Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Cross-Shattered Christ: Chapter Four

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27.46)

These are the words upon which Hauerwas reflects in Chapter Four of The Christ-Shattered Cross, a book several of us are reading during Lent. Like the previous three chapters, this meditation, short as it is, requires multiple readings, as least it did for me. Hauerwas begins by reminding us that we live in a "death-drenched" century. From all that we see going on throughout the world, "we think we have some idea about what it means to be forsaken," quite aware, as Hauerwas says, that "God remains silent." With death all around us, some people somehow manage to believe that "maybe God even suffers with us"; some people seem to think such a notion is "comforting [even when] given the fact it is very clear God is incapable of doing anything about our suffering."

Christians who entertain notions that God suffers with us, Hauerwas observes, is "but an indication of our refusal, indeed our inability, to believe that this One [Jesus!] who hangs on this obscure and humilating cross is God":

That this is God [hanging on the cross] means Jesus's words, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" are not words describing the horror we inflict on our ourselves and one another.

God--not us!- is crying out, crying out with words from the inner life of Jesus who by himself works through Israel's pain articulated in Psalm 22. It is God in Jesus, the cross-shattered Christ, suffering out this prayer: " This is not [simply] a cry of general dereliction; it is the cry of the long-expected Messiah, sacrificed in our stead and thus becoming the end of sacrifice." As Hauerwas emphasizes again and again in previous chapters, what we hear from the cross is "the outworking of the mystery called Trinity." Here, as the Second Council of Constantinople put it, "one of the Trinity suffered in the flesh." That emphasis bears strong iteration: The creating Word of God is dying; the Word made flesh is dying. God is emptying himself, completing emptying Himself in death made possible by perfect love.

We dare not dilute what happens on the cross as some sort of gruesome "dumb show" demonstrating that God has our best interest at heart. God is collapsing into death. God, as Rowan Williams reminds us, is doing the unimaginably impossible; God in Christ is giving up all traces of power:

The silence of Jesus before Pilate can now be understood for was it was--namely, that Jesus refuses to accept the terms of how the world understands power and authority.

On the cross we see a God who refuses to save us by violence. This refusal is, as John's Gospel says over and over, the glory of God. As our powerless Lord, "the Son of God has taken our place, become for us the abandonment our sin produces, so that we may live confident that the world has been redeemed by this cross."


While I'm not sure I "understand" what happens on the cross (and so agree with Pastor Strange's admission in yesterday's sermon that he too doesn't have a logical explanation as to how the crucifixion of Jesus "works"), I nevertheless think that Hauerwas is on to something tremendously important. Trying to understand what the cross-shattered Christ means to Hauerwas, I listen to Jesus cry out and this is what I hear: Utterly emptied, void of power, God descends into suffering, pain, dying, and death so we hear and see what it looks like when God in the flesh dies. When we listen to Him on the cross, we enter the Trinitarian heart of God


Blogger Mason Smith said...

I agree that this is a central chapter in Hauerwas, and that it requires multiple readings.

One of my favorite lines from that chapter is cited above: "On the cross we see a God who refuses to save us by violence" (65). I've thought about that comment for a long time. Violence, after all, is just about our favorite way to resolve conflict, but it is certainly not God's.

Just above this, Hauerwas writes, "We do not want to acknowledge that the one who abandons and is abandoned is God" (65). That line stopped me also. Jesus cannot be abandoned by God beause as the Second Person of the Trinity, he is God. The abandonment is done by us, who have looked away and run away and left him there alone. We don't want to acknowledge it. We don't even want to see it. Jesus is alone and abandoned--by us.

I also liked the comment by Rowan Williams that the death of Jesus on the cross shows us "the sheer, unimaginable differentness--of God" (64). We're like the characters in the Book of Job, trying to make God's justice into human justice. This effort is doomed to fail, but we never get tired of trying.

Finally, I love the fact that the chapter ends with the ancient and mysterious hymn from Philippians 2.9-11.

"Therefore God also highly exalted him/ and gave him the name/ that is above every name,/ so that at the name of Jesus/ every knee should bend,/ in heaven and on earth and under the earth,/ and every tongue should confess/ that Jesus Christ is Lord,/ to the glory of God the Father."


Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Tuesday, 28 March, 2006  

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