Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Holy Cross Day

It is not possible to look at the present condition of our land and people and find support for optimism. We must not fool ourselves.

It is altogether conceivable that we may go right along with this business of "business," with our curious religious faith in technological progress, with our glorification of our own greed and violence always rationalized by our indignation at the greed and violence of others, until our land, our world, and ourselves are utterly destroyed. We know from history that massive human failure is possible....

On the other hand, we want to be hopeful, and hope is one of our duties. A part of our obligation to our own being and to our descendants is to study our life and our condition, searching always for the authentic underpinnings of hope. And if we look, these underpinnings can still be found.

Wendell Berry, Economy, Freedom and Community, and Sex
with thanks to inward/outward

Many people live with the unconscious or conscious expectation that eventually things will get better; wars, hunger, poverty, oppression, and exploitation will vanish; and all people will live in harmony. Their lives and work are motivated by that expectation. When this does not happen in their lifetimes, they are often disillusioned and experience themselves as failures.

But Jesus doesn't support such an optimistic outlook. He foresees not only the destruction of his beloved city Jerusalem but also a world full of cruelty, violence, and conflict. For Jesus there is no happy ending in this world. The challenge of Jesus is not to solve all the world's problems before the end of time but to remain faithful at any cost.

Henri Nouwen

I wrote about this last month, but these passages, arriving in email newsletters, reminded me again just how vital, and hard, it is to keep these things in mind always.

Today is Holy Cross Day. Today we remember Jesus’ victory over sin and death, and the fact that his cry from the Cross – τετέλεσται (tetelestai), it is finished – means something much more like, “It is completed. I’ve done it!” than “I’m done for!” (There’s a good article in Open Source Theology on this which is well worth reading.)

Paradoxically, perhaps, I find Nouwen’s conclusion, in the passage I’ve quoted, very heartening. If Jesus had preached a happy ending in this world, then where is it? Instead we see a world riven with “cruelty, violence and conflict.” Our own hearts are broken, divided, and unfaithful. Well, mine is, anyway. Pain is the rule rather than the exception in our lives. Even at our happiest, the shadow of loss and death lies across our sunlit hours like a stain.

Jesus knows this: it is why he came to be born as man, born from that frail and unthinkably courageous girl whom we call, down all generations, blessed, and to die so horribly as she stood vigil at the foot of that Cross. It is why that death was not the final victory of death, but the final victory of life, and why Mary’s grief was swallowed up in glory. Death is not the end: it is transformed. It is now the door to eternal life, and to a new Heaven and a new earth, in which

[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.

Revelation 21.4

The Cross is indeed Holy. From an instrument of torture and death, Jesus’ blood has made it into our refuge, the fountain and source of grace, mercy and peace to all who believe. Holy, and glorious!

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