Lent VII – Passion and Glory

Holy Week begins tomorrow and, with it, the remembrance of Christ’s passion. What better motivation is there to abandon my rebellions and to embrace with whole-hearted devotion my God—what better motivation than this: to remember the sacrifice of the One who set aside unimaginable glory and honor to endure horrific suffering for my sake and the sake of the whole world—to love him because he has first loved me.

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

~ Philippians 2:5-11

But as we know, the grievous road to the cross ultimately brought great glory and honor to God because Jesus conquered the grave by rising again, and the kingdom of God began to show through here on earth, as it is in heaven. Indeed, as Paul says, God has highly exalted Jesus for his humble obedience, and we are compelled to name him as not only our Lord, but the Lord of all things. This is not to say that Christ’s suffering merely pales because it served the greater good; on the contrary, it is to exalt his suffering because it came of true obedience and because it accomplished the healing of the world, which will become evident to all creatures in the end (I also wish to be clear here that there is much more to be said about Christ’s suffering than its end results). We, too, are encouraged to have the mind of Christ by taking on his humility, his obedient spirit, his self-sacrificial love—all to bring glory to God, which is our main purpose.

The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
    him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
    he awakens my ear
    to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
    and I was not rebellious;
    I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
    and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
    from disgrace and spitting.

But the Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

~ Isaiah 50:4-7 (ESV)

The Lord, our God, will not leave us helpless before the powers of darkness. He has already conquered them, and it is by his power, his Spirit, that we continue to proclaim and embody his kingdom until he returns.

I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we pray, O Lord!
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

~ Psalm 118:21-29 (ESV)

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To begin with a quote…

I’m grateful that Bach’s Christianity was realized in both his conscious and subconscious mind.  But being a practising Christian is not part of the job description, and sometimes God chooses most peculiar people to be vessels of genius.  My mother used to sigh because her beloved Wagner was such a nasty man.  And I was horrified to have some students tell me that a lot of people actively dislike Robert Frost.  How does one separate the art from the artist?

I don’t think one does, and this poses a problem.  How do we reconcile atheism, drunkenness, sexual immorality, with strong, beautiful poetry, angelic music, transfigured painting?  We human beings don’t, and that’s all there is to it.  Dostoeyvsky’s magnificent theology is not always compatible with his agonized life.  Mozart wrote one of his merriest and most joyful pieces while he was frantic over his dying mother.  Mendelssohn, who helped give Bach to the world, was a Jew.

It’s all more than I can cope with–or, rather, it’s more than my conscious mind can cope with.  Jung says that we are far more than the part of ourselves we can know about, and that one of the most crippling errors of twentieth-century culture has been our tendency to limit ourselves to our intellect… The right hemisphere of the brain controls the left side of the body and the intuition, we are told; and the left hemisphere of the brain controls the right side of the body and the intellect.  And we’re afraid of that left, intuitive side…

From that misunderstood left comes prayer and poetry and song, and these have a healing power we are losing touch with in this technocratic age…

Maybe the job of the artist is to see through all of this strangeness to what really is, and that takes a lot of courage, and a strong faith in the validity of the artistic vision even if there is not a conscious faith in God…

‘Our identity is hidden, even from ourselves…. the doctrine that we are made after the image of God proclaims that the human being is fundamentally a mystery, a free spirit.  The creative artist is one who carries within him the wound of transcendence.  He is the sign that human beings are more than they are.’

~ from Walking on Water, by Madeleine L’Engle (125-128) (internal quote from Journey into Christ, by Alan Jones)