Today I stand before the cross and acknowledge its terrible power. “Behold the hard wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world,” say the words of one of the many liturgies I have read. Living trees stripped into instruments of death, our salvation nailed, a kind young man, stripped, mocked, murdered, all because I don’t really want to be saved. I want to be powerful. I don’t want to believe in God. I want to be God. And when God really turns up, he’s not at all what I expected.
Today I stand before the cross and acknowledge its terrible power. Oh the liturgies call it glorious, because the liturgies must. Worship, after all, is all about the promise, the truth. Worship is as much possibility as fact. It is like a guidebook, telling me what I can expect, when I finally emerge from the chrysalis of my own illusions. But I'm not there yet.
We glory in your cross, O Lord,
and praise and glorify your holy resurrection;
for by virtue of your cross
joy has come to the whole world.
On Good Friday, I ask myself. Can I yet see the joy that lives beyond the terror of dead wood and dead ideas? Can I catch even the tiniest glimpse of the horizon of blessing that lies beyond the media blitz of a world gone mad? On Good Friday, I face the fact that no matter how faithfully I worship, the cross still has power over me. I face the fact that I am still afraid.
In the dream I had on that long ago winter night in Yosemite, a vision received on a night when warm, tropical storms were brewing in the air above me and the snows held the memory of glaciation at my feet, in the midst of all that earth power, I was transported down a very long road to Gabbatha. It was hot on Gabbatha that first Friday, the pavement reflecting the blinding noonday sun where no shadow could be cast. As I had asked God to be a priest, I stood with the priests on the sidelines in all that intolerable heat. The paving stones were like a labyrinth. Jesus stood alone in the middle and Pilate sat on his judgment seat, right where I knew I would find him. The messenger had arrived with the letter from Pilate’s wife, saying that she had been troubled by a dream, and it sat in Pilate’s hand, maybe read, maybe not. And they stood there in silence, eyeing one another. Then, something very tiny happened. A fly, seeking moisture as flies do in desert climate, landed at the corner of Jesus’ eye to drink. It was the most inconsequential little movement, this fly, but it caught Pilate’s attention and it shifted his vision just the most wee little smidge, and suddenly, as he looked into Jesus eyes – now liquid, transparent and blue – he realized who Jesus was. And he got up from his throne, threw down his hands and said. “I can’t do it. A man I could kill for you. But I can’t murder God.”
At that moment, the universe itself shifted. The heavens parted and a voice said, “Congratulations. You have just passed your first test.” There seemed to be an infusion of angels. It was strange and frightening, how close we had come. But to what? Who could have known? It was at this point that someone thought to ask, “Where is Jesus?” It seemed that in all the confusion of chrerubim, nobody had bothered about him.
And then we saw. While the rest of our eyes turned heavenward, he had bowed his head and given up his spirit. A heart attack probably. Had the prophecies not said he must suffer and die?