-view that can only be limited and partial, given our limited and flawed nature as human beings.  To me, the cross is beyond reason and beyond explanation.  And it must have been even more so to the followers of Jesus.  We can respond to the cross, even enter into Jesus’ experience on the cross, only on the level of mystery.

The mystery lies in God’s choice to become human and live among us, as the Gospel according to John puts it.  Through that decision, I am drawn into a deeper relationship with God, who chose to suffer a most painful and shameful death on the cross.  How then can I doubt that God shares my suffering, as well as my joy?

The Last Supper

Living he came into the world,
A man, not mere likeness, truly man.
Shining, he brought light into the world,
God, not mere reflection, truly God.
He walked through Galilee, down into Jericho,
Up again to Jerusalem, God’s city,
Stirring the dust of the world with his feet,
Lighting the world with his eyes,
Breathing fire into us all with the breath of his words.

We followed him to Jerusalem,
Sat down at the table with him in a high room
Full of shadows like blood,
Full of gusts of unspoken words.
The oil lamps flickered in the unsettled air,
Flickered and flared, and subsided again
Into a sullen glow.  Love sat at that table,
And Denial; Grace was there, and Betrayal.
Greed and Ambition whispered together in a corner,
Mercy and Hope clung to one another in silence.

Against the windows around the room
Shadows like faces seemed to move,
Pressing against the pebbly glass, looking in.
Sometimes the wavering lamplight
Reflected our own faces in the windows
Like spirits longing to enter.

It was a strange feast,
Full of inexplicable gestures.
He washed our feet,
Calmly predicted coming disaster,
Spoke cryptically of betrayal and death.
When he broke the bread,
It was like flesh in his hands,
And the wine gleamed in the cup like blood.
There was something he wanted us to taste;
I think he fed us more than bread and wine.

All that was long ago.
Still we tramp up and down from Galilee
To Jerusalem and back again.
I think we are all metaphors,
Calluses on dusty feet.
Paul sends letters to Ephesus and Corinth,
Claims even Romans for what he calls
The Body of Christ, still alive and working in the world,
Still lighting lamps and breathing Spirit,
Still sharing bread and wine at the table.

And I think of that last unquiet supper in Jerusalem,
Of the faces crowding the windows,
Of my own face staring back at me,
And I wonder when all those faces will be born.


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