This stream of meditations begins with a scene from Matthew: “Don’t worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and how you are to clothe it. Surely life means more than food, and the body more than clothing.”(Mt 6:25-34)
It is the way of the ancient tradition to ‘live into’ the gospel scenes. In practice, a reciprocal movement occurs whereby we allow ourselves to be incorporated in the scene and the scene becomes incorporated in us.
The gentle imagery of this scene is destined to culminate in the powerful imagery of the Easter season. The annual cycle brings us to this period each year when we are invited to focus with particular intensity on the movement toward the cross. Each year we encounter aspects of the spirit that are often unique, according to our development, and can be quite challenging, depending on our willingness to be challenged.
Three scenes in particular, are brought into focus this Easter.
“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; Jesus was walking on ahead of them; they were in a daze, and those who followed were apprehensive.” (Mk 10:32)
Jesus was walking into danger. They wanted him to save himself. Peter had already remonstrated with him, only to be rebuked, ‘Get behind me, Satan!
In reflecting on this scene, it becomes apparent, in wanting Jesus to save himself, they were, in effect, wanting him to adopt the experience of a self, other than God, and share in our self-cherishing. He refused. (‘Before Abraham was, I am.’)
He continued, quite deliberately, to walk into danger. However, as he walked towards the cross we are presented with two scenes in particular, in which Jesus does appear to engage with an experience of a self, other than God.
In the scene at Gethsemane we observe Jesus engaged with an experience of a self, and then surrender it. “A sudden fear came over him and great distress. And he said to them ‘My soul is sorrowful to the point of death.’ And going on a little further he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, this hour might pass him by.” ‘Father!’ he said ‘Everything is possible for you. Take this cup away from me. But let it be as you, not I, would have it.’ Then some time later, a radical self-abandonment is displayed with the words: ‘The hour has come. Get up. Let us go.’
In the scene at Gethsemane we have no trouble identifying with the first part of the movement as Jesus recoils at the horror that confronts him: ‘Take this cup away from me’. However, we are unlikely to identify so readily with the following statement: ‘But let it be as you, not I would have it.’ We can well imagine how desperately our self-cherishing would have persisted in this situation, as it does in most situations. Then we are confronted with an acceptance; a self-abandonment that is total: ‘The hour has come. Get up. Let us go.’
The second scene is on Golgotha. We observe the experience of a self in the desolation of abandonment: ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ Then the ensuing selflessness of acceptance, ‘It is accomplished’, followed by the final act of self abandonment, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ We encounter the utter extremes of abandonment in this final scene on the cross.
These are powerful scenes in which to participate. It is the way of the ancient tradition to ‘live into’ the scenes as, often, comprehension will be a matter for experience.
Perhaps, in the end, it is only through experience that we can truly comprehend: it is self-abandonment which joins us to him. ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross daily’.