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The Risen Christ
“Not even for a moment
do things stand still - witness
color in the trees.”
(Seiju : 15 August 1776) December “
“In the wood of the Cross the Lord sees the tree and human work united. Men must work because they have sinned, and so they lay a curse of their own sin into their work; they hammer the Cross together in order to nail him who brings salvation to it... It is clear that Christ had to become a carpenter, for he had to cut down the tree of knowledge. Like the first Adam, he the second Adam had also to deal with a tree. The first Adam had to do with the fruit; by eating it he made the tree unfruitful. The second Adam has to cope with the dead tree. During his years of contemplation, he takes the dead material of the felled tree and makes it his life’s work ... He has to rededicate the tree desecrated by eating of the fruit so that it can become the Cross... it is Christ who has to purify Adam in soul and body and restore the tree to its place... When one sees with what tenderness he dies on the wood, one understands what its rehabilitation means. The tree of the Cross was found worthy to carry the Lord and experience its own death as a tree as part of the Lord’s death...”
from “The Passion From Within” by Adrienne von Speyr ( Doctor, convert, mystic, 1902 - 1967)
All around Albuquerque in mid-April, the lush lavender grape-like wisteria flowers are blooming. As extravagantly generous and delicate as the falling blossoms appear, it’s amazing how tough the trunks, stems and vines are; they can break wooden lattices with ease, and have to be trained onto sturdier metal frames or just allowed to spill over walls all over the city. They are usually at their peak around the feast of St Gemma Galgani, or tomorrow, on April 16, the feast of St Bernadette and St Benedict Joseph Labre. Yet this year, Holy Saturday falls on this day. I have been drawn to the mystery of Holy Saturday for a very long time. At the end of my teaching career at Regis High in Denver, when I was 26, I did a painting of Holy Saturday I named after a hypnotic song I heard sung by Joan Baez written by Miguel Hernandez Gilabert and Juan Manuel Serrat; “Llego’ Con Tres Heridas,” - “ I Come With Three Wounds.” You can see it on my website, it’s a Deposition painting of a man (fashioned after Fr Pedro Arrupe, SJ) taking Christ down from the Cross. The man staggers under the weight of the body of Jesus. Above them are the flaming spokes of an eclipsed sun. Later, in the Hospice years of the AIDS pandemic in Manhattan I was to discover that medical doctor and mystic, Adrienne von Speyr had a very well articulated and controversial theology about the descent into Hell, “burned” into the Apostles Creed; “He descended into Hell, on the third day he arose again from the dead... “ How I wondered what that meant, (!) as I was just a child of 5 when I memorized that Creed. Why did Jesus descend into Hell after he died and why is this so essential, so important? For this theology and many other things, Adrienne is a stumbling block to the right and left theological wings of the church. I can only say briefly that she taught Jesus experienced Hell in all its utterly dark hopelessness. This seemed right to me. But I do not have the requisite credentials to argue why it seems right. It just hit me in an intuitive way, that as part of the Father’s plan of salvation, it had to be so.
This icon was commissioned by the Church of the Risen Christ in Denver as a companion to The Holy Family In 1992. Jesus is wearing a lavender garment and behind him are the blue colors of the mandala of eternity. The borders are yellow-gold, and now, that’s very meaningful to me as these are colors of the flag of Ukraine.
He bears the wounds of being nailed to the tree of the Cross. Why does he keep those wounds while all the other marks of flagellation, and the other violent wounds disappear? In fact he is so healed of his many wounds that the disciples do not recognize him. That Jesus can be resurrected by the Spirit of Love, from a horrific violent death and survive a descent into Hell, is staggering to my imagination, heart and soul, this teaches me something I cannot express in words about these holy days. This image of resurrection provides a harrowing contemplative experience I feel all the more, in these times, as we witness the relentless evil of rapes, slaughters, and tortured bodies of dead people we are seeing daily in Ukraine.
Personally, any experience (especially in the church) of a purposeful , willful injustice is enough to drive one mad, and tests the soul to the very end of its tether. I don’t see any case in the Gospels where Jesus is tolerant of this kind of arrogant cruelty, and he cautions us not to seek vengeance, to let God deal with this. But when it reaches this extent it becomes an apocalyptic struggle between good and evil. “How many graves? I don’t know. Go count them,” said the caretaker of the cemetery on Severodonetsk’s southern edge, which started to grow when Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. “We’re digging new ones almost every day now.”
For many past years this terrible struggle which is the Easter story, was far distant from most of us. We celebrated a cheerful Easter without really living in the story. This year is different. Because it’s so real, we wait again with the terrified women and men disciples of the first Easter. And because of the original story we have the advantage of tremendous hope. We don’t know how God will transform this present Crucifixion but we know He will. We wait and watch for the angel to appear at the empty tomb; this barren tree to flower...
“In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruit for every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
A most blessed Easter to you all
Fr William Hart McNichols 💮 Holy Saturday 2022