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For as long as he was capable of suffering, he felt pain and sorrow for us; and now that he has ascended into heaven and is beyond human pain, he is still suffering with us. Julian of Norwich
It just so happens that during this Easter season I’m having students read Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love. They’re both perplexed and intrigued. The motherhood of God makes them a bit uneasy, even as I remind them that John Calvin used similar language. They also find it strange that Julian would focus so much on the suffering of Christ, specifically her emphasis on the wounds of Jesus. We talked a bit about Medieval piety and spirituality, the emphasis on the affective aspects of theological reflection and devotion, and how Christian’s during this time focused on Christ’s suffering. Yet, as protestant folk we approach Julian from a different perspective—a much more evangelical obsession with being empowered to live a new life as a new creation. In this context Friday get’s swallowed up by Easter. We know we need to move through the cross, so we have Good Friday services or Maunday Thursday, but we do so to get to Easter, draining the cross of its power as the revelation of God in the pathetic, suffering, Jesus hanging from a cross.
A theological privileging of “glory” has the tendency toward triumphalism, success, and the “beautiful people” syndrome. We speak of God’s glory when things go as we want them to go, when we’re winners, but not so much when we experience failure. We see God at work in the powerful and the influential, in the culturally and technological savvy who transform this world into the nicely ordered kingdom of God, but not so much in the weak, the abnormal, and those who have nothing to offer. And yet, as we remember this day, according to the gospel of Mark, it is when the centurion saw how Jesus died, it is when he looked upon the broken and tortured human being breathing his last, that he uttered, “Surely this was the Son of God.” This is the scandal of Christian faith—the unchanging, all powerful, almighty God is found hanging on a cross in the form of a human being. It’s an affirmation of sorts…an affirmation of the human experience. An affirmation of difference, weakness, and the abnormal. Yes, we live in the power of Christ’s resurrection, but we only do so in a faith that is grounded in the revelation of God on the cross. The new life that we are called to live does not abandon the cross, it is, as the Medievals knew well, deeply marked by it. We all have the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, that mark us as sons and daughters of our crucified King. We bear witness to a kingdom that marks this world with a new form of abnormality, calling us to become fools, to become waste, in the midst of a world obsessed with power and honor.
This, I believe, is why it’s important to read Julian on Good Friday. As we experience the wounds of Christ by participating in the suffering of this world, we are opened up to the new life offered to vagabonds and fools.