Posts tagged Good Friday

To be a writer is to betray the facts. It’s one of the more ruthless things about being a writer, finally, in that to cast an experience into words is in some way to lose the reality of the experience itself, to sacrifice the fact of it to whatever imaginative pattern one’s wound requires. A great deal is gained, I suppose, a kind of control, the sort of factitious understanding that Ivan Karamazov renounces in my epigraph. When I began to spiral into myself and into my family’s history, it was just this sort of willful understanding that I needed. I knew the facts well enough.

But I don’t understand, not really. Not my family’s history and not my childhood, neither my father’s actions nor his absence. I don’t understand how John could kill someone, or by what logic or luck the courses of our lives, which had such similar origins, could be so different. I don’t understand, when there is so much I love about my life, how I could have such a strong impulse to end it, nor by what dispensation or accident of chemistry that impulse could go away, recede so far into my consciousness that I could almost believe it never happened.

It did happen, though. It marked me. I don’t believe in “laying to rest” the past. There are wounds we won’t get over. There are things that happen to us that, no matter how hard we try to forget, no matter with what fortitude we face them, what mix of religion and therapy we swallow, what finished and durable forms of art we turn them into, are going to go on happening inside of us for as long as our brains are alive.

And yet I’ve come to believe, and in rare moments can almost feel, that like an illness some vestige of which the body keeps to protect itself, pain may be its own reprieve; that the violence that is latent within us may be, if never altogether dispelled or tamed, at least acknowledged, defined, and perhaps by dint of the love we feel for our lives, for the people in them and for our work, rendered into an energy that need not be inflicted on others or ourselves, an energy we may even be able to use; and that for those of us who have gone to war with our own minds there is yet hope for what Freud called “normal unhappiness,” wherein we might remember the dead without being haunted by them, give to our lives a coherence that is not “closure,” and learn to live with our memories, our families, and ourselves amid a truce that is not peace.

Christian Wiman, “The Limit”
I draw breath; that is of course to wish
No matter what, to be wise,
To be different, to die and the cost,
No matter how, is Paradise
Lost of course and myself owing a death
W.H. Auden, Horae Canonicae
Martin Luther famously distinguished between a “theology of glory” and a “theology of the cross.” In the former you find yourself substituting a crown of thorns and a body of nailed flesh for a more palatable scene. But with a “theologia crucis,” you can call a spade a spade. You can look grief and loss in the face and identify them for what they are. There’s room — maybe even a literal room that you set aside in a basement — for rage and sobbing and protest and fear and horror. The great English-American poet W. H. Auden once heard a lecture in which, as Edward Mendelson recounts the scene, the speaker said that, “Jesus and Buddha were the same in effect: they were both attacked by spears, but in the Buddha’s case, the spears turned into flowers.” Auden bristled at this, shouting from the back of the lecture hall, “ON GOOD FRIDAY THE SPEARS WERE REAL.” If those spears were real, we can admit the spears we’ve felt are real, too. There’s no need to pretend we’re smelling roses when all we feel is metal piercing skin. Good Friday enables us to name the pain and face it.
We want the Jesus that comes down from the cross. This Jesus will not come down from the cross. This Jesus bears all things, endures all things, and never ends….This is not the God we want. But it’s the God we need.
Sam Wells, Be Not Afraid

Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward.

Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,

The intelligence that moves, devotion is,

And as the other Spheares, by being growne

Subject to forraigne motion, lose their owne,

And being by others hurried every day,

Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:

Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit

For their first mover, and are whirld by it.

Hence is’t, that I am carryed towards the West

This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.

There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,

And by that setting endlesse day beget;

But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,

Sinne had eternally benighted all.

Yet dare I’almost be glad, I do not see

That spectacle of too much weight for mee.

Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;

What a death were it then to see God dye?

It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,

It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.

Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,

And tune all spheares at once peirc’d with those holes?

Could I behold that endlesse height which is

Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,

Humbled below us? or that blood which is

The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,

Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne

By God, for his apparell, rag’d, and torne?

If on these things I durst not looke, durst I

Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,

Who was Gods partner here, and furnish’d thus

Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom’d us?

Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,

They’are present yet unto my memory,

For that looks towards them; and thou look’st towards mee,

O Saviour, as thou hang’st upon the tree;

I turne my backe to thee, but to receive

Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.

