Fr. John's Column
from the monthly magazine Ecclesia
I find it fascinating to listen to children as they grow and are learning to say words and sing songs. As they try to repeat the sounds of words that they hear or sing the lines of a song that they have listened to, they might get mixed up with other words they have heard. and they don’t get it quite right, sometimes what we hear can be quite funny.
You can find lists on the internet of things like “Noah’s wife was Joan of Arc”, or “David slew Goliath with the axe of the apostles”, or “Christians can only have one wife which is called monotony.” I have to admit that I sometimes wonder if they were things really spoken by children.
Quite recently, however, I spoke to some visitors in the Cathedral after a Wednesday Evensong - a mother and her daughter who was probably about 8 or 9 years old. The girl was looking up at the Rood Cross which had caught her attention, and she asked her mother if she could ask me a question. Her question was “Why did Jesus have to be crystallised?” Her mother gently put her right, that Jesus wasn’t crystallised, he was crucified
We had a little smile, but of course, the question still had to be answered, “Why did Jesus have to be crucified?” Why was it that someone who was so good, who healed people’s illnesses, who spoke of the hope of God’s kingdom, who lived out the message of God’s love, and called on people to do the same, had to be put to death. How do you say in words that an 8year-old might understand, that there are people in the world who can be so selfish and protective about their own position of power and authority, that when it is pointed out to them that they are wrong, they react with anger and violence against their critics; even to the point of killing them.
And how might one begin to say something of the theological arguments about salvation that have been put forward; that because the people of the world were in such a mess, God took the chance to send his Son that they might listen to him and change their ways. And if they continued in their selfish self. seeking ways, and reacted by killing him, even through that act, God could offer salvation.
I don’t really remember what little conversation we did have except that the girl seemed to accept whatever I did say, and went away, I hope, thinking Jesus being crucified was a good thing for us.
It was only afterwards when I was thinking about the little girl’s choice of words, “Jesus being crystallised”, that I thought that perhaps something was crystallised on the Cross. Of all that might be thought and said about the nature of God and God’s love for his creation and His people, indeed
many library shelves are filled with books on the subject, it is there on the cross that God’s love is most fully and most succinctly expressed.
All of what might be said or written about the love of God is “crystallised” in that act of self-giving; and the images which we have on the altars of our churches or hanging impressively in our Cathedrals symbolise that crystal or diamond of glory.
It is said that a symbol can express more than can be put into words, and that if you could put into words the meaning of a symbol, you wouldn’t need the symbol. For all the library shelves full of books, it is the image of the crucifix that can speak most fully to anyone, young or old, intellectual or uneducated, of the profound truth of God’s love.
It is on the Cross that the message of the Gospel is crystallised.
At the beginning of February we keep the feast of Candlemass, the end of the 40 days of Christmas (the story of the Incarnation), when we remember Mary and Joseph taking the child Jesus to the Temple to offer what is required by the law - the sacrifice of two turtledoves or young pigeons. This custom was the way in which the parents gave thanks for the birth of their first son. Another part of the custom was either to give the child into the service of God, or to redeem that requirement by paying 5 shekels (to buy your child back). No mention is made of the 5 shekels in Luke’s Gospel, and so it may be Luke is telling his readers that Jesus is being consecrated in God’s service.
We have already marked the Baptism of Jesus, and his anointing with the Holy Spirit, but at the end of February, we begin the season of Lent. We move to the account of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness and the beginning of his ministry in Galilee and then on to his journey to Jerusalem, and to the Cross.
Incarnation, consecration, revelation, transfiguration, crucifixion, resurrection. These are the episodes of the story, the elements that make up the crystal of the Cross.
So thank you to the little girl who asked the question, “Why did Jesus have to be crystallised?”