Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.
The Cross. Not the theology of it. Not the historical fact of it. Not the emotional, solemn emblem of it. Rather, the Cross as the living, transformative, soul scorching iron of divine ownership, of divine possession. And the mounting desire to be profoundly branded, to be seared in body, mind, and soul by this brutal yet shatteringly glorious instrument of Christ’s death.
For the past few months I’ve been spending a lot of time, both as a host and visitor, at the Upper Room, my church’s lovely prayer space overlooking the city. The centerpiece of the room is a large, beautiful wood cross. Now, I have always been at heart an iconoclast, a radical minimalist when it comes to religious symbols. (I’d have felt quite at home in an old Puritan meeting house.) Even so, I found myself drawn to this simple art piece.
At first, it reinforced to me the utter centrality of the sacrifice of Jesus. The crucifixion of Christ, to borrow lines from T.S. Eliot, is “the still point of the turning world.” Everything in heaven and on earth revolves around it. “Except for the point, the still point,” Eliot writes, “there would be no dance.” All things, from before the beginning to beyond everlasting, orient like a compass needle toward this supreme act of love and obedience. It is an ever dynamic, ever resounding event that subsumes everything into its incomprehensible brightness. The Cross of Jesus Christ is the literal crux of all creation.
Yet over time my encounter in the Upper Room has become increasingly personal. The polished wooden cross, suspended on the room’s wall of windows, began more and more to assert itself expressly over me. As I bowed in prayer, I imagined—yet, I think, more than imagined—that the living reality this decorative object signified was overshadowing me and pressing deep like an monolithic supernal branding iron. It seemed both an encroachment and an invitation at once.
And kneeling there in the spiritual shadow of the real Cross, I found that I desired, above all things, to be imprinted—no, to be obliterated by the death of Jesus. I discovered that my deepest longing was for the iron of Christ’s sacrifice, forged in the furnace of divine love and wrath, to sear to cinders my very being, to consume me to ashes. I recall the testimony of Jonathan Edwards as he recounted one of his extraordinary encounters with Christ: “I felt an ardency of soul to be, what I know not otherwise how to express, emptied and annihilated; to lie in the dust, and to be full of Christ alone.” It is not a desire for self-destruction but to be subsumed by an infinitely greater Being. As King David sang to his God in the desert of Judah, “Your love is better than life.”
How to explain this longing? How to express such inexpressible soul hunger? I don’t understand it myself. All I know is that the Cross calls to me, not to come and die but, like the phoenix, to be burned into life. Immolation unto Godhead. To bear the charry imprint of the Lamb who was slain. To be the livid, living scar of Christ.
O my Lord and my God, may it be so! Amen.