An Easter faith which is true is always a faith which includes the wounds of Calvary. When Christ was raised from the dead, it did not mean that the Cross was left behind. Far from it. The risen Christ is always the Christ who was once crucified. Cross and Resurrection go together.
Christian imagery and Christian art have portrayed this through the centuries. We recall pictures of the Crucifixion which show the kingly triumph, the majestic peace already breaking through the scene of death. We recall pictures of the risen Jesus which show the marks of sacrifice never effaced, and carried into the risen glory. And the art and the imagery convey deep truth. We can never know the risen Jesus and never serve him unless we face the reality of the Cross.
We must still repent of the sins, which wound him, as our sins always do … Never can the notes of Calvary fade from the Church’s songs of victory. (Canterbury Pilgrim)
‘The Hiding Place of God’s Power’
Not only do the evangelists tell of the Passion as one unbroken story; they also tell of it with one dominant motif, and this despite the considerable differences between them in craftsmanship and theology. The motif is not the heroism of Jesus, nor the horror of the event. The appeal is not to sorrow, or pity, or admiration.
Rather does the story dwell on how evil does its worst, and yet God overrules the evil for his great ends. Human evil is at work, human evil which St. Luke and St. John describe as directed by supernatural forces, and evil has Jesus in its power and carries him step by step to destruction. There is a terrible undertone in the original Greek as it tells of Jesus ‘handed over’ by Judas to the Jews, by the Jews to Pilate, by Pilate to death. Evil has him in its grasp. Yet all the while God is at work executing his own majestic purpose—foretold in the scriptures—and mightily contriving to bring salvation through what happens.
In cruce latebat sola Deitas (Deity was hidden in the Cross), wrote St. Thomas Aquinas. ‘The cross was the hiding place of God’s power,’ wrote Luther. Both phrases catch the spirit of the narratives of the Passion, not least the narrative of St. Mark. The response which the evangelists would evoke from their readers is faith—not primarily repentance, but primarily faith: the belief that here in the Crucifixion men stand in the presence of the divine.
Darkness and Glory
Jesus taught his disciples again and again that the ignominious death he was going to die was not going to be just one more tragedy added to the world’s load of tragedies; no, tragic and painful though it was going to be, it was also going to be something used by God as a mighty divine act to give the divine answer to the sin and suffering of the world. His ignominious death was going to be something powerful, divine, majestic. And it happened so. Think of two of the accounts of the Passion on Good Friday.
The earliest account is St. Mark’s, and you remember how he brings out the darkness and loneliness, and the desolation of it all. Jesus is utterly deserted. Jesus is plunged into total darkness, and from the depths of the darkness there comes the cry, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ He saved others, himself he cannot save. Jesus just gives himself up utterly to share in the darkness of mankind, the darkness of the sinful and suffering human situation of death.
And now look at the other account—that in St. John. He tells the same story, the story of an ignominious death; and yet he tells the story with a kind of title above it, and a title beneath it, and indeed a title wrapped all round it: and that title is the word ‘glory’. St. John shows that this terrible death was and is Christ’s glory, divine glory, because it was total self-giving love. And total self-giving love was glory, Christ’s glory, God’s glory, the very glory of the essence of Godhead itself…
The Last Supper
On the night before his death Jesus made wise provision whereby his followers in subsequent generations could be united with him in the meaning of his death. This provision—the Eucharist, Holy Communion, Liturgy, Mass, Lord’s Supper—was given not only for the centuries of man’s immaturity and religion, but also for the rest of time ‘until his coming again’.
This rite has through the centuries gathered around itself the poetry, art, music, ceremony, architecture, of successive Christian cultures. It has been loved and cherished as a ‘thing in itself’, the feast which Jesus makes. But the meaning of the rite is pride humbled, hearts broken, as Christians face the suffering of Christ, and painfully and joyfully give themselves to the service of God and humanity. (Sacred and Secular)
‘Through the Year with Michael Ramsey’ edited by Margaret Duggan