No Story So Divine

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow…

Lamentations 1:12

For as long as I can remember I have been acutely aware of the conflict Christians experience during Holy Week. Long gone are the days when the culture acknowledged the sanctity of Christianity’s central and most important observance. School spring vacation was planned to coincide with Holy Week. Everything slowed down and some commercial activity actually stopped on Good Friday afternoon. Churches often held “Last Words from the Cross” services to correspond to the hours the Bible says Jesus was on the cross. Individual churches took turns hosting the service and each participating congregation was responsible for a 30-minute segment: hymn, reading based on one of Jesus’ last words – “I thirst…Father forgive them…It is finished….”, and homily. People came and went and some sat through the entire 3 1/2 hours. Employers allowed workers to leave the office.

And on Easter, it seemed to me as if everyone, non-church people as well as church members, understood that something important, something sacred, was being celebrated.

This year the Cubs played their first game of the baseball season on Maundy Thursday in a weekend series against the Marlins with games on Good Friday, Holy Saturday and at noon on Easter Sunday.

This is not a lament about our increasingly secular culture, just an observation that Christians and the Christian churches are in a new place, underscored as the world around us ignores our most sacred days and observances. Some of us will be in church Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Easter morning and somehow it feels almost more authentic when people are, indeed, passing by blithely innocent of what it is we are observing and celebrating.

From the very beginning Christian theology has attempted to articulate what exactly happened when Jesus was crucified…”Jesus died for our sins….Jesus paid the price we should have paid….Jesus got what we deserved and died in our place…God, being wholly just, required that someone had to suffer and die as punishment for sin…” I confess now that it never made a whole lot of sense. That a good and gracious and loving God needed, indeed demanded and required, the cruel torture and slow death of a beloved son, was simply beyond my comprehension. Then I discovered Abelard, a 12th century French philosopher/theologian who taught that Jesus’ death on the cross was an expression of the depth of God’s love for humankind and the extent to which the Incarnate God would go to express, and demonstrate, that unconditional, eternal love.

After years of trying to speak about it sensibly I am content now to be silent. My weekend plans are quiet. I will simply listen to the story I have heard and read all my life one more time. And until the joyful Hallelujahs of Sunday morning I will quietly sing to myself John Ireland’s and Samuel Crossman’s profound and haunting hymn, “My Song is Love Unknown”…

Here might I stay and sing,
no story so divine:
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my friend,
In whose sweet praise I all my life
Could gladly spend.

Comments

  1. Thank you so much. I saw you on Thursday night and gestured wiping away a tear in the silence. I was crying in the dark, but thinking powerfully of your words to us once that when you find unexpected tears in your eyes, Jesus is very near. How true.

  2. Betty Lou Stull says:

    Tears are evidence of the Spirit’s touch.

  3. As a reward for living through every day since November 8, 2016, I look to Haagen Dazs Dulce de Leche. Each day I try to do without hate. But I judge each day’s news as the worse thing I’ve ever heard. Every. Single. Day. A bit of solace comes briefly through a pint of ice cream.
    Doing without ice cream when the emotional alarms clang requires me to Hold myself tight for fear my limbs, my tongue, my head will whirly-gig out of control and irreparably damage my spirit-mind, not to mention my friendships. The Hold relaxes briefly with one simple pint. And then I do without until the wind gusts the whirly-gig back into motion.
    Holding myself together generates an inward turn I take without looking both ways. I involuntarily drive straight to the core where I look for Jesus. From 2003-2011 I worked in Cook County government with a lively crew where the listening was easy. I belonged there, with cultures other than mine. God manifested himself through black and brown christs who spoke of him: Have a Blest Day, Stay Prayerful, Jesus Loves You. Whenever the bosses above dumped demons into my serenity, Big Jim appeared and quietly laid a copy of a page from the Bible on my desk with a comforting Jesus quote circled in red. John 8:10 I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness but will have the light of life.
    The Catholic nuns gave me Jesus in grade school. He walked beside me like an imaginary floppy-eared bunny. As a newly-formed adult I moved from certainty about God and his Son to doubt. Preachers told me to welcome doubt, to throw certainty out with the evening garbage, that doubting God strengthens faith. And it did. Until I started doing my own version of God. I built a periodic table of spiritual elements with blocks of God-info such as heaven and hell don’t exist and Jesus’ Resurrection is simply a symbol of renewed life. Trouble is, I silently scorned those who didn’t believe as I did. When I first met my co-workers I held a colonizing view of their beliefs. Over time my religious formulas fell in the trash heap. As slave descendants, they daily transformed their passed-down spiritual trauma into “I believe.”
    Now in my own spiritual trauma I yearn for the comforting words of Big Jim and Shunice, for them to assure me Jesus loves us, all of us, including the remnants of the November 8, 2016 tragedy. I look for faith in my post-work world but Jesus is subtly tucked in for the night. My white-only community seems embarrassed, even ashamed to mention His name.
    Well, I miss Him, miss talking about Him, miss Him talking to me through the kindness and courage of my old work friends. A pint of ice cream doesn’t fill the void but it will do to keep the whirly-gig still until the Floppy-Eared Bunny wakes me.

  4. Arthur H. Miller (spouse of Janet Miller) says:

    Presbyterians, we attended the St. Matthew Passion beautifully sung and played yesterday afternoon at Lake Forest’s Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit. It, with your message and other mentions of the fiftieth anniversary this next month of the assassination of Dr. King, itself an echo of the April killing of Lincoln a century before that, bring home the message that the crowd passes by often those who preach love, justice, and hope. Yet Obama completed his two terms without such an incident, for which many can be thankful and remember his messages rather than the current virulent backlash. The Bach setting of the Good Friday Gospel was most dramatic when the crowd or mob shouted for Christ’s death. Very jarring against the otherwise ethereal music. April is the dangerous month, when irrational hope is most present in the annual calendar. In Chicago April disappoints often with bad weather off the lake. But a half century ago hope dashed led to terrible pain and civil unrest that ended within a few years in the raid on the Black Panthers, after that fear across the metropolitan area. More than ever we need Easter to remind us of hope resurrected, not just smacked down.

  5. Maggie Galloway says:

    Brilliant brilliant
    Paul and his dad the bishop would be proud.
    Bravo
    Best to you and yours

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