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Embracing All

Resurrection photo by RHoover


[Jesus’] raising from the dead is inclusive, open to the world, and embraces the universe, an event not merely human and historical but cosmic too: the beginning of the new creation of all things.

Jürgen Moltmann, Sun of Righteousness Arise: God’s Future For Humanity And The Earth

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And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself.”*  (John 12:32)

Happy Easter!


* Usually translated “all people,” or sometimes “all things.”  The Greek reads simply “all.”

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Resurrection photograph (of stone entry at Castel Sant’Elia) by Rose Hoover, rc

Why the Cross?

Why did Jesus go to the cross? We know, of course, that if he were to remain true to who he was, it was inevitable that he would be considered a threat — to certain leaders of the people, as well as to the Roman occupiers of Palestine. But was there more involved in Christ’s dying for the forgiveness of our sins? Could not God have simply said, “I forgive you,” and let it go at that, without the agony of the cross?

Marywood cross

One of the painful truths in life is that forgiveness is costly. According to theologian Shirley C. Guthrie, while both love and real forgiveness are indeed costly, easy forgiveness, on the contrary, does not express love, but indifference.

Suppose that I have done something that betrays a friendship and hurts a friend. Suppose that I go to her to tell her how sorry I am and how bad I feel about it, and she says to me, “That’s OK. It doesn’t make any difference. Forget it.” Has she forgiven me? What she has really said is, “I don’t care enough about you to be bothered by anything you say or do. You are not that important to me.” She also leaves me alone with the pain of my guilt, refusing to help me deal with it, put it behind me, and make a fresh beginning with her.

Christian Doctrine, Revised Edition
(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 260.

The God who asks, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?” and continues, “Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15) is not going to respond to the beloved child’s sin as if it were of no importance. What loving mother would not feel sorrow and distress at the harm a child’s wrongdoing has done, not only to others, but also to the heart of her son or daughter?

Guthrie continues:

In the cross God says to us, “Yes, it is true. You have hurt and offended me. But I still love you. Therefore I will make your guilt and its consequences my own. I will suffer with you—for you—to make things right between us again.”

In our own lives, those whom we love have the greatest power to hurt us. God, who loves us the most deeply of all, is also the one who suffers the most from our sins.

Yes, it is true, forgiveness of the beloved is very costly.

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Photo of cross/windchime at Marywood Retreat Center
by Rose Hoover, rc

Night AngelReading the dying words of famous people leads me to wonder what my own last words will be.

I suppose we remain ourselves even in the dying state, which is a bit unnerving and makes me hope my last words won’t be grumpy. I can only rely on the omnipresence of divine grace.

Since I don’t eat meat, it is unlikely that I will ask, like the poet and dramatist Paul Claudel, “Do you think it was the sausage?” (Vous pensez que c’était la saucisse?) [Other sources report a more inspiring, though perhaps a bit brusque, farewell from Claudel: “Leave me alone; I'm not afraid” (Qu'on me laisse tranquille, je n'ai pas peur).]

In her hilarious book on punctuation (did you know that punctuation could be hilarious?) entitled Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss offers us another example:

“I have been told that the dying words of one famous 20th-century writer were, ‘I should have used fewer semicolons’ — and although I have spent months fruitlessly trying to track down the chap responsible, I believe it none the less. If it turns out that no one actually did say this on their deathbed, I shall certainly save it up for my own” (p. 127).

One rather disturbing example of words from a deathbed (though hopefully they were not the very last words) comes from Dr. James L. Hallenbeck’s book, Palliative Care Perspectives. Speaking of pre-death visions (which it turns out are not rare), Dr. Hallenbeck writes that patients most commonly see deceased relatives. He says that the next most frequent visitors, in his experience, are “guardian beings, angels and others. . . . Often, they will communicate to the patient that their time (to die, to cross-over) has not yet come or some similar message. I have noticed no correlation between the appearance of such beings and religiosity in patients.” Such visitors are usually welcomed, he writes, though one committed atheist patient of his was an exception. “When angels appeared in his room, he screamed, ‘Get out of here, there is no God!’” (p. 145).

If you are ready for something a bit more uplifting, continue reading:


Jaroslav Pelikan, renowned scholar of Christian history, is reported to have said not long before his death in 2006, “If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen—nothing else matters.”

Janet Erskine Stuart, who was a beloved Superior General of the Religious of the Sacred Heart, died in 1914. Among her last words are these:

How lovely . . . lovely. . . . What a change! . . . Oh, how He loves me! Oh, how He longs for me !


If you only knew… if you only knew… He is so bright… so beautiful… so very beautiful. My God!

Life and Letters of Janet Erskine Stuart

Last Words of Jesus

The four gospels give us seven last words of Jesus from the cross. One of these is, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46), drawn from Psalm 31. Echoing Jesus, this word of trust is prayed every evening during the church’s Night Prayer, or Compline, as a response to the scripture reading.

“Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit,” we pray.

This would be a wonderful “last word” as one is dying, but in case we don’t have the presence of mind to call it up at that last moment, it wouldn’t hurt to begin practicing it now. In this way we may learn it “by heart”—a wonderful expression as it implies more than memory—so that our spirit may more and more become one with the surrendered spirit of Christ. Each day or each night we make this offering of our spirit, and join with Jesus in his stance of prayerful trust in the God who opens the divine and loving arms to us.

Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.

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Wisdom from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

I believe that God both can and will bring good out of evil. For that purpose he needs [people] who make the best use of everything. I believe God will give us all the power we need to resist in all time of distress. But he never gives it in advance, lest we should rely upon ourselves and not on him alone. A faith as strong as this should allay all our fears for the future. I believe that even our errors and mistakes are turned to good account. It is no harder for God to cope with them than with what we imagine to be our good deeds. I believe God is not just timeless fate, but that he waits upon and answers sincere prayer and responsible action.

“A Few Articles of Faith on the Sovereignty of God in History,” Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Eberhard Bethge, trans Reginald H. Fuller. (New York: Macmillan, 1953), 27.

Moon, clouds, trees

Moon, Clouds, Trees

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Photograph by Rose Hoover, rc


Grace is God’s free and forgiving self-communication that enables humans to share in the trinitarian relationship of love.

Mary C. Hilkert, “Grace,” Encyclopedia of Catholicism,
Richard P. McBrien, general editor, p 577.

Pearl of Great Price

We cannot earn God’s grace. Good works do not merit grace, nor does staying up all night in prayer, or fasting until we faint.

Although grace is free, this is not to say that grace is not costly. Dietrich Bonhoeffer compares “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Cheap grace, he says, is “preaching forgiveness without repentance… is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ” (Discipleship [Fortress Press, 2003], p. 45).

Cheap grace hints that in spite of the call to receive the reign of God, everything can stay the same; neither I nor the world must be transformed.  On the other hand, costly grace calls me to a union with Christ that changes everything, but at the same time reminds me that I cannot transform myself.

“Costly grace,” says Bonhoeffer, “is the hidden treasure in the field, for the sake of which people go and sell with joy everything they have.  It is the costly pearl, for whose price the merchant sells all that he has… It is the call of Jesus Christ which causes a disciple to leave his nets and follow him.”

Why is grace costly?  “Above all, grace is costly, because it was costly to God, because it costs God the life of God’s Son—’you were bought with a price’ [1 Cor. 6:20 and 7:23]—and because nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God.”

Costly grace shows us how very precious each of us is to our God who loves us and calls us, small and sinful creatures though we be, to share in the divine life.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

(Ephesians 2:8-10)

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Pearl of Great Price image by Rose Hoover, rc
(with the help of Mandelbulb)

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