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Cross-Shattered Christ and The Seven Last Words from the Cross

By March 16, 2006 No Comments

Stanley Hauer was is rarely understated. His vast corpus reveals a ready willingness to confront theological conversations with provocative wit and confidence. Cross Shattered ChristTitles from other writings reveal some of this “theological swagger” (Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony; After Christendom? How the Church Is To Behave If Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation Are Bad Ideas; A Better Hope: Resources for a Church Confronting Capitalism, Democracy, and Postmodernity). Truth be told, Hauerwas’s bold engagement with the issues of the church and his articulation of the gospel within our post-Christendom context have made him very inf luential in such conversations. While still charging into current Christological conversations, Cross-Shattered Christ offers much less “swagger.” Developed around seven short meditations given at St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, Hauer was knowingly crafts tone and trajectory to fit the context of a Good Friday service.

Hauer was draws heavily from both Rowan Williams (Christ on Trial: How the Gospel Unsettles Our Judgment) and Hans Urs von Balthasar (Mysterium Paschale). The former especially helps to frame the thematic progression connecting the seven meditations. Drawing from von Balthasar, Hauer was explains in the first “word” how we often drift into narcissism when discussing the meaning of the cross, stating, “Ironically, by tr ying to understand what it means for us to need forgiveness, too often our attention becomes focused on something called the ‘human condition’ rather than the cross and the God who hangs there” (28). Rethinking this understanding of forgiveness (and thus, salvation) becomes a driving focus for the remaining meditations.

Not surprisingly, Fleming Rutledge uses a very different voice in her compiled meditations from Good Friday (The Seven Last Words from the Cross). Seven Last WordsLike Hauer was, Rutledge preaches the traditional seven words (in her case, from Trinity Episcopal in Columbus, Georgia, and Trinity Episcopal in Boston). Unlike Hauer was, Rutledge especially weaves current events and conversations into such preaching (the World Trade Center bombings, the Iraq war, the Geneva Convention, Gibson’s Passion of the Christ). The rhythm of each meditation f lows like a good homiletical moment. In this rhythm, Rutledge takes the time to teach about key Greek words (like ephapax) and basic theological terminology (like the role of sin; atonement). A nother key device in her rhythm is the inclusion of classical Lenten hymns, helping transition one meditation into another–and one movement of worship into yet another. Like Hauerwas’s use of Williams and von Balthasar to maintain continuity, these hymns create a natural flow to the seven last words.

As a parish pastor, I have an unapologetic bias towards the kind of theological work that goes on behind the pulpit, font, and table each Sunday morning. Indeed, I appreciate how both authors “do” theology from such aworshipful context–from the very heart of Holy Week itself. This being said, Rutledge’s style and voice sound more like a preacher doing solid theology. In comparison, Hauer was’s style and voice still sound more like a theologian doing solid homiletics. In the final analysis, both works offer the reader a meaningful tour through some of the most powerful moments in Christ’s passion. For both Hauer was and Rutledge, the mystery and profundity of the cross offer key windows into God’s very grace itself.

Karsten Voskuil is pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.