Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Mid Lent, Exaltation of Cross
Volume 7 No. 404 March 21, 2017
 
IV. Featured Articles on Cross

Illuminations - At the Cross of Jesus

by Prof. Anthony Esolen

At the end of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the good Gawain approaches the Green Chapel, where he is certain he must die. It's New Year's Day, the snow lies deep, and a grindstone hums nearby. As far as Sir Gawain knows, it's sharpening the ax that will shear off his head. "I'll be with you right away," calls the demonic Green Knight from behind the chapel. That chapel is a place of foreboding. There is no cross.

I've been to a chapel without a cross. It was converted from an old factory. The windowless inner "worship room" boasted electronic equipment for music and videos, but no cross. I felt, there, a little like Gawain. There's something wrong, in the sense of being crooked, bent, about a chapel without a cross. It cannot lead to good.

1. The Question of Christianity

Quite different is the wisdom of a remarkable five-part hymn by one Edward Monro: "The Story of the Cross" (1864).

The first part is The Question:

See Him in raiment rent,
With His blood dyed:
Women walk sorrowing
By His side.

Heavy that Cross to Him,
Weary the weight:
One who will help Him stands
At the gate.

Multitudes hurrying
Pass on the road:
Simon is sharing with
Him the load.

Who is this travelling
With the curst tree—
This weary prisoner—
Who is He?

The terse meter provides, at the end of each stanza, a moment of extraordinary pathos. For the last line is "missing" its first syllable. It begins on a strong beat, set apart from the meter of the rest of the stanza. The women walk in sorrow, where? By His side. Who is this weary prisoner? Who is He? That is the question of Christianity, right there.

2. Son of God

The second part is The Answer:

Follow to Calvary,
Tread where He trod;
This is the Lord of life—
Son of God.

Is there no loveliness—
You who pass by—
In that lone Figure which
Marks the sky?

You who would love Him, stand,
Gaze at His face;
Tarry awhile in your
Worldly race.

As the swift moments fly
Through the blest week,
Jesus, in penitence,
Let us seek.

This is poetry worthy of Emily Dickinson; spare, laconic, immensely suggestive. The pronoun this, from The Question, is supplied in The Answer. If you want to know who this weary prisoner is, you must follow in his steps, up the bitter mountain. Then you will learn what seems impossible to the world. This weary prisoner, this man, battered and despised, is the Lord of life—Son of God, as the centurion professed.How powerful is the break in the sentence, and the omission of the definite article! It's as if the reply comes with a clutch in the throat: this is what it means to be Son of God.

The next stanza delivers two powerful allusions to Scripture. Isaiah says of the Suffering Servant, "He hath no form or comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him" (53:2). Spiritual beauty, Francois Mauriac wrote, attracts one man irresistibly, while others don't notice it, or are repelled by it: as to some people the countenance of the aged Mother Teresa was only withered and ugly. The poet begs us to find the beauty of Jesus, not simply to pass him by. He alludes to the Lamentations of Jeremiah, after the destruction of Jerusalem; the text foretells the suffering of the Messiah: "It is nothing to you, all ye who pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow" (1:12). Why do the people pass by? The worldly race preoccupies them.

The world races to dissolution, and people race to attain things that perish. In this blest week at least, we should leave that race, and tarry awhile, to gaze upon the countenance of Jesus, seeking him in penitence, and finding in him our salvation.

3. Motifs of the Crucifixion

In the third part of the poem, we address the Lord personally:

On the Cross lifted up,
Thy face I scan,
Scarred by that agony—
Son of Man.

Thorns form Thy diadem,
Rough wood Thy throne,
To Thee Thy outstretched arms
Draw Thine own.

Nails hold Thy hands and feet,
While on Thy breast
Sinketh Thy bleeding head
Sore opprest.

Loud is Thy bitter cry,
Rending the night,
As to Thy darkened eyes
Fails the light.

Shadows of midnight fall,
Though it is day;
Friends and disciples stand
Far away.

Loud scoffs the dying thief,
Mocking Thy woe;
Can this my Savior be
Brought so low?

Yes, see the title clear,
Written above,
'Jesus of Nazareth'—
Name of love!

What, O my Savior dear,
What didst Thou see,
That made Thee suffer and
Die for me?

The poet combines motifs from the Crucifixion with those that look forward to it and those that recall it. "When ye have lifted up the Son of man," said Jesus to the Pharisees, "then shall ye know that I am he" (John 8:28). That elevation is to the throne of the Cross, with the crown of thorns as his diadem, fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel: "Behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom" (7:13–14). "And I," said Jesus, "if I be lifted up from the earth"—he is speaking about both the Crucifixion and his ascension to the Father—"will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32). Those arms are flung wide to embrace all who would come to him.

