the penultimate WORD
Series 2005 -
The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality.” Victor Frankel
The entry was low, so low in fact that I had to crouch to gain entry.
The low ceiling suppressed arches that typically drew a focus to the heights. Altar candles provided light, and arrested my vision. Their flickering flames had an allure – even at a distance. The vested altar, draped in a Jacobean frontal dominated the scene. Colours, such as they were, were cast in shadow and not remarkable. Flame cast brilliance in pools that were swallowed by the shadows and absorbed in the blackness. The brass ornaments caught flickering light and highlighting the space, drew me forward.
At the pavement, the fair linen cloth, ironed and white, shone in the candle light. My hands rested upon it. A simple silver cup stood empty before me, and beside it a paten. They occupied preferential place on a creased corporal unfolded and centered. Beyond these diminishing vessels, in the center of the tableau, stood the cross.
The cross was substantial yet plain with no remarkable engraving or filigree. Near its base lay a single brass screw, reposing where it had been left. The cross-piece was missing … the mitred joint lack-lustre where once the piece had been fixed, from behind by the brass screw. Faithful attention to polishing only served to accent the hidden grasp of the metal pieces.
This brass standard occupied a central place reserved for a cross. This brass token was no longer what it once was. The patibulum had gone missing.
The sanctuary, lighted only by the adjacent candles, shrank before me and filled me first with wonder, and then with dread. It had become a small place, without space enough for some – and perhaps insufficient space for me.
I then woke up and found myself in familiar surroundings. The oppressive weight encountered in my dream that night not long ago remained with me, as it does yet.
Armchair psychologists may amuse themselves with my dream. Freudian libidinal interpretation will occupy some while those subscribing to Adlerian theory will search for a tendentious apperception inherent in the dream. Jungian archetypes found in the dream will provoke other tangents of interpretation; each is interesting in its own way. But my reading resonates more with the psychoanalytic school of the Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankel.
And what went missing? Apparently the sense of balance found on the fulcrum of God’s redeeming love – that was missing.
And what went missing? The inviting embrace of Jesus’ arms stretching from the East to the West – that was missing.
And what went missing? The cross-arm that enabled disciples to recognize the Love revealed and acceptance of God expressed in a breadth far greater and wider than we will ever realize – that was missing.
Condemned to death, Jesus bore his cross on his back from the prison to the place of execution. Jesus struggled with the cross-arm or patibulum, weighing about 110 pounds. The familiar path is traced by the pious and the devout. It is revisited on Good Friday. Jesus’ struggle is remembered in September as well – Holy Cross Day. Our familiarity places us at a disadvantage. The story had its beginning that led to a height silhouetting Jesus against an angry sky. Its beginning remains continuingly current and the struggle remains. The scarred track of the cross-arm can be detected beyond the cobblestones and dusty alleys of Jerusalem. It passes amongst us daily.
Jesus continues carrying his cross-beam, weighed down by the brokenness and pain of rejection. Frankel observed, “Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality.” Jesus’ grasp of the cross-arm revealed Love and disciples in every generation have glimpsed the innermost core of his being. As a beam, Jesus wrestled with the patibulum and bore it on his back. The open wounds of his scourging continue to embrace the burden of brokenness.
The end of the cross-arm, dragging along the ground, still traces a scar on the world as Jesus struggles, weighed down by our hubris. God may well be asking us to walk with him and his rejected disciples into new and exciting venues. Jesus, I’ve discovered, doesn’t walk alone. Here is no icon of a solitary traveler. The scar of his cross-arm is matched by others, first in tens and then in hundreds, and then too many to count. The scars harrow a field for hope and death and redemption and resurrection.
God help us to grow in love and acceptance of those who are different.
Help us to see that this is a revealing of the Love and acceptance of God which is far greater and wider than we will ever realize.
While many reject a revelation of truth beyond that revealed in Jesus, surely there is room for a growth in our understanding of the implications of that once and for all given truth.
Copyright © 2005 James T. Irvine
Quanta of Love by Harold Macdonald