A Good Friday Meditation

Original water color by Cathie Horrell

Original water color by Cathie Horrell

He is led out of the garden, where he has gone with his disciples after they shared a Passover meal, not by angels with fiery swords, but by men armed with swords sharp enough to cut off a person’s ear. He has come to the garden to pray. While his disciples, full of Passover wine, sleep. For Jesus there is one more cup from which to drink.

At the meal he pours the wine into the cups and after he said the blessing everyone drank from their wine cups. Three cups of wine are blessed and the blessing cups drank from. Someone that night reads the story of the Hebrew’s peoples flight from Egypt. The story of how God saves. Then Jesus takes the unleavened bread from the bowl, the matzoh, breaks it in half, and shares with all present a piece of the same bread that sustained the Israelites as they made their long journey to the land of promise. At today’s Seder Supper, a piece of that bread is wrapped in linen and hidden away, for the children to go in search of after the supper ends. In a few days the women who have wrapped Jesus body in linen will go in search of him but find no one where his body had been lain, except once again the angel standing guard in the garden. This only after Jesus has given himself, broken like the Passover bread, shared now with the world, his life-blood spilled out upon the hard ground of Calvary for all to see.

Today we experience the deepest expression of self-giving, where Jesus of Nazareth continues to share with us the greatest and final Passover. The passage of the Son of God from life to death. And we understand what this offering in complete freedom and love means only as it stands in the midst of Jesus’ final meal and in his rising to new life in three days. We can only make sense of this day when we think of it in terms of his whole life, his words of care and concern for others, his healing, his teaching, his message, his work, his whole person. In his life and in his death he is the embodiment of God’s love and good will for us. We see the Father’s com-passion, the God who suffers with us, in Jesus’ Passion−the cross where we encounter God in the depths of his/our humanity.

That this God is no extra-terrestrial is nowhere more evident than today. This is the day called good because God shows us in no uncertain terms his willingness to suffer for all human kind, for every human person, for you and I. Today God in Jesus embraces every lost, lonely, suffering, unloved, betrayed, sick and dying human being. In this day’s death because we know he is risen we know that it is God who protects and sustains Jesus and ourselves, and truly becomes one with all human kind. Not in spite of human suffering, but in the midst of it. Today in Jesus on the cross the human and the sacred become bound irrevocably together. Today there is no longer any barrier or boundary between us and the God who comes to earth, to experience all we experience and joins, in the human and sacred Jesus, with us forever. We live now in the unfailing presence of Yahweh, the God who saves. In Yeshua of Nazareth, which means God saves, we know without a doubt his good will for us. The promise now to us is that in the face of any death, evil or  suffering, any ‘no’ to life, God’s ‘yes’ is greater. This is the only certainty of God’s will we can speak of. Today we glimpse the kingdom of God come in Jesus’ life and in his death because we know that in him the promise of eternal life is kept. Today is a Promise kept. And if we doubt that, we might hear the echo of the final words of scripture forming in the heart of Jesus today as he extends to us the unleaving bread of himself and the final blessing cup is passed on to us for us to partake.  For in Jesus God truly makes his home in us. And his name is God-with-us. He will wipe away all tears from (our) eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. (Rev. 21:4)

 

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A Man Called Paul

Paul tillich garden

Another Paul, Paul Tillich, whose burial site I recently visited New Harmony, Indiana, said ‘you cannot understand theology without understanding symbols’. (Existential Aspects of Modern Art) He went on to say that he learned more in the works of great modern artists who ‘broke through to the realm out of which symbols are born’ than from theology books.

St. Paul also speaks about each person as God’s work of art. (Ephesians 2:10). He too goes on to say ‘created so that we might have life in abundance.’ Unfortunately, this has been mistranslated in some bible translations as God having created us ‘for good works’. There is a big difference between those two interpretations! And I don’t want to fall into the debate about faith vs. works. But the later interpretation takes the Creator’s creative spirit out of the human person and puts the human person to work, as if that is what we have been created for. I have nothing against ‘good works’ but perhaps it is high time we put the cart before the horse. Paul understood about symbols as a way of speaking about God. Later in Ephesians he centers us as that work of art – the hidden self – the person hidden in Christ – which we are to bring to the fullness of humanity, which is the fullness of the realization of the sacred in us. For Paul that is abundant life.

