Calvary from a Distance

Pressing forward, we learn of other paths leading to mountain heights that promise excellent views of Calvary, far from the turbulent multitudes. Perhaps from these more distant vantage points we'll be able to view Calvary in wider perspective than that seen by those amassing on Golgotha's hill.

We study the signs pointing to the alternate viewing points. One points the way to the Mount of History. Others to the Mount of Art, the Mount of Philosophy, the Mount of Theology, and the Mount of Merits -all vantage points positioned, ringlike, around Calvary. With time in our favor, we set out to visit them all, anticipating an enriching experience from such a variety of perspectives of the greatest of all monuments - the cross of Jesus.

1. The Mount of History

With much learned discourse along the winding path of knowledge, we first ascend the Mount of History. Atop the mount is a lyceum with many learned guides and an immense library. Telescopes enabling a magnified view of Golgotha - the place of the skull - are supplied. Through these telescopes of history, Calvary seems very real – as vivid as a documentary film, somewhat like the contemporary cinematic reenactments of the life of Christ.

On this first hill we learn much about the ancient Romans and Jews in the time of Christ. We investigate the exquisite Jewish system of justice and how it was perverted at Jesus' trial. We learn about the Roman mode of execution. With the daughters of Jerusalem we weep in human sympathy at Christ's pain and suffering caused by the brutal flogging from Roman guards and by the weight of the cross on His back.

Flinching from the sight, we turn in a more intellectual vein to verify from the Gospel accounts and ancient tradition that Jesus must have been nailed to a cross whose horizontal beam was fastened just below the top of the vertical piece (crux immissa), rather than on a “T” cross (crux commissa), sometimes also used for crucifixions. We learn a great deal on this hill - enough to fill a thousand pages.

2. The Mount of Art

Stimulated and moved by our newly gained knowledge and heightened perceptions, we hasten on to the Mount of Art. We come to it by the path of aesthetic sensibility. The faces of pilgrims on this path are intense and contemplative. As we climb we speak little, but we sketch words, pictures, and musical notations along the way.

Once at the top, we see Calvary in a variety of colors and lights, from the luminous to the lurid. The representations - sometimes vivid, sometimes ethereal - are all full of mystical charm. We come away, our hearts stirred but cloyed by the sheer genius of the various portrayals of the Passion – in words, pictures, and music. Our hearts hungry for a richer revelation, we descend with pensive steps from the far side of the hill to the angular craggy path that leads to the cool heights of the next elevation.

3. The Mount of Philosophy

After much trudging over loose stones and dry sand, we crest the Mount of Philosophy. Here we take rest in a Parthenonic structure, one of whose narrow sides faces westward toward Calvary but with the view obscured partially by scraggly forest land. This is a place for abstract meditation and abstruse discourse, a place where material perception counts little. Men with cultured accents hold forth on deep and intricate ideas relative to soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) and the moral bearings of voluntary self-immolation. Here Calvary is hailed as high heroism and recondite emprise, with intentions as elusive as the Holy Grail. Weary and wondering, we trace our mystified way down toward the slopes of the next hill.

4. The Mount of Theology

Upon the top of this mount we see a warm amber glow emanating from a circular temple with many windows – some transparent, some of stained glass, and some opaque. Silent, we enter to see devout men and women studiously pondering the mysteries of Calvary, speaking words that fill our souls with hunger for a greater nearness to the cross of Jesus. Occasionally a burst of learned language or a sharp dispute disturbs the theme of their reverent investigations.

From this hill, the nearest of all to Calvary, the cross beyond gleams like alabaster, sometimes like gold, and at still other times appears as plain, stark, fruitless wood. Yet it stands dignified in every aspect.

But while we hear of Jesus' blood here on this hill, we still see it not. We do not feel its flow. And as for Christ, the theologues sketch Him only vaguely before our mental vision. Our hopes, though kindled, remain very dim.

Thinking to lift our cross, we wind our thirsty, weary way up the next ascent.

5. The Mount of Merits

On the Mount of Merits, or Good Works, our aim is to accomplish worthy deeds to make us more receptive to God's love, more eligible for His favor. This mount has a broad, plainlike top that stretches beyond our view. Cities, towns, villages, and all manner of country places lie scattered over its surface. Countless needs wail for our attention. Little services and grand exploits of every grade call for our participation. The day glides into night, and the night has also its own toils. Our days move swifter as we strive to grow in righteousness by noble deeds.

But in the end our best efforts prove inadequate - stained with the thick, pitchy sap of self. Our hearts remain just as jaded, irritable, impure. Peace, holiness, and godly love seem more remote, more unattainable than ever.

Yet Calvary beckons in the distance - its hidden power still untapped.

6. Golgotha's Hill

As we ascend Golgotha's barren slopes, the crowds we had seen earlier fade from sight. We feel mysteriously, inexplicably alone. All sounds cease as we come before the austere monument of God's grace, in the very presence of the Sublime Sufferer, to the cross affixed by stakes of iron. By stakes of iron - yes, but also by a love unparalleled, flowing in rivers of red.

Our eyes, despite our terror, lift upward - as if by magnet - to see the form from which the bright streams flow. Hope and contrition well up within our hearts. Unable to stand in the sight of such majestic and unmerited suffering, we fall prostrate. The just dying for the unjust, that we might be brought to God!

Feeling a sense of infinite unworthiness, we fear to speak a word - of either praise or confession. In the presence of love incarnate, we feel like sin incarnate.

But from the lips of that dying form come words of hope: “I have been made sin for you, that you might be made the righteousness of God in Me.”

We sue, each one, for pardon: “Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner.”

Then richer than any music, words of love ring from those dying lips: “You are pardoned and made whole by My blood. Take up your cross and follow Me. Sometimes you will follow Me to grim servitude or riveting pain. Other times to a life of fearless, free, unselfish love in the power of My salvation.”

Suddenly our tongues loosen to confess our sins, to rejoice in the pardon He gives, to seek His righteousness, and to praise Him for His glorious love! The cross becomes for us a tree of life, a living corridor of infinite hope, a bridge to heaven, a key of knowledge, a seal of salvation, a destroyer of sin, a stimulus to kind and holy deeds, a bond of union with all who love God, a fountain of justice and mercy – immeasurably deep, yet ever accessible.

“There's a wideness in God's mercy, Like the wideness of the sea; There's a kindness in His justice, Which is more than liberty.

“There is welcome for the sinner, And more graces for the good; There is mercy with the Savior; There is healing in His blood.”

He is calling, “Come to Me.” Say, “Lord, I'll gladly follow Thee.”

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