O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,

Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,

Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,

That thou may’st know mee, and I’ll turne my face.

- John Donne

We worship the God of Easter morning, therefore, only because he is first and last the God of Good Friday, the God of Golgotha, the God of Lent.
Ralph C. Wood, Preaching and Professing
We want the Jesus that comes down from the cross. This Jesus will not come down from the cross. This Jesus bears all things, endures all things, and never ends….This is not the God we want. But it’s the God we need.
Sam Wells, Be Not Afraid

Sam Wells, “Christmas Needs to Get More Materialistic”

This is Christianity: not some set of disembodied ideals and noble values, but the life shaped around the logic of God in a human form, at Christmas found in a tiny crying baby, on Good Friday found in a naked man hanging on a cross, on Easter Day found in the wonder of a man defeating death and opening the gates of glory. And this is what we find difficult about Christianity: not its sense of the spiritual, not its sense of inner logic and its appeal to a personal God, for who could be against such reassuring things; no, what we find difficult about Christianity is its materialism, its claim that God took human, material form and lived and died and rose again clothed in and surrounded  by the sheer material stuff of ordinary life. A God who is watching us from a distance is a God we can keep at a distance. A God who takes human form is a God that comes up close and personal, a God so close to us we can never escape his grace.

And that’s why it’s so ironic that Christmas is a season where it has become part of the annual tradition for the self-styled “real‟ Christians to criticize everyone else for being so materialistic.  Presumably this is because beneath all the wrapping paper and the schmaltzy mall muzak and the inflatable snowmen and the play station is some kind of “spiritual” truth that most people aren‟t getting. And what is that oh-so-spiritual truth? That truth is that the word was made flesh – in other words, God is the biggest materialist of all, so much so that in Jesus God became material because the heart of his inner logic was for us to be his friends. 

Let’s stop trying to be more spiritual than Jesus. The spiritual message of Christmas is that God became incarnate – literally God took on human flesh, God became material. And that means the way to celebrate Christmas is to become materialists too. Godly materialists. Godly materialists seek God in human form. Godly materialists are like shepherds roaming around Bethlehem looking for Jesus among single mothers and teenage parents and homeless people and those who live among farm animals. Godly materialists are those who remember Jesus’ parents fled Bethlehem for Egypt and so they’re on the lookout for Jesus taking fleshly form among immigrants and refugees and those in fear of their lives in a new country. Godly materialists are those who remember the wise men traveled across the desert to find Jesus in a manger when they thought he’d be in a palace, and so they’re always aware that discovering the fleshly Jesus takes patience, persistence, and humility.

Christmas is about God going to extraordinary lengths to be present and in loving relationship with a people who needed him but weren’t at all sure they much wanted him. The way to celebrate Christmas is to go to extraordinary lengths to be materially present and to offer loving relationship to people who need God but aren’t at all sure they much want him, to people who need you but aren’t at all sure they want you. This is Godly materialism: offering flesh to make friendships. Hugging those whom no one hugs, eating with those with whom no one eats, listening to those to whom no one listens, touching those whom no one touches, remembering those whom no one remembers, loving those whom no one loves. This is what God did at Christmas: this is what we do at Christmas. This is how we celebrate our material God.

G.K. Chesterton famously said that the problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and failed but that it has never been tried. Thats because most of the time Christianity remains just an idea – an idea about an inner logic, an idea about a personal but distant God. But Christmas tells us that Christianity is not just a comforting idea – it’s a fleshly reality. God took human form. The word became flesh. Christmas is about stuff, about the stuff of life, and about how God put himself at the very heart of the stuff of life, the material of existence. And we can celebrate that fact in every fleshly, material encounter we have, today and every day. Don’t try to be more spiritual than Jesus. Don’t decry people for being materialists – because God’s a materialist. Be a Godly materialist. Make Christianity a fleshly business in the most earthy, ordinary and human connections of your life. It‟s astonishing that God wants to be part of this material, human, earthy existence. But he was, he is, and he always will be. That‟s the good news of Christmas.

We worship the God of Easter morning, therefore, only because he is first and last the God of Good Friday, the God of Golgotha, the God of Lent.
Ralph C. Wood, Preaching and Professing
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