Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Holy Cross

Some thoughts and quotes evoked on the Feast of the Holy Cross:

So much god-talk strikes me as little more than sentimental fancy or the projection of our own prejudices onto the cosmos. A lot of rhetoric about god sounds like an "opiate of the people" as Karl Marx famously charged. As such, it is ephemeral and hard to hold onto.

But, then there is the cross. If, as Christians profess, God, in some mysterious way, hung on a particular cross in a particular time and a particular place, there is something to hold onto. The idea that the One at the heart of it all - the creator and sustainer of all things - entered into the physical reality of sin, suffering, and death and addressed that reality on the cross is what creates and sustains my ability to believe in God at all. The cross anchors me. It keeps my faith from becoming detached from the hard realities of this life. It also anchors God in the sense that it gives God a basic definition that challenges all expressions of faith as flights of fancy. Whatever else we might say about God, if it neglects the reality of the cross, it is not really God we are talking about.

Collect for the Feast of the Holy Cross:
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389):
If the death of Christ was a ransom paid to the Father, the question that arises is for what reason? We were not held captive by the Father. And anyway, why should the blood of his only Son be pleasing to the Father who once refused to accept Isaac when Abraham his father offered him as a burnt offering, and instead was pleased to accept the sacrifice of a ram?

Surely it is evident that the Father accepts the sacrifice of Christ, not because he demands it, still less because he feels some need of it, but in order to carry forward his own purposes for the world. Humanity had to be brought back to life by the humanity of God. We had to be summoned to life by his Son.

Let the rest be adored in silence.

John of Farne (1320–1371):
Study then, mortal, to know Christ: to learn your Savior. His body hanging on the cross, is a book, opened before your eyes. The words of this book are Christ's actions, as well as his suffering and passion, for everything that he did serves for our instruction. His wounds are the letters or characters, the five chief wounds being the five vowels and the others the consonants of your book. . . .

So eat this book which in your mouth and understanding shall be sweet, but which will make your belly bitter, that is to say your memory, because he that increases knowledge increases sorrow too.

Thomas Traherne (1637-1674):
The Cross is the abyss of all wonders, the centre of desire, the school of virtues, the house of wisdom, the throne of love, the theatre of joys, and the palace of sorrows; the root of happiness, and the gate of Heaven.

The Cross of Christ is the Jacob’s ladder by which we ascend to the highest heavens.

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892):
The world's one and only remedy is the cross.

D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930):
The Cross, the Cross
Goes deeper than we know,
Deeper into life;
Right to the marrow
And through the bone

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945):
The cross destroyed the equation religion equals happiness.

Paul Claudel (1868-1955):
There is not a pebble on the road, not a thorn in the hedge, on which he has not left a drop of his blood or a shred of his flesh.

Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957):
Continuing a short series of verse on Christ: Hard it is, very hard, To travel up the slow and stony road To Calvary, to redeem mankind; far better To make but one resplendent miracle, Lean through the cloud, lift the right hand of power And with a sudden lightning smite the world perfect. Yet this was not God's way, Who had the power, But set it by, choosing the cross, the thorn, The sorrowful wounds. Something there is, perhaps, That power destroys in passing, something supreme, To whose great value in the eyes of God That cross, that thorn, and those five wounds bear witness

Karl Barth (1886-1968):
God earns the right to be God in this world on the cross.

Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007):
For Jesus, at-one-ment was not only being at-one with the glory of the stars, or the first daffodil in the spring, or a baby’s laugh. He was also at-one with all the pain and suffering that ever was, is, or will be. On the cross Jesus was at-one with the young boy with cancer, the young mother hemorrhaging, the raped girl... We can withdraw, even in our prayers, from the intensity of suffering. Jesus, on the cross, experienced it all. When I touch the small cross I wear, this, then, is the meaning of the symbol.

Collect from Morning Prayer, Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p. 101:
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on
the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within
the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit
that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those
who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for
the honor of your Name. Amen.


Tony Hunt said...

Could you possibly point me to where I can find that Gregory of Nazianzus piece? I'm a huge fan of that.

Joe Rawls said...

Thanks for a really great collection of quotes.

Matt Gunter said...

Sorry, Tony. I skimmed my copy of Theological Orations and didn't find it there. It might be there, but I didn't find it. I can't remember if I came across that particular quote in my own reading or if I picked it up somewhere as an isolated quote. The collection on this post is made of of quotations gotten in both ways.