Archive for April 12th, 2012

Crying Stones

April 12, 2012

Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, complete with cheering crowds and branches of palm, was upsetting to the religious authorities of the time. The salutation of “Hosanna to the Son of David,” was a direct reference to His messiahship – a claim of kingship that carried political overtones. The warning of the authorities (Luke 19:39) is clear, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” Christ’s response is worth noting:  “I tell you that if they were to keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” Why would the stones cry out?

St. Paul offers this:

…the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now (Ro. 8:21-22).

Creation shouts in anticipation of its liberty. The entrance of Christ into Jerusalem – His triumphant entry – is the arrival of creation’s liberty (and our own). Had the people turned away and refused to cheer Christ’s arrival, creation itself would have taken up the chorus.

The arrival of our liberty is an aspect or understanding of Christ’s Passion that often goes unmentioned. The Cross has been so narrowed in its treatment by many Christians that the true fullness of the gospel remains unspoken. St. Paul reminds us that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). Christ Himself, quoting Isaiah, says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor… to proclaim liberty to the captives” (Lk. 4:18). That liberty from the bondage of death, decay and corruption is the freedom given in Christ’s death and resurrection. So much more than a forensic transaction, Christ’s victory is cosmic in its scope, bringing even the created order into the “glorious liberty of the children of God.”

For the individual believer, the events of Holy Week are rarely (if ever) associated with freedom. The bondage of creation and its subsequent liberty do not fit well within schemes of Divine justice and atonement. It is one of many New Testament realities that is frequently overlooked in its failure to conform to dogmatic requirements.

It is not overlooked in the gospels. Met. Kallistos Ware offers these observations:

…[The] created order in its entirety participated in the Savior’s Passion: the earth shook, the rocks were split, the whole cosmos shuddered (Matt. 27:51). In the words of St. Ephrem the Syrian, ‘humans were silent, so the stones cried out’. As the old English poem The Dream of the Rood expresses it, ‘All creation wept.’ This all embracing participation in the death of God incarnate is memorably expressed in the Praises or Enkomia sung in the evening of Good Friday or early in the morning on Holy Saturday:

‘Come, and with the whole creation let us offer a funeral hymn to the Creator.’The whole earth quaked with fear, O lord, and the Daystar hid its rays, when Thy great light was hidden in the earth.’ The sun and moon grew dark together, O Savior, like faithful servants clothed in black robes of mourning.’ ‘O hills and valleys’, exclaims the Holy Virgin, ‘the multitude of mankind and all creation, weep and lament with me, the Mother of God.’

Most remarkably of all in what is truly an amazing statement, it is affirmed: ‘the whole creation was altered by Thy Passion: for all things suffered with Thee, knowing, O Lord, that Thou holdest all in unity.’ …Do we allow properly for the fact that our Savior came to redeem, not only the human race, but the fullness of creation? Do we keep constantly in mind that we are not saved from but with the world?

The Incarnation of Christ and the whole of His work – suffering, death, burial, descent among the dead, resurrection, ascension – serve the same singular purpose – to deliver all of creation (including humanity) from its bonds and establish it in the freedom for which it was created – manifest in Christ’s own resurrection. Words such as “justification,” “sanctification,” and the like, are all synonyms for the singular saving work of Christ.

If the children hold their peace in this matter, the stones themselves will cry out.

The narrowing of the Cross by so many is a tragic limitation of the gospel. More tragic, it seems to me, is the “yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1) so easily embraced by Christians. Living in the liberty of the Spirit is the most difficult discipline of the Christian life – one which is quickly abandoned for religious imitations.

The liberty of the Spirit is not an existence which has no rules, no tradition or commandments: liberty is not chaos. However, how you have rules, tradition and commandments is another matter. The rules by which we live as Christians can easily become the end rather than the means of our existence. The children of Israel left the slavery of Egypt but were all too willing to become slaves within the wilderness.

Let is “stand fast in the liberty with which Christ has set us free!” and shout with the stones, “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner!”