A thief upon My right hand and My left;
Six hours alone, athirst, in misery:
At length in death one smote My heart and cleft
A hiding-place for thee.
So wrote Christina Rossetti in, “The Love of Christ which Passeth Knowledge”. Like most people, I have always struggled with poetry. Perhaps because poetry is a bit like looking at film negatives (alert: I’m showing my age…and so are you if you remember cameras that had film!). When looking at a film negative it always seemed to me that I was looking at what wasn’t there in order to appreciate what was there. Sometimes poetry is about what isn’t said as much or more than what is said. My head is already starting to hurt!
Despite struggling with poetry, I still read it; not often, mind you, but I do, and Rossetti’s poetry is an example of why. If you read her verse quickly, go back and read it again slowly…meditatively…
I wonder, did you assume Rossetti was talking about Jesus? Of course, if you did, you would be correct, but she never names Jesus; instead, she leaves you to fill the space. She invites you to see and feel more by writing less. And so, dare I say it, we are not invited merely to look upon Jesus, the one who is so familiar to us, but upon God with us, the Creator who sustains the universe by the word of his power, the Son of God, who in being known by us is yet so much more. This is the one who hung upon a cross between two thieves as though he, the Holy One, was the greater sinner. Mystery in the negative.
Then there is the loneliness, thirst and misery. We are not told what this is like but bidden to endure it and in so doing feel the weight of Jesus’ desire for his Father to draw near to him in the very hour he needed it most, yet at the very moment he had to be denied it. Denied it for you. Suffering silence and want for your sin. Mystery in the negative.
And yet…and yet, because the very heart of God was smitten for your sin, it secured for you an eternal safe-haven, a place where you will never be denied your desire for the Father to draw near to you. Here the negative is developed and the mystery that is revealed is a picture of love that, were the ocean made of ink and the sky of parchment made, we would still fall short in declaring such love to the world.
Who else has dared for thee what I have dared?
I plunged the depth most deep from bliss above;
I not My flesh, I not my spirit spared:
Give thou Me love for love.
…give thou me love for love…will you?