Every Holy Week I reread a scene in Helen Waddell’s novel Peter Abelard, about the great medieval theologian famous for his love affair with Heloise. Peter is walking in the woods with his friend Thibault. They come across a rabbit trapped in a snare, and its suffering triggers a deep conversation about Christ’s cross. Thibault shares the insight that made him want to be a priest: “I saw that God suffered too.” He points to a fallen log that has been sawn through the middle. “That dark ring there, it goes up and down the whole length of the tree. But you only see it where it is cut across. That is what Christ’s life was; the bit of God that we saw.” Abelard questions him: “You think that all ... the pain of the world, was Christ’s cross?” He replies with devastating simplicity. “God’s cross ... And it goes on.”
As we seek to experience the death and resurrection of Jesus again in Holy Week and the Paschal season, we ask the Spirit to rid us of the horrible misconception that the resurrection is a kind of triumphant upbeat miracle that corrects the cross, as if that had been a temporary setback that God needed to reverse. How many Easter sermons reinforce the popular misrepresentation of the resurrection as “a descent from the cross given greater dramatic effect by a 36-hour postponement,” in the biting words of theologian Donald MacKinnon? In the resurrection we see the hands of God, hands that hold us in existence, pierced by unimaginable nails.
Martin L. Smith is an Episcopal priest serving at St. Columba’s Church in Washington, D.C.
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Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16;
Philippans 2:5-11; Mark 15:1-47