As an artist and biblical scholar that is why I embarked first of all writing about the story of Joseph in Genesis. Firstly, it is a creation story. In Joseph, the creation of the human person is complete. And in Joseph we begin to see what it means to be human. To be created both human and sacred. The story of Joseph is rich in symbolism. These symbols come from that realm that artists have access to. The hidden self. The psyche. In the story there is a coat and a pit, camels and caravans, kings and kingdoms, sheaves of wheat, stars, sun and moon, temptresses, strangers and a woman named Tamar. I find in each of these a wealth of revelation. And before I can say anything about the Christ life, I felt I needed to explore the rich legacy of Israel in its storytelling traditions, in order to unlock the meaning of the gospels.

The German Jesuit Karl Rahner said that the theologian of the future will be a mystic, or they will be no theologian at all. Mystics are those, like artists, who see into the heart of things. Who looks at life symbolically and find the deepest spirit in the depths of the world, persons and God. Like the prophets of old they seek to bring their visions, like St. Paul, to others in symbolic language, so that we too might enter in, and see ourselves as sacred works of art.

Perhaps it is time for the child once more, the child in all of us, the Christ-child within, to lead the way. To return to that second naiveté Paul Ricoeur (Coeur is heart in French) talks about, so that we too might see and know ourselves as God’s work of art, mystic, artist and storyteller.

The Coming of the Christ-self

  Autumn berries    Advent approaches. We await the coming of the Christ child. We celebrate religiously the advent of something, someone, new in the world. Even materially, commercially, it is what the season is about. Light. Gifting. An energized season where for a time we are more hospitable, generous, more open in spirit and friendship. Paul too is writing about something, Someone new coming into the world.  The coming of the reality of Christ, who he was and what faith in him meant. So this is another opportunity to spend forty days (more or less) with St. Paul. To continue the Christ-self discourses begun here. To look at the Christ life, not as a concept or doctrine, but as a lived, personal reality with its potential to transform, challenge and accompany our lives. A Real Presence. Born in a stable two thousand years ago, it is this same Jesus born in Bethlehem who is the Christ that Paul and the season celebrate.

This can be a difficult time for many when the darkness and deprivation, stresses and losses, loneliness and lacking, come in stark relief against all the holiday hustle and bustle. But it is here too in the telling of the infancy narratives we see the true meaning of the holiday, apart from the glitter and glitz, of a Savior come in the cold, darkness of winter, to poor and humble beginnings, who would remain marginal and excluded, but was seen to bring hope to the poor, the oppressed, those much in need of his saving presence and love in their lives. And at heart this too is where we live. Perhaps not materially impoverished, but certainly we all have within us some darkness, something needy and some part that is impoverished, alone, limping along through life, needing to reach out to touch even the hem of someone who can heal and save us. Someone who cares and loves us no matter in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

All theology is anthropology. To speak of the divine is  to speak of the human person. If you look at the human person in his/her depth you will find the sacred center that is at the heart of all life. Whether we realize the sacredness of humanity, within each of us, as a religious phenomenon or not, it is there−a sacred Self within each us whose advent begins to impinge on our lives as we grow in our ability to apprehend and embrace this as our most essential Self. St. Paul calls this our ‘hidden self’, the Christ-self. The Christ who lives in our heart by faith. (Eph. 3:14-19).

This religious/sacred venture is not something that occurs outside our selves. The Christ-self is our lived experience of the sacred, of God, by whatever name we call our God. We can talk about our very beings as the kingdom of the Self.  The birth of the Word in the Soul then is told as the birth of the infant, Jesus of Nazareth, the Word become flesh. This is how the Christ-self within us begins. Coming as a child, small, vulnerable, dependent, apart from the traps and trappings of the world. And yet, the symbols of the nativity are powerful stars charting our way to what the coming of Christ within us signifies. It is a gift to us, it requires shepherding, it brings what is lowest and highest together in the paradox we call living.

The Christ-self is the becoming thing in us.  In Jesus the Christ we are ever in the nativity of the nearness of God. And all the shining symbols of the season say this to us.