Year A, Proper 23: Friday

Note:  This post is a bit dated, but I thought I’d keep the original dating based on its importance for me when I was writing a few weeks’ ago.

For several years now I’ve noticed that theologians and other Christian authors embrace a tradition of fixing a final date on their manuscripts at the end of the book’s introduction or preface.  “Easter 2008”—take a look at the table for Easter dates and you can easily find the corresponding Roman calendar day.  Epiphany 2002—that’s easy, Epiphany falls on January 6th every year.  Like a priest lifting the congregation’s offering before the Eucharist, the faithful author locates his work in sacred time—a consecration that his words be refined by the Holy Spirit, glorifying the Name of Jesus. 
That’s what happens to me as I write this Friday, which is different than most everyone else’s Friday. Friday is a movable feast according to the calendar of my vocation—the alternative Sabbath because of the exertion that takes place each Sunday.  Sabbath observance is a bit different for priests given the need for an alternate day, but in most every other way, I am like any other 21stcentury American.  When a day of rest comes I often collapse from the hectic pace of a frenzied week, fraught with deadlines and constant communication.  But this movable feast, falling on a Friday each week, draws me out of my own mental weariness.  The rule of common prayer directs my eyes elsewhere.  Look on the exhausted Christ, bearing the weight of humanity’s utter rejection of God.  If every Sunday is a celebration of Easter, then every Friday must become some remembrance of our Lord’s obedience unto death. 

My friends might think me a bit obnoxious on the Anglo-Catholic side of things to date any ordinary meditation in sacramental time, but for me, beginning with sacred time (rather than concluding a written piece) provides a new orientation.  Everything else that has been occupying my mind this week is now reordered by the collect given for each Friday in the church year: Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  All other thoughts are now subordinated to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ.  My body has ceased moving.  Phone calls are optional.  Email is not an option—I’m not logging in.  Where my body is decelerating, my mind is racing.  I’m tempted to use this day to accomplish the task of understanding all that races through my mind.  Instead, I’m interrupted by the cross of Christ.  Thank you, ++Thomas Cranmer (I think). 

It seems so foolish, so unproductive and inconvenient.  How is an instrument of torture supposed to herd all the scattering thoughts within?  I haven’t any idea.  But like so many other prayers that Cranmer and other Anglican divines penned in the Book of Common Prayer, these prayers are called collects because they are meant to collect what is scattered.  Many collects hinge on the word ‘may’—a conditional statement often calling for obedience.  These prayerful utterances are spoken in faith without the advantage of sight. Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  There is confidence embedded in those words but it implies a journey stretching out ahead of us.  This prayer isn’t in the past tense, but the present and conditional future:  “grant that we may find the cross none other than the way of life.”  I suppose that means all the whispers, shouts, and questions within me can only be worked out on this uphill ascent to a place of loss, pain, and death.  That defies the cultural logic surrounding me, but how can I not recall how the cross of Christ interprets human wisdom?  

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “ I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 3.18-21)

Evading the cross not only lacks true wisdom, it cannot bring peace in the midst of conflict.  The paradox standing before me on this and every Friday is a collect on the cross immediately followed by a collect for peace.  “O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom:  Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”  Only the cross brings peace.  Should I be surprised that calm begins to come when my eyes are fixed on the crucified Christ?  I will never understand this paradoxical sign, but I pray I always embrace it.