Munro tells the story of the Crucifixion with great skill: the nails, the cry of desolation, the darkness, the jeering thief, the sign nailed to the top of the cross. Friends and disciples stand—where? Alas, far away. Can this man lifted high on the cross be the Savior—brought so low? Yes, there is the sign: 'Jesus of Nazareth.' What does that mean? Love. What, from your exalted vantage, Jesus, did you see that moved you to grant me the greatest gift of your love, to die for me?

4. The Way for Thee

In the fourth part the Lord responds:

Child of my grief and pain!
From realms above,
I came to lead thee to
Life and love.

For thee my blood I shed,
For thee I died;
Safe in thy faithfulness
Now abide.

I saw thee wandering,
Weak and at strife;
I am the Way for thee,
Truth and Life.

Follow my path of pain,
Tread where I trod:
This is the way of peace
Up to God.

Jesus came for the speaker, for each of us, because he saw us wandering, weak and at strife. Again and again, he uses the personal pronoun thee; he does not save a generalized mankind; he saves us. Hence the emphatic reversal: For thee my blood I shed, / For thee I died. Hence the insertion of the pronoun into the famous verse: I am the way for thee: I am the way you must go.

What is that way? It is the road to Calvary. It is the way of love, even in suffering, even unto death. Only at the side of the pierced Lord do we find peace.

5. Star of My Soul

So in the final part of the poem, the speaker replies to Jesus with eager love:

O I will follow Thee,
Star of my soul!
Through the great dark I press
To the goal.

Yea, let me know Thy grief,
Carry Thy cross,
Share in Thy sacrifice,
Gain Thy loss.

Daily I'll prove my love
Through joy and woe;
Where Thy hands point the way,
There I go.

Lead me on year by year,
Safe to the end,
Jesus, my Lord, my Life,
King and Friend.

Not one word is idle. The auxiliary will is emphatic: I will follow, I am resolved. The verb follow, appearing for the third time, echoes the words of Jesus, and is the touchstone of the poem. Jesus is the star of my soul, the polestar, fixed in place, the star to sail by, in the darkness of this life. If we die with him, shall we not also rise? •

About The Author:

Anthony Esolen is Professor of English at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, and the author of The Ironies of Faith (ISI Books), The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery), and Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books). He has also translated Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata (Johns Hopkins Press) and Dante's The Divine Comedy (Random House). He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

Source: Touchstone
© 2014 by The Fellowship of St. James. All rights reserved.

Astonishing Power of The Cross
Apostle Paul describes the astonishing power of the cross in 1 Corinthians chapter 1:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart."
(1 Corinthians 1:18-19 RSV)

The cross is significant in Christianity because it exposes the fundamental conflict of life. That is what these verses declare to us. The cross gets down below all our surface attempts at compromise and cuts down to the basic difference behind all human disagreement. Once you confront the cross and its meaning, you find yourself unable to escape that final, basic judgment of life as to whether you are committed to error or committed to truth. Now, we must understand very clearly, before we go on, what Paul means by "the word of the cross."

First of all, it means the basic announcement of the crucifixion of Jesus. The cross is a fact of history. Any of you who have been involved in some of the modern cults or the psychological groupies forming today that emphasize meditation, of transactional analysis or something of this sort, know that what you are introduced to in these groups is, basically, philosophy, and various ideas that men have about human behavior and how to control it. And there are conflicting philosophies in this area today. You have a whole spectrum of religious groups based upon various philosophical concepts. But when you come to Christianity you do not start with philosophy, you start with facts, inescapable facts of history that cannot be thrown out or avoided. One of them is the incarnation of Jesus, the fact that he was born as a man and came among us, yet under strange and marvelous circumstances. Another of the great facts of our faith is the crucifixion. Jesus died. He was nailed to a tree. It was done at a certain point of time in history and cannot be evaded. This is part of the word of the cross, part of the gospel that we declare to men everywhere that something very strange happened to Jesus of Nazareth. He died a strange death. He did not deserve it, but by the judgment of the Romans and Jews alike he was put to death for a crime that he did not commit.

