“A deeper enlightenment and wider experience than mine is necessary to explain the dark night through which a soul journeys toward that divine light of perfect union with God that is achieved, insofar as possible in this life, through love. The darknesses and trials, spiritual and temporal, that fortunate souls ordinarily undergo on their way to the high state of perfection are so numerous and profound that human science cannot understand them adequately. Nor does experience of them equip one to explain them. Only those who suffer them will know what this experience is like, but they won’t be able to describe it.” – St. John of the Cross The Ascent of Mount Carmel
Thoughts From the Porch
Happy Easter! The rain passed last night, and brilliant sunshine filled our quiet cul-de-sac. The trees are almost a neon green reflecting the bright light. There’s an unusual silence these days. The birds are still singing but the distant interstate is void of traffic. The ‘stay at home’ order applies to Easter church services so there’s few people going anywhere, particularly on an early Sunday morning. Such is life during the coronavirus…
Today’s Easter service came via Facebook Live. It was typical of most church Easter services – a time of praise and worship followed by a message about the cross. I wondered how we came to see the cross as the symbol of Christianity. I get the sacrifice and atonement ideas, but the cross was absent from the early Church. The cross was an ugly symbol of Rome’s occupation and violence. The persecuted Christian minority didn’t exactly see it as a religious icon.
It wasn’t until 318 C.E. that Christianity became an accepted, and then state, religion. According to legend, Constantine the Great had a vision of a cross and the words in hoc signo vinces (“in this sign you will conquer”). He promised to pledge himself to Christianity if he could defeat his rival, Maxentius, for the throne. Though outnumbered by Maxentius, he won the battle and became Emperor decreeing Christianity to be the state religion. The cross became an icon for the Church.
I often wonder what the early Christians thought about all this. They had every reason to be suspicious of the Emperor’s edict. Previously persecuted and reviled (‘Christian’ was a term of derision) tends to lead to suspicion. Moreover, I wonder how they viewed the new iconography of the cross.
I’m not trying to diminish the power of Jesus’ death on the cross, but I’m wondering if we haven’t concentrated on the wrong symbol. The cross has become so commonplace its lost meaning. It’s just a nice piece of jewelry most of the time. Hey, I’ve worn one…
Maybe I should wear a rock instead. You know, the stone that was rolled away (it’s a bit difficulty to wear an empty tomb…). It reminds me that I met the resurrected Jesus: the one who gives life “abundantly” (John 10.10): or as The Message puts it “real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of”. The resurrected Jesus brought me into a life better than I could ever had imagined. That, my friends, is truly good news. Living life to the full…
Jesus summed it up well in his first recorded public speaking engagement:
“When he stood up to read (at his synagogue), he was handed the scroll of Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place it is written,
God’s Spirit is on me;
He’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, ‘This is God’s year to act’!”
That sounds like a pretty good life to me…
“In this time of suffering we have to ask ourselves, what are we going to do with our pain? Are we going to blame others for it? Are we going to try to fix it? No one lives on this earth without it. It is the great teacher, although none of us want to admit it. If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it in some form. How can we be sure not to transmit our pain onto others?” – Fr. Richard Rohr