Face down in the dust with God

His face in the dust." Not an image we prefer to have of our Lord. Yet this, Houselander reminds us, is exactly what Christ allows to happen; necessitating the help of others to continue His way to the Cross and thus to our redemption. Even those who inflict the pain are unwittingly participating in the redemption of the world. Such remains true today in those "other Christs" who share in the passion of their Lord. There are many times, Daughters, when you may find yourselves down in the dust with Christ, where those around you seem to set you forth more quickly and violently to the Cross. Yet always remember that a servant is not greater than her Master. More: the spouse desires to be with her Beloved, whether it is being face down in the dust with Him or lifting Him up to set "Him on His way to the consummation of His love once more."

“Hardly has Veronica wiped the dirt from His face than Christ is down in the dust again. He has fallen under the heavy load of the cross!

How different it is in reality to the picture on the wall! There Christ seems rather to be genuflecting under the cross than falling under it; He bows His head, certainly, but hardly a hair is out of place; His robes, the snowy white tunic and the scarlet cloak, are still clean and are not torn.

The reality, that which happened two thousand years ago and the reality which happens in the lives of those in whom Christ lives today, is not like that. Christ is thrown down onto the ground, His face is in the dust; He is unable to get up until others come forward to heave the cross up from off His back, and perhaps help Him to His feet again. It is yet another example of how Christ makes Himself need the help of others to redeem the world.

They do not know that they are unwittingly taking part in the redemption, those young Roman soldiers who pull the cross from Christ’s prostrate body and help Him to His feet. They are carrying out the day’s work, obeying orders blindly. It is their business to see that death does not cheat them of their victim until they have dealt with Him in the way they are commanded to, until they have crucified Him. It is only because it happens to be Jesus Christ whom they are lifting up and helping to His feet again, Jesus Christ whom they are loading with the cross once more for the last stretch of the road, only because it is Jesus Christ, that, all unknowingly, they are taking a part in the redemption of the world.

Today the young soldiers of the ideologies unknowingly take their part in the world’s redemption, carrying out their orders to keep their prisoners alive for so long as it suits their masters, when they drive them along the desolate roads to exile and ultimately to death. They, too, take part in the redemption when their prisoners are those in whom Christ lives, “other Christs” in whom His passion is being lived out.

Likewise, those warders and executioners who must support criminals who are condemned to death, criminals who have purified their souls by contrition and go gladly to the death that expiates their sin; they, too, all unknowing, through the heavy, sordid duty they carry out, play a part in the world’s redemption.

Christ is down in the dust. This second fall is harder than the first; He is nearer the end of His tether now, more dependent than before on others to help Him to get up and go on. It may have been something trifling, almost absurd, that threw Him down. Perhaps something as small as a pebble on the road; yes, that would have been enough to send Him hurtling down, with that terrible burden on His back, and His own exhaustion as He nears the end of His bitter journey.

It is the same today, the same for those “other Christs” who have gone a long way on the road and who fall, not for the first time now, under the heavy cross of circumstance—those who have carried this cross for a long time, who have become exhausted by the unequal struggle and fall, who with Him are down in the dust. It is for them that Christ falls for the second time and lies under the crushing weight of His cross, waiting for those who will come forward to lend their hands to lift it from His back and enable Him the contempt for those who choose the hard way because it is Christ’s way; the weight of material hardship—the weight that grows heavier and heavier as those who must carry it come nearer and nearer to the end of the journey: the weight of the cross—the sheer material weight that was heavy enough to throw Christ down, to throw God face down in the dust.

If something as trifling as a pebble in the road or a false step could throw Christ down on the road, so may a tiny provocation, a sudden temptation, a mocking word—a fragment that adds to the struggle—bring the man staggering under the cross down: the servant is not greater than his master.

It is not only soldiers and warders under orders who can lift the cross from Christ’s back today, not only they who can help Christ to His feet again. Everyone who labors to lift the burden of material misery from the backs of the poor gives his hands to free Christ from the crushing burden. Everyone who concerns himself with changing public opinion and making the Christ-life honored in the world helps Christ to His feet again. Everyone who forces his way against the indifferent mob, against the unthinking multitude who see nothing but folly in Christ and His Cross, helps to drag back the great burden from His exhausted body. Everyone who approaches Christ fallen under the cross, coming to Him in friendship and love, to relieve Him of the burden of the Christian life lived in isolation and loneliness in opposition to the whole modern environment, helps Christ to His feet in the world again and sets Him on His way.

Everyone who recognizes who it is that has fallen there, who it is for whom the burden of circumstances, of materialism, of temptation, has proved too persistent and too heavy, lends his hands to lift the cross from the prostrate Christ and to set Christ on His way to the consummation of His love once more."

Excerpt From: Caryll Houselander. “Way of the Cross.”



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