Holy Saturday: Liminal Space, Suffering ,and the Meaning of the Cross

DSC_6693 Today is Holy Saturday, the day after Jesus was crucified, which means he was tortured and executed by the empire of his time, the Romans. He was killed, executed as an insurrectionist because he was a threat to the domination system of his time, the Roman occupiers and their religious collaborators (Temple authorities).

As Fr. Richard Rohr states in his Lenten devotional, Holy Saturday is a “liminal  space”, which he defines as “a crucial in-between time—when everything actually happens and yet nothing happens and yet nothing appears to be happening. It is the waiting period when the movement is made, the transformation takes place. One cannot just jump from Friday to Sunday in this case, there must be Saturday!”

With a two day meeting this week  in Chicago for Kairos USA, followed by a flight to Denver yesterday to visit our son and daughter-in-law and dear friends, I have not posted anything for Good Friday. I have been thinking of the great themes of life and, indeed of the Gospel: dying and rising, the meaning of the cross, and in particular, suffering. I have been thinking and reading on the various atonement theories, rejecting the penal, payment ,substitutionary, wrath-of-God approach.

I would like to approach these subjects in this blog in the future. This spring , at this time of warmth, and new life and resurrection, is particularly significant to Janie and I this year. It has been a long , cold hard winter both physically, and spiritually and psychologically for us. I have had three major surgeries in the past 6 1/2 months complicated by two episodes of C.Diff colonic infections and the subsequent G.I. sequela: a cervical fusion and artificial disc, and two total knees two months apart. My body is deconditioned , my mind has been disturbed by anxiety and worry and fear over real and perceived complications and continued pain; much self-created, self-inflicted, contrived, un-necessary suffering  And yet, as Fr.Richard teaches, in life we will have suffering and it is necessary, what he calls “the necessary stumbling stone.” So I have been trying to figure out what I am to learn from this “necessary suffering.” I would like to explore this subject  in the future using   Fr. Rohr’s teaching. Please see this brilliant Rohr devotional:

Stumbling and Falling
Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sooner or later, if you are on any classic “spiritual schedule,” some event, person, death, idea, or relationship will enter your life that you simply cannot deal with, using your present skill set, your acquired knowledge, or your strong willpower. Spiritually speaking, you will be, you must be, led to the edge of your own private resources. At that point, you will stumble over a necessary stumbling stone, as Isaiah calls it (Isaiah 8:14). You will and you must “lose” at something. This is the only way that Life-Fate-God-Grace-Mystery can get you to change, let go of your egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and larger journey.

We must stumble and fall, I am sorry to say. We must be out of the driver’s seat for a while, or we will never learn how to give up control to the Real Guide. It is the necessary pattern. Until we are led to the limits of our present game plan, and find it to be insufficient, we will not search out or find the real source, the deep well, or the constantly flowing stream. Alcoholics Anonymous calls it the Higher Power. Jesus calls this Ultimate Source the “living water” at the bottom of the well (John 4:10-14).

The Gospel was able to accept that life is tragic, but then graciously added that we can survive and will even grow from this tragedy. This is the great turnaround! It all depends on whether we are willing to see down as up; or as Jung put it, that “where you stumble and fall, there you find pure gold.” Lady Julian of Norwich said it even more poetically: “First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God!”

Adapted from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life,
pp. 58, 65-68

Here are a few brilliant postings on the meaning of the cross and Good Friday meditations to follow:

How does “Dying for our Sins Work?” here: which was just shared with me by my son Dan. An excerpt:

The Bible is clear, God did not kill Jesus. Jesus was offered as a sacrifice in that the Father was willing to send his Son into our sinful system in order to expose it as utterly sinful and provide us with another way. The death of Jesus was a sacrifice in that sense. But it was not a sacrifice to appease a wrathful deity or to provide payment for a penultimate god subordinate to Justice.

Let me suggest that when we say Jesus died for our sins, we mean something like this: We violently sinned our sins into Jesus, and Jesus revealed the heart of God by forgiving us. When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them,” he was not asking God to act contrary to his nature. When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them,” he was, as always, revealing the very heart of God!

Marcus Borg on the Real Meaning of the Cross here, with this essential excerpt:

The first emphasizes what actually happened: the historical circumstances of Jesus’s death. He didn’t just die. He was executed by the powers that ruled his world – a combination of Roman imperial authority and collaboration by high-ranking temple authorities. Together, they were the domination system of the time.

They killed him because, in the name of the Kingdom of God, he challenged how they had put the world together – and he was beginning to attract a following. His mode of execution is unambiguous testimony to that: crucifixion was a Roman form of capital punishment reserved for those who systematically defied imperial authority.

To avoid misunderstanding: Jesus did not advocate violent revolt, as some books (including Reza Aslan’s current best-seller argue). Rather, he emphasized non-violent resistance to the domination system of his time.

So it killed him. Within this historical framework, his death was the domination system’s “No” to Jesus and what he was passionate about. That is the political meaning of the cross. His resurrection is God’s “Yes” to Jesus and what Jesus was passionate about – the Kingdom of God – and God’s “No” to the powers of domination that killed Jesus. The cross has a political meaning that the payment understanding completely misses.

The second equally early and central meaning of Good Friday and Easter is that death and resurrection are an archetypal metaphor of transformation. “Archetypal” means something so deeply imprinted in the human psyche that it seems to be from the beginning. Dying and rising is one of those archetypes, found in perhaps every religion and culture that we know about.

Jesus’s death and resurrection incarnated that archetype. This is one of the meanings the cross had for Paul. About himself, he said “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2.19b-20a). The old Paul had died; a new Paul had been born whose life was now “in Christ,” one of his most frequent phrases. Paul speaks of dying and rising with Christ as the foundation of Christian identity and life (Romans 6). So also in the gospels: following Jesus to Jerusalem, the place of death and resurrection, of dying and rising, is a major theme.

Thus, in earliest Christianity, the cross of Jesus (always also including his resurrection) was utterly central. Central as revelation of God’s passion and Jesus’s passion for the transformation of this world; and as revelation of the way, the path, of personal transformation.

And this Good Friday meditation by Brian McLaren here, with this excerpt:

To be a follower of Jesus in this light is a far different affair than many of us were taught: it means to join Jesus’ peace insurgency, to see through every regime that promises peace through violence, peace through domination, peace through genocide, peace through exclusion and intimidation. Following Jesus instead means forming communities that seek peace through justice, generosity, and mutual concern, and a willingness to suffer persecution but a refusal to inflict it on others. To follow Jesus is to become an atheist in regard to all bloodthirsty, tribal warrior gods, and to become a believer in the living God of grace and peace who, in Christ, sheds God’s own blood in a manifestation of amnesty and reconciliation.

May we all experience great healing and transformation in going  through the inevitable, and necessary pain and suffering of our lives, and ultimately Resurrection as experienced first by our suffering servant,Jesus of Nazareth. May we live in The Kingdom of God that he inaugurated, now , on earth as it is in heaven. May we all have a blessed Easter.


jesus Risen

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