The first of three meditations on the Mystery of our Faith, “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.” The Mysterium Fidei – as familiar as it is unfathomable, and what it means for us in the gritty reality of our days.
Christians around the world gather this week to recall the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Today, on Good Friday, we remember with thanksgiving His sacrifice on the cross. Jesus, who was voluntarily cast out that we might be brought near. In His death, at infinite cost to Himself, Jesus restored the relationship with God for which we were created.
Of this mystery, theologian David F. Wells writes, “It was the holiness of God that called for His death; it is the grace of God that provided his Son in dying. And here…we see the spontaneous, outgoing, uncalculating love of God reaching out for sinners…giving Himself to those who would not give of themselves to Him, forgiving those for whom there is no ground for forgiveness unless God Himself provide it.”
At the cross, we also encounter the fullness of God’s love first glimpsed at Christmas – God made flesh; the Author entering His own story; Emmanuel; God With Us. The cross of Calvary shows that Jesus is fully present with us in the midst of our own darkness; He knows the place of our loneliest isolation; He is there.
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds but Thou alone.
Edward Shillito, 1919
This is our best and truest comfort. Railing against the injustice of pain we cry out, demanding answers. Yet Pope John Paul II reminded us that “the one to whom [we] put the question is himself suffering, and wishes to answer… from the heart of his own suffering” (Salvifici Doloris, 1984). We assume answers will help; we may wish to take God to task and give an account for it all.
But what we need at such times is not answers so much as companionship, nearness, presence. We need to know that in the places of darkest grief, we are not alone. He, too, is there. He grieves alongside us, feeling the heartache of our deepest sorrow, tenderly looking upon our most hidden disappointments and shame.
The cross, finally, is a clarion call to identify with those who suffer. I think of Ram, a young man admitted to our hospital several months ago. Homeless, afflicted with severe psychiatric illness, and living in the margins of his community, he would occasionally emerge from isolation to wander the roads near his village. He was found one day by neighbors and brought to our emergency room confused and short of breath, his body bloated from malnutrition, his calloused feet black with dirt. Ram’s clothing, filthy and disheveled, was acrid with the stench of urine. When our staff undressed him, they found handfuls of dead leaves and debris inexplicably stuffed into his pockets. What an opportunity to care for the broken and abused body of Jesus – to meet Him, as Mother Teresa so often said, “in the distressing disguise of the poor.”
Having identified Himself with the suffering and marginalized, Jesus – who on the cross was Himself hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, imprisoned – made His priorities clear. To love Jesus is to stand in solidarity with those who suffer, to clothe the naked with dignity, to share the gentle touch of a hand with those who thirst for kindness, to give generous welcome to those starved for love. The cross is an invitation to meet Jesus in His sufferings, and to seek with Him restoration, justice and wholeness for our broken places.
And restoration is surely coming – but then, that’s a topic for another day…