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Kruzifixus at Neumunster Church, Photo by Markus-Hauck

Days from Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I offer a portion from a post written by Brian Volck who took a trip to Würzburg, Germany, and found himself in Neumünster Church. He writes:

“I stumbled on a side chapel where stood the strangest crucifix I’ve ever seen. The cross itself is simple. The corpus, not yet dead, lingers at life’s extremity: a gaunt and gothic man of sorrows with limbs battered and bloody, a gaping wound in his side, and pleading eyes acquainted with grief…”

But what set this Jesus apart is that his arms are no longer fixed to the cross. They reach out, defining a space into which the viewer appears invited. Therein lies the horror: the crude spikes meant to pin his hands to the crossbeam remain buried in his palms.

Silently, wordlessly, the crucifix speaks a terrible message: there’s no way to enter that embrace apart from the instruments of his suffering and death. Such is the paradox of love revealed at Holy Week.

“… In a technocratic age, when suffering is seen as pointless, a mistake in nature to be eliminated, it’s an act of cultural defiance to stand before the cross and say, if only to oneself, “This is where I’m headed, whether I acknowledge it or not.” Not that I’m advocating suffering for its own sake. As a Benedictine monk once told me:

Don’t go looking for suffering. It will find you. But when it comes, don’t waste it.

“Isaiah tells us that God’s ways are spectacularly different from ours. Nothing reveals this gulf more clearly than the cross, defying all I know and everything I do. Old habits die hard (if at all), and to this day, I misuse the cross, acting as if it gets me what I want, that I can work it into my agenda. But Jesus doesn’t go to the cross to get or do anything. He goes to the cross because that’s where his faithfulness and love lead him. The Letter to the Hebrews names the cross’s disturbing lesson as obedience, another cultural anathema. The roots of the English word are Latin, ob-audire, “to hear; to hear completely.” Jesus is an observant Jew, and – contrary to common Christian misconception – that means his obedience isn’t a matter of keeping rules. It’s rather in hearing the Word of God so thoroughly that he embodies the love of the one who speaks that Word.”

The Cross Commands Silence

“The cross points where words cannot go. It commands silence. How can language capture a mystery whose love is palpable not only in moments of ecstasy, when everything fits together, but even – and particularly – in catastrophe, when it all falls apart? I can’t say what the cross means, but I can tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that we buy God’s love with our suffering. Nor, I respectfully submit, does it mean that we buy God’s love with Jesus’ suffering, though there’s a long, convoluted tradition that suggests as much. No one – not even Jesus – sets out to suffer, and it’s blasphemous to claim the maker of the universe wants that for us. We don’t need to create more suffering. It’s all around us, and often enough it’s within us. What the mystery we call God asks is that we pay attention, hearing so thoroughly that, in the heart of that suffering, we reflect the character of Divine love. As Richard Rohr puts it, “Unless we find a way to transform our suffering, we will almost certainly transmit it.”

We can’t hope to do this on our own. I know I can’t. That’s why we have each other. That’s why humans gather, pray, worship, love, serve, share, mourn, sing, play, and make beautiful things, learning from one another how to live into our suffering, not as an act of resignation, but as an invitation to abundant life. There are no lifetime guarantees, as Jesus well knew. Facing death, Jesus begged, “Remove this cup.” In his agony on the cross, this observant Jew turns to psalms of lament, demanding to know why God has abandoned him. It’s in his tenacious Jewish faithfulness, Christians believe, that Jesus shows rather than tells how in God’s good time – never ours – we are raised up. Our temptation is to hurry on to the raising up, to pretend the suffering is trivial, even illusory, but that denies the body. The body remembers the truth of suffering, however diligently the mind labors to forget. If we can’t stay in the pain, bearing it for and with each other, crying out for justice and deliverance, then what on earth are we doing?”

For more of Brian Volck’s post see “The Paradox of Love” from ImageJournal.org.

May you have a worshipful Easter

This is more enigma than dogma.