Seeing Through the Cross

Friday, September 2, 2011 — Week of Proper 17, Year One

The Martyrs of New Guinea, 1942

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 982)

Psalms 31 (morning) 35 (evening)

1 Kings 11:26-43

James 4:13 – 5:6

Mark 15:22-32

Perspective changes when we see reality through the cross. Mark’s spare, straightforward account of Jesus’ execution is so gaunt and factual. It is raw, like a pitiless camera.

“Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him…” (Mark 22-25)

Helplessly we watch. The taunting and shaming — even his fellow victims join the insults as they die.

There is something purging about our attachment to this scene. It changes the way we see injustice and suffering. And being willing to see, able to see injustice and suffering, changes the way we perceive everything.

If we can look upon this scene and see hope, we have cause for an unquenchable hope in all circumstances. What God does is resurrection. What God does best is to bring new life out of death. Whenever we see another human tragedy, or even evil itself, we know we are looking at another manifestation of the cross of Jesus. We can look at the new horror with the same stark reality as Mark’s depiction of the cross; we can look, and not turn away. We can see, and yet hope. For we have seen the cross, and we know the resurrection.

Pain can be revelatory. Robert J. Wicks tells about a Dominican priest, Albert Nolan, who worked extensively in South Africa during the saddest days of Apartheid. Nolan once said, “There is nothing to replace the immediate contact with pain and hunger — seeing people in the cold and rain after their houses have been bulldozed, or experiencing the intolerable smell in a slum, or seeing what children look like when they are suffering from malnutrition.” Wicks goes on to interpret: “In saying this, his message was not one of despair and defeatism, it was one of faith. To a faith-full person, such an experience would certainly hurt, but more than that, it would lead to compassion. Faith gives us the opportunity to listen for the call of Christ in pain just as we listen to his support and encouragement during times of joy. With such faith, no matter what the circumstances, the step toward hope is a real and natural one.”

(Robert J. Wicks, Living Simply in an Anxious World, Paulist Press, 1988, p. 5. The quote from Albert Nolan is from Spiritual Growth and Option for the Poor, a speech to the Catholic Institute for International Relations, London, June 29, 1984)

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