Meditation for Holy Saturday
Job is possibly my favorite book in the Hebrew Bible. I think what I appreciate the most about it is not just its demand that God explain why the innocent suffer but also its recognition that unmerited suffering is an irrevocable part of the human condition. Although we as people of faith know that God is the source of all goodness, light, and love, we are also aware that if God is in control that He must be able to prevent our sufferings. Job puts it very strongly by saying that “the hand of God has touched me! Why do you, like God, pursue me, never satisfied with my flesh?” (19:21-22). While I do not believe that God directly inflicts horrible punishments on us, I cannot deny that if God is all-powerful that He theoretically has the power to end our suffering. This leaves us with the painful question of why? Why does God allow bad things to happen to us and to those whom we love?
I will not pretend that I have a perfect answer to this question, but speaking for myself, I find the beginnings of an answer in the suffering, crucifixion, and death of Jesus. Like Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God” (19:25-26). Through my belief in the Incarnation, I know that in Jesus’s suffering God intimately knows what it is like to suffer, to feel overcome, and to feel ultimately alone. I know that Jesus felt despair when he shouted out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Yet I also know that God was present amongst the disciples while they mourned after the crucifixion, thinking that they had lost everything. God is present among us in times of pain and we can have faith that God through Jesus understands our pain. This to me represents true faith. For me faith is not so much about absolute truth as it is about finding hope amidst fear, meaning amidst chaos, light amidst darkness, and transcendence amidst the mundane.
The Dream of the Rood
8th Century Anglo-Saxon Poem
The Rood (cross of Christ) speaks:
It was long past - I still remember it -
That I was cut down at the copse's end,
Moved from my root. Strong enemies there took me,
Told me to hold aloft their criminals,
Made me a spectacle. Men carried me
Upon their shoulders, set me on a hill,
A host of enemies there fastened me.
And then I saw the Lord of all mankind
Hasten with eager zeal that He might mount upon me.
I durst not against God's word bend or break,
When I saw tremble all the surface of the earth.
Although I might have struck down all the foes,
yet stood I fast.
Then the young hero (who was God almighty)
Got ready, resolute and strong in heart.
He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree,
Bold in the sight of many watching men,
When He intended to redeem mankind.
I trembled as the warrior embraced me.
But still I dared not bend down to the earth,
Fall to the ground. Upright I had to stand.
A rood I was raised up; and I held high
The noble King, the Lord of heaven above.
I dared not stoop. They pierced me with dark nails;
The scars can still be clearly seen on me,
The noble wounds of malice.
Yet might I not harm them.
They reviled us both together.
I was made wet all over with the blood
Which poured out from his side,
After he had sent forth His spirit.
And I underwent full many a dire experience on that hill.
I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out.
Darkness covered the Ruler's corpse with clouds
His shining beauty; shadows passed across,
Black in the darkness. All creation wept,
Bewailed the King's death; Christ was on the cross....
Now you may understand, dear warrior,
That I have suffered deeds of wicked men
And grievous sorrows. Now the time has come
That far and wide on earth men honor me,
And all this great and glorious creation,
And to this beacon offers prayers.
On me the Son of God once suffered;
Therefore now I tower mighty underneath the heavens,
And I may heal all those in awe of me.
Once I became the cruelest of tortures,
Most hateful to all nations, till the time
I opened the right way of life for men.
Meditation Before the Altar of Repose, 1981
I will watch with You one hour, Lord.
How it must have hurt You when they fell asleep -- leaving You all alone in Your agony of soul.
How often have I likewise hurt You, Lord?
I kneel here and gaze at the flickering candles and think of that night so long ago.
Were You cold, Lord?
In the darkness, did the wind blow through the trees and send shivers up and down Your spine?
Here I am all nice and warm — my car parked outside.
How far away it all seems to me --
And yet --
You are here also.
I feel Your presence in the silence here.
Can I somehow ease Your pain in my feeble gesture — to watch one hour with You?