By Katie Runde
I have always found Holy Week one of the most spiritually intense times of year. In New England, Lent corresponds perfectly with the dull light and numerous false springs of late winter and early spring, and it culminates in the ultimate spiritual test: Good Friday. Good Friday, when we see what happens to God in human form at the hands of our earthly powers that be, our knots of politics and identity and struggles for supremacy.
The time between Palm Sunday and the Passion, if we pause to pay attention, is downright brutal. We see the fickleness of the crowds that welcome Jesus to Jerusalem one day and calls for Barabbas the next. We see Judas lurking at Jesus’ side, waiting for his moment. We see Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the temple and demanding that the house of God be returned to God, then the high priests in back rooms pressing their heads together and conferring with urgency in low tones about how to get rid of such a rebel. Maundy Thursday shows us a Jesus who must carry the weight of his own fate, try to explain it yet again to a crowd of apostles he loves but who just cannot seem to hear the meaning behind his words.
And then comes the Cross.
While it is easy to fixate on the pain and humiliation of the Cross, I would like to sidestep the graphic detail altogether and instead appropriate the Cross as a symbol of Jesus’ mission. Let us remember that Jesus did not die on the cross proclaiming himself, but rather having spent his ministry proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
And how does the Cross show us a piece of that Kingdom?
The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing has drawn a cross in my mind, whether he meant it that way or not:
The length of God is eternity
The breadth of God is love
The height of God is power
The depth of God is wisdom
Here lie some of the secrets of the Kingdom Jesus gave his life not only to tell, but show us. On the horizontal axis of the cross, we see our relationships with each other here on earth. We have the workings of our daily lives bound to time, gravity, memory, worry, the burdens of physical upkeep. The horizontal, I argue, is the realm of man. Here we create systems to control our lives – politics, society, law and order, all as instruments of survival. Yet, these quickly control us to the point where they hobble us, and we forget to look beyond them altogether. First-century Jews were no strangers to the overshadowing of foreign law, a foreign culture and religion in opposition to their own, and yet within the lives of first-century Jews there were plenty of self-imposed hobbles as well: currency, class, purity, gender, age.
The kingdom of God, however, is not bound to the confines of time, let alone any cultural structure. The kingdom of God stretches forth into our temporal lives as love, and the more we live in love, the more we can feel Love, feel God, living in us.
The kingdom of God stretches forth into our temporal lives as love, and the more we live in love, the more we can feel Love, feel God,
living in us.
As for the vertical axis of the Cross, we have our relationship not so much with each other (though the Cross is an inseparable combination of both horizontal and vertical) but with the Divine. The vertical axis stands on the ground but reaches ever heavenward. Jesus, in a world so bogged down by the tribulations of the horizontal, brings the Divine right back down to earth. And what do we see? What is the Kingdom he brings? Healing for the sick, forgiveness for the outcast, love for the sick, the dying, and sinners alike, disregard for class distinction, disregard in fact for any rule standing in the way of God’s overflowing love.
Jesus was a revolutionary, but no mere political leader looking to overthrow one class, religion or people in service of another. Rather, he was able to combine both the horizontal plane of existence with the vertical – a man walking the earth and paying his taxes yet with a heart always anchored in What Is, his whole being open to the Divine. He transcended the need for political revolution altogether. Because his reference point was God, it was completely separate from worldly power. He preached not physical freedom, but spiritual direction and fulfillment.
Worldly power found this too threatening to bear, and so Judas caved. The high priests conspired. Pilate shrugged and washed his hands. The crowds turned, and Jesus was executed as a political threat.
And yet Jesus never capitulated to the powers of politics, hatred, fear-thinking, isolation, injustice, or exclusivity. He endured all the horror that being a human can bring with dignity and grace, and yet in doing so, he showed us that the height of power – the only true power – is God. In resorting to violence, fear or intrigue himself, he would have had to trade the power of God for the power of man. Yet he maintained love and justice, even through the worst of adversity.
The Roman empire has fallen, and still we celebrate Holy Week because Jesus still shows us every year how to anchor ourselves to the ground in wisdom, reach up to God as our only power, respect instead of fight our temporality, and reach out all around us in love to our neighbors – especially those whom society has forgotten or condemned – to be once more at one with our creator. That is at-one-ment. Atonement.
So this Holy Week, let us reflect:
Along with the apostles – Let us listen again to Jesus’ message of unyielding love and acceptance, knowing there is probably something we missed. What makes us afraid to own up to our faith out loud and in public? Along with Judas – What is it about Jesus and his message that makes us so uncomfortable?
Along with the high priests and Pilate – How is it that we capitulate to the petty powers of status, wealth and social pressure? In what way do we support the Powers that deny the Kingdom? How is it that we, too, crucify Jesus?
Along with Mary, Mary Magdalene, and all the women who weep for Jesus on the cross – Let us mourn for all we see around us that feels lost, fallen, bereft of God, and yet not lose hope – so that, along with the women who discover the empty tomb on Easter Sunday, we can celebrate the wonder of God’s love and Jesus’ resurrection once again.
Katie Runde, a free-lance artist and musician, is a member of Christ Church, Bethel, a postulant for ordination, and a member of the Green Mountain Witness Team, the evangelism outreach of the Diocese of Vermont.
Learn more about Episcopal evangelism and read the Spread the Word series online at https://diovermont.org/green-mountain-witness/