A Kingdom of Truth and Hope and Glory?

“Holed Up for a Year, I Hope…”

A Holy Week blog post from C. Neal Goldsborough

“Pilate asked Jesus, ‘So you are a king?’  Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’  Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’”—John 18: 37-38.

This is a processional cross I made in 1998 for for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Virginia.

Photo by Peggy Coyle

It is not the usual three-dimensional style crucifix we see in many churches, but the flat Eastern Orthodox, Byzantine style of an icon. On the crossbar over Jesus’ head is the sign declaring he is “King of the Jews” written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek (John 19: 20).  As is customary for crucifixes in the Eastern Church the words, “The King of Glory” are written near Jesus’ head. And on the footrest there are three words IC, XC, and NIKA.  IC XC is an abbreviation for “Jesus Christ” and the Greek word “Nika” means “victor”, “conqueror”, or “winner’.

If you want to know God’s glory, truth, and victorious hope, then look at a dead man nailed to a cross.  “Where’s the hope and glory here?”a non-Christian might well ask. “This is morbid. It makes folks uncomfortable.”  It is the insanity of Christianity — the Great Paradox at the center of our faith.

Becky Tildsley, a former parishioner of mine, and one of the greatest saints I’ve known, put it this way:  “A paradox is truth standing on its head trying to call attention to itself.”  Without the paradox of the cross there’s no Christian faith.  And for me, my Christian faith has to be pragmatic.  Christianity has to speak to the human condition in order to be believable, especially in this plague season.

Many of us, me included, could care less about what happens after we die when it has been so hard to live and make sense of life over the past year. It has been difficult to make it day to day. Many of us have lost jobs, income, family and friends,  Most of us have heard it said that God doesn’t want us to just get by, but to live and have life abundantly.  Yet, where is that abundant life, where is hope, when we have to confront the evil, pain, grief, loneliness, disease and death we have seen over and over again?

In the midst of the brokenness of the world, the King of Glory offers us Hope and Truth in the mystery of the Cross. The way of the Cross becomes for us the Way of Life.

Simply put, for me this means that if I did not have a suffering God, I would be a very happy atheist. 

What we will see on the Sunday of the Passion, Palm Sunday, is a God who is so invested in who we are and what we will become, that God’s love could not be contained and is offered to us in a way that says: “No matter where you are; no matter how badly you are hurting; No matter how hopeless and meaningless your life seems; I have been there, too.  And I am with you now.” 

Faithful people try to make sense out of this random insanity of life. As a priest, when I celebrate the Eucharist, I often lift the bread that has become the Body of Christ, and I say: “I can’t do anything with all of the brokenness in the world, Lord. Please take it and transform it through your love.” And I hear the snap of the wafer and give it all to my broken God — and then I am fed by the brokenness of God. 

Annie Dillard’s first and best known book, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” is a journal of a year she spent alone beside a flowing stream. She finds both grief and glory in her year of solitude. 

“The Creator,” she writes, “goes off on one wild, specific tangent after another, with an exuberance that would seem to be unwarranted, and with an energy that seems to spring from an unfathomable font — such a One appears to love pizzazz!”  Yet Tinker Creek has a dark side.  There are parasites and predators, pain and waste. It can quickly become “Shadow Creek”.

Dillard talks of ten percent of living creatures being a “devil’s tithe” — and certainly Covid-19 is a part of that number. “Shadow is the blue patch where the light doesn’t hit” she says. The late Episcopal priest and author, John Claypool, said “It is child’s play to appreciate nature when the sun is shining and the birds are singing. Something far more strenuous is involved when one faces up to the cruelty and terror that nature also deals up in spades and this is where Annie Dillard is extraordinarily helpful.  She is after meaning and glory and finally God.”  

And so are we.

She puts it this way: “I think that the dying pray at the last not ‘please’, but ‘thank you’, as a guest thanks his host at the door. Divinity is not playful. The universe was not made in jest but in solemn incomprehensible earnest. By a power that is unfathomably secret, and holy, and fleet.  There is nothing to be done about it but ignore it or see.  And I go my way, and my left foot says ‘Glory’, and my right foot says ‘Amen’; in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise.”

Holy Week is to see the world as Annie Dillard did in “Shadow Creek’. The basic human issues have not changed since the First Century.  There is still senseless cruelty and loss, but beyond it there is hope. We Christians walk the way of the Cross, a way that reveals the unfathomable secret of the meaning of life itself.  May you find hope as you walk with Jesus, and go your way with your left foot saying “Glory” and your right foot saying “Amen.”

So, even in this pandemic, let us dance into Holy Week in the hope of Easter. The King of Glory says to us:  “I turn everything around, inside out, upside down.  I make all things new.  Suffering and disease and death do not have the last word — love does.  My love, the measure of which is a man on a cross — Jesus, the victor.

C. Neal Goldsborough is a retired Episcopal Priest residing in Charlottesville, VA.

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