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Pinned to the Cross, Penned by It

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jer. 31:31-34 • Ps. 51:1-13 or 119:9-16
Heb. 5:5-10 • John 12:20-33

Jaroslav Pelikan’s Jesus Through the Centuries remains an immensely useful compendium of an impossibly broad topic: Jesus is our rabbi, our king, our light, the image, the crucified, the bridegroom, the model, the prince, the teacher, the poet, the liberator. His face morphs; his skin is chameleon-like; his voice is a monastic monotone and prophetic turbulence. Ask the historians. They pour out new portraiture by the day. Whereas St. Paul tried to be all things to all people, Jesus was and is and ever shall be all things to all people, even all things to all things, for he is the font of all being, the teleological pull of providence, and the perfect end of all creation. “When I am lifted up,” Jesus says, “I will draw everything and everyone to myself” (John 12:32).

He thus indicates the sort of death he is about to endure (John 12:33). Climbing the tree of terror, he offers himself for his well-known friends and some strange Greeks from Bethsaida of Galilee. Greeks prefer Greeks, at least some of the time, and so they go to Philip and Andrew, a couple of Greek-named associates of the Savior. Sure enough, Jesus speaks to both Jew and Greek of his hour, the time when a grain of wheat falls to the ground. Like the moment of his death this prophetic utterance comes accompanied with thunder. The ruler of this world is being cast out. For the cross is not only the axis mundi (center of the world), it is totus mundus (the entire world), not a crevice of canyon left as a playground for the devil. The Savior wants the world. We may, at our worst moments, prefer a bitter hell, but the Savior does not. Not averse to going there, he breaks the doors, tricks the devil, and hooks every willing soul.

The wounds of Christ are a font of blessings. “Oh, the wonderful power of the cross! Oh the ineffable glory of the passion, in which there is the tribunal of the Lord, the judgment of the world, the power of the Crucified” (Leo the Great, PL 54, 340-42). Paul’s epistle to the Colossians contains a powerful and enigmatic remark, proven one presumes in the hearts of those first disciples: “the hand-written accusations rightly inscribed against us, you nailed to the cross” (Col. 2:14). Deleting the old life is no small good, but I dare suggest a new writing replacing the old. “I will,” says the Lord, “etch my law in lungs, heart, and liver, stomach and entrails” (Jer. 31:33). The Lord likes souls and clouds and blazing light. Still, providence seems often to prefer fleshy hearts and the firm faith that put bone to bone. Jesus is the inscribed name, the deepest truth written into us. The name which is above every name is our name, for we are filii et filiae Dei.

As children of God into whom the holy name has been inscribed with the sharp pen of the cross, we have much to suffer, endure, and learn by the obedience of faith. We also have the ineffable joy of our status as children of God and the overflowing goodness which takes root in our lives and comes forth thirtyfold, and sixtyfold, and one hundredfold. Easter joy is not excised by Lent, but only bracketed to allow another word. The eternal Son is now with the sons and daughters of God enduring with us, even death on a cross.

Look It Up
Read Hebrews 5:8. It may trouble your Christology, but Jesus is said to learn obedience.

Think About It
The baptized are only fully named when the priest says, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”


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