April 20, 2014
FROM THE ARCHIVES: THE HOUR OF GLORY:
Death on a Friday Afternoon: an excerpt from Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross (Richard John Neuhaus, First Things)
Exploration into God is exploration into darkness, into the heart of darkness. Yes, to be sure, God is light. He is the light by which all light is light. In the words of the Psalm, "In your light we see light." Yet great mystics of the Christian tradition speak of the darkness in which the light is known, a darkness inextricably connected to the cross. At the heart of darkness the hope of the world is dying on a cross, and the longest stride of soul is to see in this a strange glory. In John's Gospel, the cross is the bridge from the first Passover on the way out of Egypt to the new Passover into glory. In his first chapter he writes, "We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father." The cross is not the eclipse of that glory but its shining forth, its epiphany. In John's account, the death of Jesus is placed on the afternoon of the fourteenth day of the month of Nisan, precisely the time when the Passover lambs were offered up in the temple in Jerusalem.
Lest anyone miss the point, John draws the parallel unmistakably. The legs of Jesus are not broken, the soldier pierces his side and John writes, "For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, 'Not a bone of him shall be broken.' And again another scripture says, 'They shall look on him whom they have pierced.'" In the book of Exodus, God commands that no bone of the paschal lamb is to be broken. Then there is this magnificent passage from the prophet Zechariah: "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn."
Here on Calvary's hill, all is fulfilled. It is the glory of Jesus' cry, "it is finished." The cross is the moment of passover from the old covenant to the new. Weeping at the cross, Mary is both the mother of sorrows and the mother of hope. The resurrection glory is discerned in the way that Christ dies. Now the reason for the whole drama becomes clear in the Son's unqualified obedience to the Father, even to death, and the Father's promise to glorify the Son. John says nothing about the risen Christ appearing to his mother. The other disciples discovered the resurrection glory at the dawn of the third day. Mary had already discovered the glory in the cross. There she took "the longest stride of soul."
"In the Cross of Christ I Glory," declared the nineteenth-century hymn writer John Bowring. It seems a strange, even bizarre, glory. "We have beheld his glory," St. John wrote, meaning that he was there, with Mary, beholding the final and perfect sacrifice. In the churches of Asia Minor that were founded by John, Easter was celebrated not on Sunday, as with the other churches, but on 14 Nisan, the anniversary of Christ's death. This was his "hour" of glory.
Father Neuhaus's book is great not just for its exegesis on the Crucifixion and the Seven Last Words generally, but in particular for his explanation of what the events mean for the relationship between Jews and Christians.
Posted by oj at April 20, 2014 7:09 AM