Today I sat before Station 11 at our Stations of the Cross service–the one where Jesus stretches out his hands to receive the nails. The sacrifce of Christ always seems so incomprehensible to me that I have difficulty accepting it. Can I accept this suffering on my behalf? I can and have, but I always feel so ungrateful, so begrudging. It is a gift I cannot refuse; does anyone reject the hand that reaches out to them from the lifeboat? Surely someone else has had this problem! Yes, indeed: Harriet Vane.
Harriet Vane is the heroine of some of Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. Lord Peter is a a foppish titled English gent, decorated and shell-shocked in WWI who solves mysteries for fun–that is, until he realizes there are real lives at stake. He continues to pursue crime-fighting with his usual debonair and slightly silly attitude until he hears of Harriet Vane’s case. Harriet is being tried for the murder of her lover; she is staring at the hangman’s noose and has very little cause for hope. Her lover made a fool of her and now she is being tried very publicly for his death. She feels ashamed, humiliated, abused, misunderstood. And now who comes along but an idiot with a monocle who says he’ll rescue her, and would she please marry him? He is able to prove the case against her lover’s cousin and Harriet is set free, with the statement of the court that there is no case against her and no blemish on her record.
Lord Peter has won for Harriet her freedom and she is grateful; but her gratitude gets in the way of her relationship with him. It actually begins to poison her against him; after all, what can she offer him but more noteriety than he already has, and of a far darker variety? He on the other hand has riches, a title, well-connected family and friends, a flat in Piccadilly… She maintains a relationship because she feels she must–and she finds that she does, in fact, like him–but she cannot bring herself to accept his offer of marriage.
Sitting before Station 11 today, I realized Harriet’s attitude towards Lord Peter is my attitude towards Jesus. I’m grateful for his sacrifice, but all I can think about when I’m confronted with it is how much I wish he didn’t have to make that sacrifice! Why couldn’t I be good enough to make that sacrifice unnecessary? The feeling is so strong, it creates a wall between us; because I must accept his help, I cannot accept his love. Instead I work to maintain the relationship, to act like an adult about my rescue, and work closely with Jesus on various projects, appreciating him but keeping my distance because of his sacrifice.
For Harriet, this unresolved tension grows until it reaches a crisis point when she realizes she must make a decision about what to do with Peter. For me, I’m uncertain. This realization in front of Station 11 is profound, but it doesn’t automatically mean this wall has come down. Thank God for our Good Friday service, where I was able to reverence the cross, to lay my hands and head on the wood and say “thank you” to Jesus, more fully than ever.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that all might come within your saving embrace. Let me lay down my unwillingness to be found in my humiliated and broken state and rejoice that your sacrifice makes the embrace possible. Amen.