Jesus has power over life and death as well as power to forgive sins. This is because he is the Creator of life (see: John 14:6). He who is life can surely restore life. Whoever believes in Christ has a spiritual life that death cannot conquer or diminish in any way. When we realize his power and how wonderful his offer to us really is, how can we not commit our lives to him? To those of us who believe, what wonderful assurance and certainty we have, Jesus says: "I will live again, and you will, too" (John 14:19) So when you die you do not experience a second death (Hell), but have eternal life in heaven with Jesus, just by believing in Jesus, acknowledging that he is God in human flesh, ask and receive him to enter into your life and to forgive you of all your sins.

Your Own Personal Jesus (Poem)
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone whos there

Feeling unknown
And youre all alone
Flesh and bone
By the telephone
Lift up the receiver
Ill make you a believer

Take second best
Put me to the test
Things on your chest
You need to confess
I will deliver
You know Im a forgiver

Reach out and touch faith
Reach out and touch faith

Your own personal Jesus...

Feeling unknown
And youre all alone
Flesh and bone
By the telephone
Lift up the receiver
Ill make you a believer

I will deliver
You know Im a forgiver

Reach out and touch faith
Reach out and touch faith

Your own personal Jesus

Source: Chode

An Ordinary Cross

by Jill Carattini

"The cross," someone once said, "has become so ordinary that we hardly see it anymore." The thought struck me as I walked through a shop with items to buy stashed in every crevice: frog-shaped garden statues, multi-colored curios, inventive décor made from soda cans, beach glass, and refurbished car parts. Occasionally surfacing through blanketed floors and ornamented walls were cross-shaped or cross-adorned objects, so ordinary in a shop so out-of-the-ordinary, they were almost hard to notice at all. The cross has become so ordinary that we hardly see it anymore. The thought altered the remainder of my browsing. How can this be true? How can an image once shameful enough to bow the proudest heads become ordinary? Could the gallows ever be innocuous? Would the death sentence of someone near us ever fail to get our attention, much less blend in beside earthenware and figurines?

Theodore Prescott is a sculptor who has spent a great deal of time thinking about the cross. In the 1980’s he began working on a series of crosses using different materials, forms, and processes hoping to reconstitute the cultural and scriptural imagery of the Roman cross. In a sense, Prescott attempts to portray the incongruous. The Roman cross was a loathsome manner of execution that inflicted an anguished death; the Cross of Christ held a man who went willingly - and without guilt. Though a reflection of beauty and sacrifice, the cross is also an image of physical torture, inseparable from flesh and blood. There was a body on these beams. Its image bears both startling realities - the presence of outstretched limbs and the mystery of a now vacant cross. These contrasts alone are replete with a peculiar depth. Yet, our daily intake of the cross "precludes contemplation," notes Prescott. The cross has indeed become so ordinary that we hardly see it anymore.

Maybe he is right. But if the cross has become merely a symbol of Christianity, an emblem of one religion in a sea of others, it is still a symbol that stands secluded from the others. Even as an image among many or an image buried in bric-a-brac, it remains conspicuously on its own. The symbol of the cross is an instrument of death. Far from ordinary, it suggests, at the very least, a love quite beyond us. Perhaps it is we who have become ordinary, our senses dulled to unconsciousness by the daily matters we give precedence. Even in his own time, the apostle Paul lamented such a blurring of the cross, calling the world to a greater vision: As I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.

For those who will not look carefully, the cross can be perceived as foolish or not perceived at all. It can be stripped of meaning or emptied of beauty, hope, and depth. But it cannot be emptied of Christ. "If any want to become followers," said Jesus, "let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." The message of the cross may be nothing to some, but to those who will stand in its shame and offense, scandal and power, it is everything.

Moreover, even where the cross is obscure, Christ is still near. Ironically, what started Theodore Prescott thinking about the absence of the cross’s meaning was a piece of his own art in which many people saw a cruciform image, though this was not his intention or vision when he started. For those who will see, the cross of Christ is expectantly present in every moment and every scene. In its beauty, we are changed. In view of extended limbs and a broken body, we discover a present, physical aspect to the way of Christ. In the scandal of its emptiness, we are left yearning for the face of the risen Christ again: "I want to know Christ," said Paul, "and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead."

The Gospel of John reports that Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the beams of the common cross that bore the radical rabbi. It read in three languages: "JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS." There is nothing ordinary about the manner in which this king died, the cross on which he hung, or the symbol of death on which he inscribed a hope that would be carried throughout the nations. There was an ordinary cross in history with his name on it, and he went to it with nothing short of the world in mind.

About The Author:

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

Source: A Slice of Infinity
Copyright © 2016. Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, All rights reserved.
 

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