On one of the walls in my study at home, I have hung an assortment of my favorite crosses and crucifixes. They hail from all over the world including Russia, Scotland, Mexico, France, Italy, Germany and the Congo. One was carved by the senior minister of my home church in anticipation of my ordination; the late Alfred Schmaltz made certain that I had his blessing even in absentia.
In these later days of ordained ministry, I find I am experiencing a quiet and profound sadness in my soul that is simultaneously interwoven with a gentle sense of gratitude. Last night I dreamt of times when I was furious with some of the people I have shared ministry with as well as other times when I was the source of failure and disappointment. This dream included loved ones dying - which filled me with dread - only for them to reappear more fully later at a banquet table for a feast. Small wonder I woke up exhausted. As Good Friday takes shape and form in my heart as well as in our Sanctuary, I look forward to gathering around a Cross and singing the meditative prayers of Taize in community. Letting go in order to trust the foolishness of the Cross is a work in progress for me - and probably for us all, yes? It recalls Denise Levertov's poem, "The Harrowing of Hell."
He has shouldered out into Limbo
to gather them, dazed, from dreamless slumber:
the merciful dead, the prophets,
the innocents just His own age and those
unnumbered others waiting here
unaware, in an endless void He is ending
now, stooping to tug at their hands,
to pull them from their sarcophagi,
dazzled, almost unwilling. Didmas,
neighbor in death, Golgotha dust still
streaked on the dried sweat of his body
no one had washed and anointed, is here,
for sequence is not known in Limbo;
the promise, given from cross to cross
at noon, arches beyond sunset and dawn.
All these He will swiftly lead
to the Paradise road: they are safe.
That done, there must take place that struggle
no human presumes to picture:
living, dying, descending to rescue the just
from shadow, were lesser travails
than this: to break
through earth and stone of the faithless world
back to the cold sepulchre, tearstained
stifling shroud; to break from them
back into breath and heartbeat, and walk
the world again, closed into days and weeks again,
wounds of His anguish open, and Spirit
streaming through every cell of flesh
so that if mortal sight could bear
to perceive it, it would be seen
His mortal flesh was lit from within, now,
and aching for home. He must return,
first, in Divine patience, and know
hunger again, and give
to humble friends the joy
of giving Him food—fish and a honeycomb.
I almost never try to explain the beauty and insight of this Holy Day, Good Friday, any more than I do Easter Sunday. In flesh and blood days like our own, we can only grasp a glimmer of its truth. Bonhoeffer asked that contemporary people of faith not give in to the impulse of either romantic mysticism or ignorant sentimentalism - especially as we embrace these sacred mysteries. Best not to even speak of that which we cannot yet comprehend. As St. Paul taught: now we see as through a glass darkly, later we shall see face to face.
I trust this. I choose to trust this, too in spite of the obvious contradictions. Not because of doctrine or well-crafted theology or hymns. But rather because I have experienced in life a love greater than life or death. And this is why I choose to sit in silence and song with the Cross. Next year at this time I will not be leading worship. Next year at this time I will likely be with another gathering of pilgrims sitting in candle light before the Cross as a participant. Next year at this time so much will have changed within and beyond me. And so the journey into the foolishness of the Cross continues.