The Rev’d Kathryn Greene-McCreight
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
April 14, 2017
“Be not far from me for trouble is near and there is none to help.” (Ps 22:11)
How can I preach to you on a day when there are no words to be spoken? How can anyone speak of hope on a day where it looks to be crushed? How can we even think to bring to words any Good News on this day where the flame of love seems to have been snuffed out?
Job brings to words even this kind of silence demanded at suffering. As his friends try to offer vain words of comfort, he responds: “Look at me and shut up.” (Job 21:5). So we must look at the man on the cross, and we must shut our mouths. But only for so long.
Because there are indeed words. In the beginning, the Word called creation into being: “God said ‘Let there be light’. And there was light.” God did that by the Word. The Gospel according to John also goes back to that place in the story: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”… Jesus is that speech who by his own Word creates in the beginning.
And even in the beginning of this Word-creation, we find Jesus’ cross. In the Garden of Eden, you will remember, there are many trees. But the most important are mentioned by name: the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The latter one we know all too well. This is the tree of which Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat. They disobey God, eat, and bring upon themselves God’s curse.
The curse is not just spiritual, it is also physical, because these two always go together. The curse brings our first parents to break out in sweat as they farm. Even that rich soil yields nothing but thorns and thistles. They grieve in bearing and raising the next generation. They return to the soil from which they were created: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The curse of our first parents is on us as well. This is a real curse, a power that enslaves us. And yet even that enslavement is preceded by God’s word of promise, by grace.
We may remember the second tree that brings death, but we usually overlook the first tree: the tree of life. We must not. The tree which we choose for our own destruction is preceded in the story by this tree of life. Even from the beginning of creation, God’s grace floods our disobedience, our choice to flee from God’s presence. As at the beginning, so at the end: grace is even in Jesus’ suffering, and so also in ours.
At Jesus’ crucifixion, the soldiers twist together a crown of thorns and grind it into his scalp. Hail King of the Jews. The thorns on the head of the Man of Sorrows loose us from our bondage to the thorns of our curse in Eden.
Jesus’s cross is the tree of life. This is the tree we yearn for. The tree of life in the middle of the garden is in the very presence of God. Its fruit is sweet, is offered freely, and for all. It gives health and wholeness. The tree of life is the center of creation. It is the cross, the very embrace of God.
So, there are indeed words today. Paul talks about preaching the word of the cross. The word about the cross. The word from the cross. The word on the cross. From the cross, the Holy Trinity itself preaches the Word of reconciliation, mercy, and peace.
As many of you know, in November of 1940, England’s city of Coventry was flattened by the Luftwaffe of the 3rd Reich. Its jewel cathedral was destroyed. The day after the destruction, the cathedral stonemason noticed that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen into the shape of a cross. The Provost of the Cathedral, walking through the rubble, traced in ash with his finger the words “Father, Forgive”. A local priest made a cross of three of the medieval nails he found in the ruins. The New Cathedral was rebuilt near the Old Cathedral, not on top of its rubble, not in defiance but as a sign of hope. Their Litany of Reconciliation is prayed in the Old Cathedral every Friday at noon. The Coventry ministry of Peace and Reconciliation has reached around the globe, and its symbol is the cross of nails.
Listen again to those words traced in the ruins the day after the bombing: “Father, forgive.” We hear Jesus say from his own cross: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But in Coventry, the prayer is: “Father, forgive…” That is our prayer. Father, forgive, that we might forgive each other. “Do you not know that when you hate your enemy you hate your own brother?”
The Word of forgiveness from the cross is God’s relinquishment of all that would bar us from the Holy Presence. For us, forgiveness is a prayer of release of all within us that blocks us from loving God and loving neighbor. Forgiveness is difficult, but not an impossible act, summoned as though by gritting our teeth and moving forward. Forgiveness is first a prayer, and then an act. Forgiveness cultivates in us practices like gratitude, generosity, fearlessness, hope. From our hearts, with our hands, in our lives.
Coventry, Charleston, Alexandria, all of Syria… When we hate those whom we think to be our enemies, we are hating our brother. This is what grieves the man of sorrows. Father, forgive. Amen.