In the 12th century, the world was challenged with a terrible plague—the Black Death, the Bubonic Plague. Millions of people died. One English woman, stricken ill, laid down upon her bed and prepared herself for death. We don’t know much about this woman’s life, not even her given name, but we do know that this young woman recovered from her illness. We know this because she shared the visions she had while so seriously sick, writing Revelations of Divine Love.
The woman is known to us as Julian of Norwich. Julian recounted what she saw and heard, and what she came to know in her darkest moments, near her death. Her work delves into the mysteries of creation, from God’s all-knowingness to the existence of evil—
Her writing is a thing of beauty and grace:
“God, of your goodness, give me yourself; you are enough for me, and anything less that I could ask for would not do you full honor. And if I ask anything that is less, I shall always lack something, but in you alone I have everything’.”
Julian went on to live a full life, as an anchoress—that is, a woman who withdrew from the world to live a life of prayer and contemplation in a walled off cell. It seems severe, and, not a little more isolating kind of life than you and I are living now in the plague of our time.
Good Friday is the day we find ourselves at the cross of Jesus—with so many emotions. Forty days ago on Ash Wednesday we gathered to put ashes on our heads, to remind ourselves of our own mortality and sinfulness and need for redemption. We took rocks home with us, rock engraved with a cross on them, to be symbolic reminders for us. We’d planned to bring those symbols back on Good Friday, to lay them at the foot of the cross, thanking Jesus for his sacrifice. This Good Friday, in the midst of another plague, we are unable to come together as planned and our emotions are closer to the surface than ever before.
We are quite plainly sharing in Christ’s suffering.
One particularly moving part of Julian’s vision recounts seeing Jesus’ mother at the foot of the cross. Julian saw Mary, standing at the foot of the cross, unable to hold back her tears. Mary dearly loving her son, and having to see him die in such a way, to see the pain he endures. Julian sees Mary watching her firstborn son’s die and it is almost more than she can bear.
Julian expresses the insight she gained from this awful vision. She saw and understand so clearly now, she explains—that in suffering with others, we share their pain, because our spirits/our lives are woven together. Julian sees the disciples’ experience similarly and ours as well when we sit at the cross. She writes,
“Here saw I a great ONEING betwixt Christ and us: for when He was in pain, we were in pain.”
To Julian, the Cross is about the oneness of all—God with us and us with God; and not only us humans. Her vision goes on to say, “all creatures that suffer pain, suffer with Him…and the firmament, the earth, failed in sorrow” and the planets, all the elements, and even the stars despaired at Christ’s dying.
Standing at the foot of the cross, we allow Jesus’ pain to enter our soul. We are oned.
Standing at the foot of a bed with the suffering, with someone dying, we allow another’s pain to enter our soul; it is a gift we can give them. I hear that now in the stories of Doctors, nurses, and all those who are fighting this pandemic on the front lines. They are suffering, with those who suffer. They take on this suffering for the sake of others. These workers, and those searching for a cure know this Oneness of which Julian is speaking.
Julian also wrote this:
“Some of us believe that God is almighty, and can do everything; and that God is all wise, and may do everything; but that God is all love, and will do everything— there we draw back.”
Friends, let us not draw back.
We know of God’s love in the every day walks of our lives.
Let us, like Julian, recount for the world God’s ultimate redemptive work of LOVE made plain to us on this day—that we are made one in Christ at the cross.
Thanks be to God.