Crucifixus est Dei Filius, non pudet, quia pudendum est, “The Son of God was crucified: there is no shame, because it is shameful.” — Tertullian
The Cross is an endless wellspring of wisdom which, for the Christian, should remain the heart of prayer and the soul of action. St. Thomas Aquinas said, “The cross exemplifies every virtue.” For all the years I have endeavored to become a theologian, the Cross of Jesus has remained unquestionably the organizing center of my every quest for deeper understanding of divine Revelation. In particular, for reasons I am not quite certain of, the above painting by Matthias Grünewald, in some way or another, colors and gives shape to my every theological idea. So this day is, for me (and for the Church!), the day of supreme theological beauty; the day of divine glory. However, today I will defer to the greatness of others who have spoken of the Cross to hopefully illumine your prayerful meditations with their borrowed light. May these quotes help lead you farther into the depths of the Mystery that, once hidden in God, has been laid bare for all of creation to see: Christ, and him crucified.
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Today is hung upon the cross, He who suspended the Earth amid the waters. A crown of thorns crowns Him, who is the King of Angels. He, who wrapped the heavens in clouds is clothed with the purpose of mockery. He, who freed Adam in the Jordan, received buffetings. He was transfixed with nails, who is the Bridegroom of the Church. He was pierced with a lance who is the Son of a virgin. We worship your passion, O Christ. Show us also your glorious resurrection. — Matins of Great Friday in the Orthodox Church
On Good Friday last year the SS found some pretext to punish 60 priests with an hour on “the tree.” That is the mildest camp punishment. They tie a man’s hands together behind his back, palms facing out and fingers pointing backward. Then they turn his hands inwards, tie a chain around his wrists and hoist him up by it. His own wight twists his joints and pulls them apart…Several of the priest who were hung up last year never recovered and died. If you don’t have a strong heart, you don’t survive it. Many have a permanently crippled hand.
― Jean Bernard, Priestblock 25487: a memoir of Dachau
Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared. ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood,the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work. ― Oscar A. Romero
The merciful precepts of Christ will at last suffuse the Code and it will glow with their radiance. Crime will be considered an illness with its own doctors to replace your judges and its hospitals to replace your prisons. Liberty shall be equated with health. Ointments and oil shall be applied to limbs that were once shackled and branded. Infirmities that once were scourged with anger shall now be bathed with love. The cross in place of the gallows: sublime and yet so simple. ― Victor Hugo
The cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise godfearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
He deserves to be called a theologian who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross. — Martin Luther
The Cross reveals who God is and why we say God is love, and therefore reveals what love is. Now, that’s also very important for us today, because not only does everybody talk about God, and any coincidence to the real God is coincidental… Some of those TV preachers, when they say “God,” I don’t know what god they’re talking about, but it ain’t the one we contemplate, hanging on the Cross.
So you can say “God,” and it can mean anything. Some people say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe in God.” But what God? How God? What does God do? Those are very important questions, the answer of which for us is given in the Cross, and all theology is about the Cross. The Word of the Cross is the Word about God; the Logos tou Theou is the Logos tou Stavrou. The Word of God is the Word of the Cross. It tells us who God is, but if we say, “God is love,” then the Cross tells us what love is, and that’s very important, because everybody’s a lover…
…if we’re going to imitate God in that, we have to admit the evil that’s around. Some people have a very hard time admitting evil around, in themselves and in other people, and in other people as well as themselves, especially their family members. Other people are only too happy to admit evil around, in everybody! Sometimes even themselves: “I’m a sinner!” All right, that’s part of it. But the admission has to be there.
But then the Cross says, “You must admit it. You must say: ‘It is no good. It is not God’s way. Things are not right. There is evil. There is the devil. There is sin. There is death.” And these things have to be faced. They can’t be cosmetized over, stuck in a corner. People get sick. People have cancer. People die. Airplanes crash. People blow them up. People get thrown out of their countries. People get victimized by other people. They get victimized by the sin of their parents. They get victimized by all kinds of stuff, and all that is real. And God on the Cross faces all that and says it’s real.
