Lesson from the cross
Friday, Apr. 01, 2016
God deserves all the credit for my presence in church on Good Friday.
This is true in the most literal sense. During Lent I failed miserably at fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Figuring that the Pascal Triduum rites couldn’t possibly salvage me, I decided to spend Friday wandering, camera in hand, around the gardens at Thanksgiving Point.
I’m quite sure God laughed when he heard my plans, because a check of the Thanksgiving Point website revealed that the gardens didn’t even open for the season until Holy Saturday.
So, deciding I should at least pretend to properly observe the end of this most solemn season, on Friday I hied myself to the Cathedral of the Madeleine for the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion.
OK, I said to God, you wanted me here, so here I am. What do you want?
I tried to be open to his word, but what I first heard was my stomach grumbling about the fact that it was lunchtime and all it had had was a protein shake for breakfast, and whose brilliant idea was it to schedule three hours of prayer that began at noon?
Telling my stomach that Lenten fasting is intended to make Christians more conscious of their hunger for God, I sang along with the rest of the congregation “Father, I put my life in your hands.”
Which, I told God, I am trying to do, if you’ll only show me what that entails.
If my next thoughts are any indication, that life is comprised of errands that require running all over town, chores that need to be done at home and worries to address at work.
Meanwhile, the cantors sang the Passion. I enjoyed the music, but it held no message for me. Eventually, the cross was carried in and the veneration line formed. Seated at the back of the cathedral, I watched as old and young approached the cross, genuflected, touched it, crossed themselves and returned to their seats. I had no desire to join them; I just wanted the service to end so I could get on with my personal prayer.
Which is when I got the message God had ensured that I was there that day to hear. This is the message that came to me: Approach that cross. Your sins are nailed to that wood, along with everyone else’s. If you are going to put your life in my hands, you need to squarely face your faults and your guilts. I know that you typically bewail them at a distance, mimicking the women at Golgotha. Or you reject them, as Peter denied my son before the cock crowed. Or you walk past, averting your eyes and mocking yourself for not saving yourself from them. If you want to follow me, you will have to do more than pay lip service to the truth that you profess, the truth that I and I alone can save you. Come to me through your sins, so that I can say to you as I say to all the truly penitent, “I free you from your iniquity. Go in peace.”
For a long moment I knelt there in the cathedral, pondering this message. Then I went forward to touch the cross. I thought it might fill me with the Holy Spirit, but I felt no burning flame.
I also must confess that since then life has continued as before, with errands to run, chores to do and work to grapple with. Yet I do sense a quietude, a calmness that continues even until today.
If this is God’s peace, it is enough for me.