Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Another One from the Audience

The person who posed a question a few weeks ago has posed another:

Do you ever look to the cross and simply see a guy dying?

After agonizing about how to approach this response, let me just dive in and say simply:

Yes. There are times when I do just see a guy dying.

I wish I could at all times experience the power of the resurrection, the hope and joy of Easter morning. I am, however, tragically who sins too freely and never prays hard enough or long enough or well enough. I grapple with the issues of faith and belief and I very often wonder how it is that I've come to commit my life to what can appear to be a corpse on a cross.

I've gazed on the bodies of drug dealers shot through the face; babies the tragic victims of abuse; children mangled in car wrecks; women beaten at the hands of abusive partners; men's arms embroidered with heroin track marks. In their bodies I have seen the sin and evil and brokenness of this world etched and carved and gouged into human flesh. In those bodies I have seen the homicidal narrative of human destructiveness written on living parchment.

So too have I gazed upon the cross to see much the same: a man unjustly tried, wrongly convicted, and shamefully executed. A man beaten down and abandoned, forgotten by even those that promised to be with him always. A man bereft even of his God, his Abba, who cries out "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?"

It is when I bring myself to the foot of the cross and gaze upon this broken body, when I place at those pierced feet the images and stories of those with whom I have journeyed ministerially, it is only then that the body upon the cross ceases to be just a guy dying and becomes the symbol of both the tragedy and triumph of Christ crucified.

Christianity has never promised an easy road or a pleasant path. It promises only that in responding to Christ's invitation to "come and see" that each person will find true humanity and life abundant. There is no guarantee that one will not drink deeply from the cup of woes. There is no guarantee that one will not suffer. There is only the guarantee of the resurrection that death is not the final word in our lives, and that God is truly the "God with us" who knows and fulfills our humanity.

The resurrection does not efface or erase the wounds of Christ. Christian faith does not cause easily track marks to disappear or limbs broken by abuse to mend. But the body upon the cross and the bodies we see each day bear one thing in common: our shared humanity, a humanity assumed by God in Christ.

So yes, I do see 'just a guy' on the cross. But in each body I find, I can also see the wounded Christ. The incarnate Word of God who has assumed our humanity enables us to see in the bodies and on the flesh of all we encounter the sinful history of humanity writ large. The body nailed to the cross directs our gaze to the crosses people bear each day. Bodies nailed to the crosses of addiction, homelessness, disease. Crosses of prejudice, hatred, discrimination nailed to bodies.

Bodies nailed to crosses; crosses nailed to bodies. How often are we complicit in such heinous acts?

These are just some thoughts. As I said before, we can allow this to serve as a jumping-off point for further discussion. I would only offer that if I see "just a guy dying" when I look at the crucifix, that doesn't mean that I don't also see Jesus. And when I look at the broken bodies and lives of others, I don't look past their particularity in order to see Christ. I guess the Crucifix gives me a centering point, one that recalls the harsh reality of our sinful world and the hope of the resurrection, a reality/hope that guides our human stories and structures our evolving human narratives.


Anonymous said...

Ryan-I’m not quite sure how to address you. I’m a twenty-year-old female college student. I’m the one who posed the past two questions. And I can’t tell you how much I’ve benefited and how much I love your explanations. I have a couple comments (questions?) about your response to the crucifix and I have another unrelated (sorry) question.

I’m getting from your post that we are supposed to see ourselves (our fates of suffering) in the cross. Is this correct? Is that where the whole “unite yourself with the cross” comes from? Would this explain part of the reason why it happened? For instance, knowing that God the Father knows the pain of a loss of a son, a grieving mother could turn to Him. Or can you never presume to know that?

Another question: I thought what made Christ’s coming so miraculous was that the divine, the infinite had entered the realm of the finite. Now, during the consecration, isn’t that what we are supposed to believe happens? That the finite becomes the infinite? So, is every Mass like a Christmas? But I thought people say the sacrifice of the Mass. So, if God is the one doing the changing of the substances, a.) how is it a sacrifice from the people; b.) how is it a sacrifice-what’s the relationship to the cross?

Sorry, it's kind of long. Thanks,

Anonymous said...

I just came back from a trip to Israel and visited the empty tomb, yes, He died, but the TOMB IS EMPTY, they never found the body because He conquered death and rose again. What always amazes me is that He chose to die for our sins, He knew about it before He was born, and even in the Garden He prayed, and willingly chose to die for us, for His great love for us. Sometimes I look at the cross and cry because He died for ME. Me, His love is so great and there are many times when I look at the 40 years I spent avoiding Him, thinking He had abandoned me, and not realizing just how present He was. That He knew me before I was born and made the choice to die for me before I was even a thought. Amazing Grace He gave us.

Unknown said...

Hi Bridget,

Thank you for your excellent questions.

I want to answer them fully, but I am playing at two events this weekend and then I'm heading to Detroit for a week followed by a weekend in North Carolina. I will try to respond while in Detroit, but if it takes me some time to post again please don't think that I'm ignoring you!

Unknown said...

I have a few more moments than I thought, so let me try to answer your (first) questions. The infinity/finite question we'll take up next time.

Your reading is correct: ours is a God who knows the fullness of our human situation. Our lives are always led within the shadow of the cross, the mystery of suffering and grace that touches each of us. God has entered into this chaos as one of us. God has made our flesh God's own flesh, our suffering God's suffering. Joy and sorrow, joy and anger, faith and doubt: these are the realities of the cross. The reality of death and the power of life; the terror of crucifixion and the triumph of the resurrection.

So your pastoral insight is spot-on (from my perspective): uniting our suffering to the cross does not diminish it or take it away, but it put its into hands of one who knows what it is to suffer, one who knows what it is to feel abandoned and alone. The grieving mother, the broken spouse, the fearful child: each can place her or his concerns and self in the pierced hands of Christ. This does not remove the burden, but it gives us someone to share it with.

The beauty of the resurrection is that the hand of God is not stopped even by the power of death. The grasp of death itself loosens and sets free the Risen Christ who comes to testify to us that ours is a God of life, a life that is extended to each of us. This is a life-beyond-death, a life not defined by death but, rather, one that defies death itself. This vivifying force implants in each of us a hope even when hope seems futile and silly (think of the disciples in the upper room!).

It is safe, then, to presume that Emmanuel - "God with us" - is the one to whom we can turn. He knows something of our pain, our fear, and even our hope. He is one who has loved and lost, who has befriended others and who has been betrayed. Uniting ourselves to the cross embraces the shadow of our lives and empowers us to hang on in an act of hope -- sometimes even hope-against-hope -- that the light of the resurrection will bring us peace and life abundant.