This morning at my weekly pastors’ text study, we discussed, among other things, next Sunday’s second reading, Ephesians 2:11-22. In this passage the apostolic author writes that Gentile Christians have been made a part of God’s people through the work of Jesus Christ ending the former divisions of Gentiles and Jews.
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. (Ephesians 2:14-16)
I was particularly struck by the idea that hostility had been put to death on the cross. When I commented to that effect, one of my colleagues and friends asked, “But has it?”
And of course it hasn’t. Hostility among believers seems particularly rampant these days.
I was reminded of a favorite poem, a sonnet by Edwin Arlington Robinson (1859-1935).
Friendless and faint, with martyred steps and slow,
Faint for the flesh, but for the spirit free,
Stung by the mob that came to see the show,
The Master toiled along to Calvary;
We gibed him, as he went, with houndish glee,
Till his dimmed eyes for us did overflow;
We cursed his vengeless hands thrice wretchedly,--
And this was nineteen hundred years ago.
But after nineteen hundred years the shame
Still clings, and we have not made good the loss
That outraged faith has entered in his name.
Ah, when shall come love's courage to be strong!
Tell me, O Lord -- tell me, O Lord, how long
Are we to keep Christ writhing on the cross! (1897)
The image in my mind is this: Hostility was crucified with Christ. Like all things Christian, the death of hostility is a reality that is not yet fulfilled. When fulfilliment comes hostility will finally be destroyed. Until that day, when Christians are hostile toward one another, or toward the world that God so loves, Christ still writhes on the cross.
Scripture is quoted from the New Revised Standard Version. Robinson’s poem was copied and pasted from this website. Illustrating this post is Rembrandt’s remarkable painting Descent from the Cross by Candlelight.