Resurrection Chapel National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Path To Easter

Mt. Chocorua in New Hampshire is one of my favorite places.  It is not among the highest White Mountain peaks, but a forest fire a century ago cleared the top third of the mountain, and the upper trails offer some of the most spectacular views in New England.

On the Piper Trail the approach to Chocorua’s summit cone is cut by a crevice in the rock, some two feet wide, and about ten feet deep.  Situated between a solid rock wall and a cliff several hundred feet high, the crevice has to be crossed by any hikers who want to use that trail to reach the top.

Over the years I have led quite a few groups up by that route, and always found the hikers’ reactions to the crevice interesting.  Some, whether children, teenagers, or adults, hardly seemed to notice it, and breezed right on by.  Most paused, and sized it up before stepping carefully across.  Some asked for a steadying hand.  Yet others would react with great fear, a few even turning back and not going on to the summit, which was in plain view.

In the journey of faith, Christ’s suffering and death are like that crevice.  They cut across the pilgrim’s path, but to reach the destination they must be crossed.

The climb up the lower slopes of God’s Holy Mountain alternates between steep and gentle, but the way is clear.  The call of Abraham, the Exodus from Egypt, the giving of the Law to Moses, the leadership of Deborah, the trust of David, the faithfulness of the prophets, the courage of Judith; all these make sense to our natural minds.  Indeed, the view from some of these landmarks is breathtaking, and some pitch camp, convinced that nothing better can lie ahead.  Even the early ministry of Jesus can be such a stopping point.  But after the days in Galilee the trail gets steep, and the traveler approaches the central cone of the mountain.  There, like the crevice on Chocorua, the cross cuts across the trail, and like Chocorua’s hikers, spiritual pilgrims react in different ways. 

A few see it coming, and hop across with a spring in their steps.  Others analyze the situation: “Knowing God shouldn’t have to include this.”  Some leap across in faith, many ask help from their friends, and others set up camp, spending years or even a lifetime trying to decide whether or not to go on.  And there are those who turn back, persuaded that the summit offers no views they haven’t seen already.

Holy Week challenges us to cross the crevice.  All the lessons of scripture and faith lead toward this: that God’s Son came into the world not for a visit and a chat, but to begin setting right the sin of the world.  This was serious business when he came, and it is serious business to this day.  As much as we euphemize and minimize our own lapses and errors, deep inside we know the world is in trouble, we are a part of it and we would like to see it fixed. 

The good news is that in Christ the fixing has already begun.  The hard news is that the way of Christ is the way of sacrificial love, in which the lover literally forgets him or herself.  John the Evangelist tells us that God so loved the world that he came not to condemn it, but to redeem it, to offer God’s very self to that end.  This is a path in which such love leads inevitably to suffering and death, the way of the cross.  As Jesus embraces this path he encounters and confronts the sin and evil of the world and, in what can be described as an act of cosmic jujitsu, turns the cross back against itself, winning a victory, the dimensions of which are validated by his resurrection.  Now, by the grace of God, that same victory belongs to all who will trust it and embrace it.

Pause to reflect upon this break in the trail, to seek understanding and find the courage to press on, that your Easter may be a celebration of all God has done, and an anticipation of all we shall become.

Howard MacMullen

© April, 2011

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