The Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week
There are few words more potent and unacceptable to modern ears than "shame." Like sin, the word shame seems to hearken to a time when people were fundamentally more cruel, narrow-minded, and ignorant. Thus today we cannot easily speak of shame. We have "evolved" to other words--equally damning--such as "inappropriate" and "hater." But shame...no; we cannot say this.
Except that we do. Just because a word is no longer politic, it does not follow that the feeling behind it has disappeared. We feel immense amounts of shame, sometimes for what we have done, sometimes because we have been taught to be ashamed by others who, out of their own brokenness, have turned us into objects of shame.
In a society that will not speak about shame with either precision or honesty, we are often left with no effective means to address this experience—deserved or undeserved. All of the well-meant affirmations, the therapeutic supports encouraging us to cast off the mantel of shame, do not address the fact that shame falls into our lives. Sometimes, it is a legitimate response to the horror of our sin. Sometimes it is a tool of profound evil wielded by others to hurt us. How do we as Christians approach a subject that seems to have paralyzed the secular society around us—and which we have at times misused so bitterly ourselves?
The collect for Tuesday in Holy Week addresses this matter directly. First, it states clearly that Jesus Christ experienced shame. To be sentenced to death, especially on a cross, was the height of shame. He walked in the path of shame, tasted of its isolation and revulsion, and knew what it was to be the recipient of undeserved and unmerited shame. This means we may always turn to Him directly in our own time of shame; He knows what it is to bear this burden. There is no shame too deep for Christ to reach into and pull us out.
But the collect also asks God that we may use the ladder out of shame. That ladder is the very cross used by others to shame Him. We are called to “glory in the cross of Christ” so much that we learn of its profound truth: the distance between heaven and earth (in all its brokenness) has been bridged by God’s own sovereign act of love in Christ. The cross is the sign of that action. For those who hate Christ, it is a cross of shame; for those who come to know its true nature, it is the cross of Love.
Holy Week brings us to the cross in complete honesty each year. It reminds us that the shame of our sin, the shame of a world that seeks to objectify and destroy us, has been swallowed up not in anger, but in Love. That Love is measured in both justice and truth. Christ—the sinless one, the perfect offering—fulfilled the full measure of Love that we cannot, the cross is the ongoing testimony of that merciful love. He has justified us as we could never do for ourselves, His cross is a sign of our receipt of that gift. It is our joy to bear that cross into every dimension of human experience, to to proclaim this message: In the Gospel, God has used the perfect human instrument of shame to be the very "means of life."