The beautiful introit of Maundy Thursday, Nos autem gloriari oportet, invites us to glory in the Cross of Jesus Christ. It always strikes me as emotionally incongruous to invite us to “glory” at that point: a sentiment at odds with the drama of the evening, because we can’t but think of what lies ahead: the supper spoilt by the guest who leaves to arrange a betrayal, the ritual meal overshadowed by imminent agony, arrest and the forthcoming horrors of the Passion.
What does it mean to glory in the Cross of Christ? Hebrew is a very concrete language and in the Old Testament the word for “glory” literally means to give something its due weight – in other words, to value it by feeling its reality bearing down on us. In the days of the Sacred Triduum we are, as it were, to weigh the Cross, to feel its weight.
We are perhaps inclined to feel it first as an emotional burden. It is right that we should have a true and tender devotion to Our Lord’s suffering. We should feel compassion for him for the agony he suffers, and it is true that my sins have nailed him to the Cross.
But theologically this is not all the weight; by definition we could not glory in it if it were. According to the mind of the Church, the Sacred Triduum is not three distinct celebrations, but one celebration of the same thing: the Lord’s Pasch, his passing from death to life.
Over these three days, whatever the changing emotional moods and sympathies, therefore, there is one sacred action in which the weight of the Cross is only experienced with Resurrection. (It is a pastoral tragedy, therefore, that there are many Catholics who have never attended all the ceremonies of the Triduum and experienced this mystery represented completely.)
The Cross is worth its weight not in gold, nor in suffering alone, but in the currency of divine love and self-gift, and we glory in it when we feel the weight of the love which the suffering makes visible, revealing God’s love reaching to the end of human experience and endurance.
But the weight of this same love is so great as to crush suffering and death; these are themselves defeated by the same love which humbly submitted to their apparent limits and then pulled their structure down about itself in death, like Samson blinded and bound. We glory in the Cross by accepting the gift not of suffering only, but of a new life in Christ out of the rubble of sin and death, the weight of divine intimacy.
“When you have lifted up the Son of Man,” Jesus says, “You shall know that I am he.” This “I am he” is the divine name, “I am”, revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Just as the bush is not consumed by the flames, so the suffering of the Son is a fire of divine, self-emptying love that cannot consume Jesus of Nazareth but makes him burn more brightly as God. It is the ultimate revelation of the power of love not just to suffer, but to triumph. As Paul Claudel writes, when His executioners have fastened Him to the instrument of His torment, He appears not as one who is vanquished but as “a God fully in action, utterly absorbed in the effort to raise the whole world to His level … The cross is God at work.”
Love “to the end” of the one who is Son of God casts its radiance beyond the dark limits of what a finite human body could hitherto communicate or endure. The unconditional sacrificial love of the man Jesus of Nazareth expresses not just the mystery of the love of a man for his disciples, but also the mystery of the source of being, “the transcendent communion of love we call the Trinity”. Benedict XVI says: “The Cross is the act of the ‘Exodus’, the act of love that is accomplished to the uttermost reaches ‘to the end’. And so it is the place of glory – the place of true contact and union with God who is love.”
“Glory” is the theological equivalent of beauty, which depends on something being most truly what it can be. Jesus on the Cross reveals to us the open heart of God whose being is eternally love. To glory in the Cross of Christ is to have a heart ravished by this beautiful love, to treasure it as the only source of salvation, life and resurrection.
Pastor Iuventus is a Catholic priest in London
This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (03/4/15).
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