As we approach the holiest days of the church year, we may wonder how we can walk with Christ on his journey from the Last Supper, to Calvary, to the tomb . . . and then exult at his rising from the dead at Easter. Can we “be there” when they crucified our Lord? Yes we can, because we were truly there in Christ’s heart and in his mind during his washing of our feet, in his prayer that we would not be scandalized, throughout his arrest and trials, and in his shocking betrayal by Judas and then by Peter, the disciple he trusted most. We were always there in his suffering during his scourging, his crowning with thorns, his being mocked and rejected . . . and finally in his crucifixion. We were truly there in his profound divine/human intentionality: he suffered all this for each and every one of us, simply because he loves us.
And then we were there in Christ’s ecstatic joy at rising from the dead to reassure us that he has transformed all our sufferings and all our deaths. We were there with women and the disciples running to the tomb and discovering that it was empty, empty of death, radiant with the hope of a new and transcendent life. We were there in the apparitions of the Risen Lord to Mary Magdalene in the garden, to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, to the frightened disciples in the upper room, to the seven disciples on a beach. To “be there” with him throughout Passiontide and Easter, we have only to be still and silent and allow him to take us into his heart in order to become aware that we were always, already “there” in his unconditional love for us.
During her Revelations of Christ on the cross, Julian herself became acutely conscious that all the pain of her life, and of everyone’s life, was united with the pain of Christ on the cross. And this because, in becoming human, Christ took on all manner of pain as his own (Heb 2:9–18). Therefore, “when he was in pain, we were in pain” with him. She might have added: “When we were in pain, he was in pain.” St. Paul even dared to write that “in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24).
Julian also realized that not only “all his true lovers,” but “all creatures” shared in the agony of Christ’s dying. This inextricable connection between the inner life of human beings and the state of the natural world had long been perceived. St. Paul was convinced that the physical earth as well as its creatures are involved in the great struggle of salvation: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:22–23). Julian believed that all earth’s creatures naturally recognized the Lord, “in whom all their virtues stand.” Thus when the Lord died, it behooved creatures out of kindness to die with him, “in as much as they might, for sorrow of his pains.”
Julian understood that, when Christ took on all flesh in himself and “failed,” his entire creation failed with him, animals as well as humans, out of “sorrow for his pains.” Even “they who knew him not suffered for failing of all manner of comfort.” And here Julian bears witness to a profound truth: that the fates of humankind and the entire creation are intimately connected.
Yes, we were "there" then. We may be "there" now. We have only to allow the Spirit to take us deep into the sacred liturgy to be with Christ on his path through suffering and death into glory.
God of his goodness, who makes planets and the elements to work in their natures to the benefit of both the blessed man and the cursed, in that time [of the crucifixion] it was withdrawn from both. Wherefore it was that they who knew him not were in sorrow at that time. Thus was our lord Jesus noughted for us, and we stand all in this manner noughted with him, and shall do so till we come to his bliss . . ."
PLEASE NOTE: Excerpts above are from Julian's Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Orbis Books, 2013), Copyright © 2013 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied or reprinted without the express permission of the author.
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.