Tuesday in Holy Week
The Collect: O God, who by the suffering of thy Son madest us a refuge in our suffering, grant that we, in our own fateful hours, might trust in the foolishness of the cross; whose shame sealed the triumph of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever, amen.
Part of the punitive appeal of crucifixion lies in the fact of public display: nothing says “remember who’s in charge” quite like a bunch of corpse-bedecked crosses outside the city gates. So, too, with Jesus, crucified as a troublemaker alongside two thieves and atop a hill, such that the scene might be visible from a distance. The message from the Romans: “We will not tolerate that business about destroying the temple and raising it up in three days, no sir, so don’t even think about it.”
Leave it to God to take this sobering scene and transform it into a triumph. The reading from Isaiah begins: “Listen to me, O coastlands, / pay attention, you peoples from far away!” Instead of letting the visibility of the cross serve as a warning, God makes it a beacon conveying the message from Jesus that “The LORD called me before I was born, / while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.” This moment of abjection unexpectedly proclaims to the world: “I am honored in the sight of the LORD, / and my God has become my strength.”
Paul neatly articulates the paradox that we celebrate today in the epistle: “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Where some might see a pathetic criminal being tortured to death, with the eye of faith we might see a King, raised up in majesty. Returning to Isaiah, “Kings shall see and stand up, / princes, and they shall prostrate themselves.”
It does indeed seem absurd to seek deliverance from the crucified Jesus. And yet poets can imagine a way to look to him and plead, with the Psalmist, “Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe; / you are my crag and my stronghold.” In this vein we sing the hymn: “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, / Let me hide myself in thee.” In “The Bag,” George Herbert similarly imagines Jesus’ side wound as figuring his role in conveying our prayers to the Father:
If ye have any thing to send or write,
I have no bag, but here is room:
Unto my Fathers hands and sight,
Beleeve me, it shall safely come.
That I shall minde, what you impart;
Look, you may put it very neare my heart.
Or if hereafter any of my friends
Will use me in this kinde, the doore
Shall still be open; what he sends
I will present, and somewhat more,
Not to his hurt. Sighs will convey
Any thing to me. Harke, Despair away.
Remarkably, Herbert gives us a Christ in whom the agony of mortal wounds is swallowed up in mindful kindness towards us—a Christ possessed of that most kingly virtue, magnanimity.
This is a Jesus who, although his “soul [was] troubled,” thought on us and said, “And what should I say—`Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” He knew that to be lifted up he must first be lifted up.
Therefore, in our hours of crying out, amidst great oppression, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” let us remember that he gave his Son to be our pavilion and hiding place, where we may and always will reside “very neare [his] heart.”
For the music, I offer a setting of today’s psalm, “In te Domine speravi,” by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707):