Reading Eight, “Remember Me,” is now available; find it here, along with Readings One through Seven.
From Reading Eight, “Remember Me”:
“The atmosphere on this chilling-killing day was mournfully convulsive. At least it was for some, but certainly not for all. It was a day of retribution for the religious elite. Their fortitude had paid off. They had won, or so they thought. Good riddance was the mood, a chance to finally shake their fists at this dangerous zealot threatening to destroy God’s temple.
For the disciples, bewilderment is the word most appropriate. They had left everything to follow, to learn, to become disciples. Their Redeemer was destined to die. They watched and listened as their Lord, so confessed, hung before them, dying.”
In “Speaker’s House and Destiny” (Chapter 11 of Messages from Estillyen), Reader and Voice examine why the initial act of sin—the small bite of one forbidden fruit—changed the course of history. One “small” sin unleashed the need for for Christ to be crucified. Wasn’t this an overreaction?
“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’” Matthew 5:1-12
What message did Jesus’ words sent to his listeners? What message do they send to our modern culture? In Jesus’ time, the heroes were warriors—those victorious in the Colloseum. In our time, heroes are those who have won wealth, success, and fame. Our heroes are the powerful.
“Blessed are the meek,” Jesus says. Not the arrogant, the overconfident, the overbearing, the self-serving. Not those who ruthlessly claw their way to power. The meek.
“Blessed are the merciful,” Jesus says. How can we reduce suffering? How much of our wealth and time can we give to offer help to those who need it—to joyfully do good, without judgment?
“Blessed are the pure in heart,” Jesus says. Our culture is violent and corrupt. Obscenity is celebrated. As individuals we long for wealth, recognition, and often-empty entertainments. Purity is disdained as naiveté. Yet, Jesus tells us to have pure hearts.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus says. While individually we can do little to bring about world peace, we can influence harmony instead of conflict. We can find areas of common ground. We can acknowledge others’ strengths. We can lay aside intentional rivalry. We can listen. We can forgive.
“Blessed,” Jesus says, “are the poor in spirit. Those who mourn. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Those who are persecuted.” These are the ones who suffer because of poverty and great loss. These are the ones despised and treated as outcasts. How can it be, then, that they are blessed? They are blessed because God has always comforted, attended to, and honored those who, though oppressed, live for him.
Via the way of suffering and grief, the Via Dolorosa, Christ made his way up Golgotha’s hill. He walked not alone. Among two criminals Christ strode, while evil filled the gutters.
Together, the condemned three made their way to the hill of death and frozen faces. The criminals were destined to be there, for ancient words speak of them as transgressors. “He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressor.”
On the renowned hill, spikes were bunched—sourced from where, who knows. Recycled and bent they may well have been. Bunched, they waited for their thudding blows to set them deep within the crosses.
Crucified as objects of public scorn, the three were hoisted high so all could easily see the cost of human disobedience. Only death could shield them from morbid public stare of piteous disgrace. Spiked to their crosses, they hung in torturous pain, waiting for death to drape its freeze upon their faces.
The atmosphere on this chilling-killing day was mournfully convulsive. That is, for some but certainly not for all.
It was a day of retribution for the religious elite. Their fortitude had paid off. They had won, or so they thought. “Good riddance” was the mood, a chance to finally shake their fists at this dangerous zealot threatening to destroy God’s temple.
For the disciples, bewilderment is the word most apropos. They had left everything to follow, to learn, to become disciples. Their shepherd now hung on the middle of crosses three. Bewilderment and brutality teamed up to wrench and test all they’d come to know.
For Christ’s family watching, what did they see when their eyes looked up to Golgotha’s hill?
They saw history repurposed. They saw much of love, grace, torture, and disgrace. Utter heartbreak and sorrow was etched upon their faces.
Hoisted high before bulging eyes and fists clenched, the message hung. Blood was his garment. Drenched red he was. From tissues deeply torn, blood flowed.
Blood of head joined blood of face, moving down the neck. Over the shoulders, blood trailed to his chest and back. Around the waist and down the legs, blood flowed.
Around the knees, from chinbone to ankles, the warm crimson fluid trickled on. Across the feet it advanced, past the spikes, before the toes, it reached. From there it dripped, the blood of God and man mixed, moistening the craggy soil of Golgotha’s hill.
The Alpha and Omega of divine verse hung, his shredded flesh dying but his words ever living, never dying. This drama was scripted before the world began.
The words of St. Peter do not lie: “Like that of a lamb without blemish or spot, he was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake.”
There is no precedent for words acting as these words did—to tell a tale, to draft a drama. In they came. From here and there, they came. At the assigned time and place, they converged, joining the lines for Christ’s message in the making.
As the story broke, characters in the grand drama also got their call. Emerging, they grasped the moment scurrying to and fro, filling in the story for posterity and eternity.
A malicious mob wielding knives, swords, and clubs grasped Christ. Judas grasped thirty pieces of silver and his hanging rope.
The priests grasped Judas and the silver coins he scattered on the temple floor. With the pickings, they eventually grasped a plot of land.
Pilate grasped his towel. Barabbas grasped freedom. A rooster grasped morning light and a deafening crow. Peter grasped sorrow in the hours of early morn.
Simon the Cyrene grasped a cross, one not his own. Soldiers grasped clothes and cast lots. Two thieves: One grasped the kingdom of God; the other grasped defiance. One grasped redemption, the other retribution.
Christ grasped gasps and final words.
Mary, peering from the hill, watched the flesh she bore give way to death. Which words he spoke as his last, no one knows for sure. St. John records, “It is finished.” St. Luke reports that Christ took his last breath after saying, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”
As all prophetic Scriptures found their storied places, it was time for Christ to die. His death spoke with universal awe.
With death, the pumping of blood and its dripping swiftly stopped. The medium of life was now silent—but his message speaking still. Death silent spoke meaning into life, as evil filled the gutters.
“Characters and the Cross,”by Messages from Estillyen author William E. Jefferson, was first published in Beliefnet.com.
Messages from Estillyen rings with the message that words matter, some more than most. Why do words have so much power? Why do they matter so?
In Chapter 20, the monks of Estillyen address this question at the beginning of the reading “Let Them Go!”
READER: A letter written but never sent, never read—should it be called a letter? A speech drafted and tucked away, never spoken, never heard—is it truly a speech? A composition never played, never sung, perhaps swept away by fire—how is it to be described? What’s to be said of the ashy notes? Is it a burnt melody, or something else?
In order for all three to be what they were intended, it seems that the letter should be read, the speech heard, and the composition played. If this they’re not, then something else they are. Their original intent they failed to become. They are undone, unsung, never spoken, never sent.
Similarly, a word cannot claim to be a word if it’s only a thought.
… Words enable thoughts to get dressed, come out, and speak their mind. As a word, a thought is no longer indisposed, undisclosed. It has entered the world. It is a word.
… Words are thought descriptors. They project thoughts from anonymity. They transfer thoughts into messages. Messages move the world.
Words are important because they bridge thought and message. Flowing words unleash messages that cannot be reversed.
What thoughts have become words whose messages moved the world?
Which of these thoughts were dressed in words appropriately? Which ones were not, sending destructive messages?