I believe that the cross is an image for our own time, and every time: we are invited to gaze upon the image of the crucified Jesus to soften our hearts toward all suffering. Amidst the devastating spread of COVID-19, the cross beckons us to what we would call “grief work,” holding the mystery of pain, looking right at it, and learning from it. With softened hearts, God leads us to an uncanny and newfound compassion and understanding.
Elizabeth Goudge, The Scent of Water, p 307
“He did say that he believed the fair Lord of life had accepted a death so shameful by deliberate intent of love, so that nothing that can happen to the body should cause any man to feel himself separated from God. … fearful though the sight was, it was not what he saw that made him weep. It was that the Lord of heaven, giving himself into the hands of men, that is to say into his hands, to do with what he would, had by his hands been broken.”
Today is Good Friday, and I have a lot of memories. Probably the most important was the time that I was in a house of friends, I was very severely depressed, and hanging on their wall was a picture of the head of Jesus on the cross. His head was bent to one side, and around it was the crown of thorns. I looked at it, and I thought that in the whole pantheon he was the only god who knew what I felt like.
Some background. I was raised Episcopalian, but stopped believing in God and church as a teenager. In college, I took a course (required) in biblical history, literature, and interpretation. It gave me a critical appreciation of the construction of the gospels, and a sense of the life of the man Jesus. I have come to appreciate Jesus as a person, and feel much closer to him than to “God.” I continue to struggle with the question of whether the Universe is friendly or not.
The year after I graduated from College, I went to Europe with a friend. In April, 1965, we were in the tiny village of Naoussa on the Island of Paros in the Aegean. We were in the house of the rich man of the village, Frankie, who had worked all his life in a filling station in Chicago, and retired on Social Security of $25 a week. It was the night of Good Friday. We were playing a card game, when we heard sounds in the street. When we looked out, we saw some priests carrying tall candles, followed by the flower-covered coffin of Jesus Christ, followed by the women of the village, dressed in black and wailing. I realized that this was an opportunity for each woman to mourn the husband lost at sea last year, the child who died years ago, in fact all the losses of their lives were being communally mourned.
Another memory is of a statue of Jesus that I saw when I was traveling in Brittany. It was part of a sculpture showing a series of scenes from the life of Jesus. I remember that the Last Supper was being enacted by men with heavy Celtic faces wearing medieval Breton clothing. One of the scenes was a big fish with its mouth open and small people inside. Facing it was a large figure of Jesus. I was told that the fish represented Hell, and the scene was Jesus going down into hell during the three days before he rose again. The face of Jesus really struck me. It was so compassionate. I thought that just seeing that face could bring you out of Hell. I took a photograph, but alas it didn’t carry the same feeling.
On Good Friday I remember that a dark-skinned man, citizen of an occupied country, was executed by the Empire for teaching revolutionary ideas like helping the poor.