And when he faces it and says it’s real, he weeps over it. He grieves over it. He is appalled by it. But he is not victimized or paralyzed by it, and he doesn’t let it poison him. So no matter how bad it is—and it’s as bad as you can get, especially if you’re crucifying the Son of glory—and according to St. Paul, any sin crucifies again the Lord of glory, because that’s why he came… So it’s as bad as it can get, but being however bad it can get, he says, “You’re forgiven.”
“Like it or not, you’re forgiven.” Proud people don’t like to be forgiven. In fact, proud people would rather burn in hell and think they deserve it than to [hear] “You’re forgiven.” “Me, forgiven? For what?” But the forgiveness is there, and, more than the forgiveness, is the identification, the baring of the burden of the sin of the other, without acting in an evil way in return. This is what the Word of the Cross tells us.
And that the only way that you will redeem the other, the only way that you will help to heal the other, the only way that you can expiate the sin of the other, is to take it on yourself, but not in a sick way, not in the “Oh, I’m suffering for the other” way, but in a way of sovereign freedom, in total dignity, in an absolutely voluntary act of love, so that it’s literally impossible that the evil will be victorious. It can’t be because you don’t give it an inch. And one of the ways that you don’t give it an inch is not by denying it, but by disclosing it, by seeing it for what it is. That’s why the Cross is the great clarification. The Cross is the great illumination of things the way they really are. — Fr. Thomas Hopko
Lord Jesus Christ, at the hour of your death the sun was darkened. Ever anew you are being nailed to the Cross. At this present hour of history we are living in God’s darkness. Through your great sufferings and the wickedness of men, the face of God, your face, seems obscured, unrecognizable. And yet, on the Cross, you have revealed yourself. Precisely by being the one who suffers and loves, you are exalted. From the Cross on high you have triumphed. Help us to recognize your face at this hour of darkness and tribulation. Help us to believe in you and to follow you in our hour of darkness and need. Show yourself once more to the world at this hour. Reveal to us your salvation. – Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Christ’s moment of most absolute particularity – the absolute dereliction of the cross – is the moment in which the glory of God, his power to be where and when he will be, is displayed before the eyes of the world. When the full course of Christ’s life is completed and is raised up by the Father, his “hiddenness” is shown to be a different kind of substantial presence, one that is only in being handed over in love, surrendered, and given anew; thus his “hiddenness” is in fact that openness with which his presence is embodied in the church’s practices, the exchange of signs of peace, the sacramental transparency of the community of the body of Christ. The church exists in order to become the counterhistory, nature restored, the alternative way of being that Christ opens up: the way of return. It is in this sense, principally, that the Word assumes human nature (as Irenaeus understood): by entering into the corporate identity of the body of the old Adam, the body of death, to raise all humanity up again in his body of glory. – David Bentley Hart
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Finally, as an appendix to these meditations, I will share a somewhat strange thing. It’s a poem I wrote in 2006 for a Lebanese friend of mine that reflects on the Divine Liturgy and its intimate connection to the Cross. He translated it into Arabic and gave it to me. Unfortunately, I don’t read Arabic, and I lost the English version of the poem. But I thought I would post it today in case anyone out there reads Arabic and might derive some small benefit from its paschal imagery.
من القـبر ينبثـق شـعاع نورٍ باهر
حيث بالمخاض الكون يـلِـد
مذبـح صـليـبٍ وأيقـونة حشـا
مياهـاً دافقـة من أرض حدْث العَـدَن
في سـناءٍ سـماويٍّ لمجد الأرض
يتألّـه الليل بتأنُّـس الألحـان الإلهيـة
وبـطرْف قـدرة الله يتعلّـق الإيمـان
والخبز ينزف دم التاريخ الفصحي