A Better Resurrection

by Jessica Hickey, (c.) 2010

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19)

"The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.“ (Romans 8:18)


“ . . . Face to face with our Maker . . .This is what we need above all; we need prayer more urgently than bread.” (Paul Claudel)
 
We now approach the final days of our Lenten observance, preparing to follow Christ into that dark night from which the true dawn was born.

It is always difficult, amid all our other obligations, to enter into this time. Palm Sunday, the solemn beginning of this week, sometimes arrives in the middle of a tempest--as it did this week, with lashings of rain, a too-full parking lot, fussy children, a head full of noise. Sometimes it is not just a step backwards, but a giant leap, that is needed, to open the pages of the missal and place oneself mentally upon those streets outside of Jerusalem where, mounted upon a colt foal, Jesus received those cries of Hosanna which faded into condemnation.

Yet, we must find a way back to that day; we must be allowed to accompany Christ in these last days that decided everything. It is almost a matter of finding a way into ourselves, feeling along a wall that is covered in ivy and bracken, until suddenly, we find the heart’s door. We are within, and none but Christ is with us.

I feel that only here can we know what self-abandonment is--ours and His. Here we know the poverty of our humanity, how little our powers, how faint the stirrings of life and hope which we can claim as our own. And yet it doesn’t seem to matter, for whatever our natural weakness and whatever wrongs we have done, Someone else is making a way for us, hewing a path to eternity from His mingled humanity and divinity. We are like a child, carried on the shoulder of a giant.

Christina Rossetti captures this realization in her poem, “A Better Resurrection”:

I HAVE no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb'd too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm'd with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.


My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall--the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.


My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish'd thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.

This prayer, one of true humility and abandonment, urges us to confront not just our smallness, our selves so like “a faded leaf,” unable to sustain of our own accord Faith, Hope and Charity. It also invites us to seize upon the truth that life and resurrection and purification will nonetheless take place in us-- if we ask for it, if we accept it. “My life is like a frozen thing . . . . / Yet rise it shall--the sap of Spring;/ O Jesus, rise in me.”

This confrontation, this face-to-face encounter with Christ toward which the Triduum draws us, is the purest and most distilled impetus to holiness that anyone could wish for. We have here not ideals nor historical reflections nor resolutions for a better life, but simply the eyes which have gazing upon us through the windows, peering through the lattice, as we read in the Song of Songs.

Who at this moment would cradle his sins to his heart, or content himself with stoking the fire of his own vanity? All the silly banalities, the distractions and petty indulgences of vice appear like objects too cheap and shoddy and embarrassing to be displayed. They do not belong in that house of the true self. We cannot meet His gaze with them in our pockets. Who, in the sight of these eyes, can say that any other thing matters more?

We must protect this moment, guarding it carefully. Like the Hebrews at Passover, we must sweep out the house of the soul, throwing all of the old bread upon the fire, awaiting the signal that the time has come. We stand with our traveling-cloaks on, not to follow Moses to the land of Canaan, but to follow Christ to a better resurrection.

St. Simeon the Younger, a hermit and mystic of the sixth century, wrote the following impassioned plea for such solitude with God:

“Leave me alone, sheltered in my cell. Leave me with God who alone is benign. Go away, remove yourself farther, leave me before God who created me. Nobody may knock at my door, nobody raise his voice. None of my acquaintances and friends may visit me, none shall draw my mind away from the contemplation of the Good and Beautiful Lord. Nobody hands me food, nobody brings me drink: I am satisfied to abide before the face of my God, my merciful God, my benign God, who came down on earth to call the sinners and bring them within Him into heavenly life . . . . Leave me in peace. Let me lock my cell and sit therein. And if I dig into the earth to hide myself within it, . . . and if I desire to die for love of Him, gazing at the eternal Creator and Lord--leave me do it!”

It is only in this silence that we can look upon the Crucified one and let His will be done. Paul Claudel writes that, upon seeing Him thus, man:

“ . . . though superficially shocked, is nevertheless glad at heart, or more accurately, enchanted. What if his deep-seated habits have been challenged? Without being able to identify the truth, he feels its sting, feels the home-thrust that can only be made under cover of dark. God does not enter by the door but by scaling the wall. He goes right to the heart. There are regions in man’s soul that he had believed to be inaccessible, and now, suddenly he feels stirring within him the truth which lies deeper than justice. He reels; he is torn; he is tormented; he becomes leavened dough; he has received one of those blows that compel one to respond.”

In this silence, all truth is delivered to our keeping. There is no other answer needed. Too well we know the despondency and destructiveness that plagues the human race; we have all been bitten by the serpent, and the effects of evil bear down upon us daily. Loud laments of themselves change nothing.

But if with quiet hearts we prepare, marking our doorposts with the blood of the Lamb, we can look upward and see the ransom which Love has paid, a price which He did not consider too high if, by paying it, He could have us.

“He was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities:
the chastisement of our peace was upon him;
and with his stripes we are healed.” (Is. 53:5)

Let us, in the days ahead, look upon the One who loves us to the end. Let us be like one of those friends who followed alongside Him, meeting His eyes with silent devotion.

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