Each year during the spring semester, we study a theology of Sabbath with our Fellows. Sarah Puryear spent two class sessions with our Fellows in February, teaching on Sabbath rest using authors such as Norman Wirzba, Eugene Peterson, Wendell Berry, and Lauren Winner. It was a powerful time to reflect on our own patterns of rest (or lack thereof), and since Lent was just around the corner, we challenged the Fellows to incorporate a pattern of rest into their weekly routine throughout Lent. I also took up the challenge and decided to read a devotional called Bread and Wine as part of my journey into regular rhythms of rest and reflection. I had no idea how this devotional would change my view of myself and God throughout the Lenten season.
As I read through the book, the authors invited me to walk with Christ through his temptation, Passion, and crucifixion. It was an invitation to look at my own sin and realize my role in the crucifixion of Christ. I've always found the crucifixion accounts in the Gospels to be so uncomfortable... so hard to read. I've also always let myself get away with that, to some extent, until now. One of the contributors to the devotional, Fleming Rutledge, told the story of a woman who, when her church had the congregation participate in a dramatic reading of the Passion account by having them play the role of the crowd that shouts that they want Jesus crucified, commented to Fleming that she could not bring herself to shout, "Crucify him!" She was convinced that she could not say such an awful thing. Fleming wrote, "I have often thought, since, how terribly sad that was. In her stubborn blindness, [this woman] could not identify herself as a sinner like all the rest of us." Wow, a dagger to my heart. I began to allow myself to ruminate on the cross and my sin more fully than I have before.
I then came across one of the most powerful devotionals to me in this same book. Entitled "The Cross and the Cellar," Morton T. Kelsey talks of the cellar in each of us. He says, "Each of us has underneath our ordinary personality, which we show to the public, a cellar in which we hide the refuse and rubbish which we would rather not see ourselves or let others see." He reminds us that those running concentration camps in Germany were formerly peace-loving citizens, well educated and thoughtful. Until the beasts in each of them were released. Kelsey writes,
I do not like to stop and, in the silence, look within, but when I do I hear a pounding on the floor of my soul. When I open the trap door into the deep darkness I see the monsters... There emerges the sheer mindless destructive brutality of the Frankenstein monster, and next the deft and skilled Aztec priest sacrificing his victim. Then I see the image of the slave trader with his whips and chains... and then the accuser crying at me with a condemning voice.
Thankfully, though, Kelsey does not leave us languishing in the cellar. He ends by saying, "This confrontation often leads us into the pit. The empty cross is planted there to remind us that suffering is real but not the end, that victory still is possible..."
And here, my friends, is the beauty of what I reflected on during Lent this year. As I looked on my utter depravity, I did not feel farther away from God but closer. I did not feel God's condemnation but rather his love, more strongly than I have felt it in a long time! The cross of Christ is the ultimate sacrifice of love, and therefore my sin and God's love for me are forever intertwined in the act of Christ on the cross. What a strange mixture of grief and peace, of loss and life, all at once.
I will admit - it is easier for me to dwell in sadness and a bit of hopelessness these days, given the hurt in our world currently. But to feel deep sadness without hope is to lose sight of the power of the cross. It is to not truly believe what Christ did for us. Doubt is a part of our journey, to be sure, but what a beautiful thing to know that it is precisely in moments of deep darkness that the work of the cross of Christ shines brightest. To this hope I cling!
Each year our Fellows attend St. George's Maundy Thursday service, and it is such a powerful visual reminder of what Christ did for us. One of the songs the choir sang was Ubi Caritas. I'll leave you with the words of this song below, but let me preface it by saying that one of the greatest sources of hope for me amidst the darkness in our world is seeing the Body of Christ come together in unity. One of the reasons I was drawn to working with the Nashville Fellows Program was because of its ecumenical commitment. I truly believe that now is a critical time in history for the Church to show the world a better way forward. A way that is characterized by love and unity instead of fear and division. The words to this song reminded me again of the hope that springs forth from unity in Christ's Body:
Where charity and love are, God is there. / Christ's love has gathered us into one. / Let us rejoice and be pleased in him. / Let us fear, and let us love the living God. / And may we love each other with a sincere heart.
Where charity and love are, God is there. / As we are gathered into one body, / Beware, lest we be divided in mind. / Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease, / And may Christ our God be in our midst.
Where charity and love are, God is there. / And may we with the saints also, / See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God: / The joy that is immense and good, / Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.