This meditation was delivered today in All Saints Chapel at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, CA.
You have in front of you something called a carmina figurata.
In English, this phrase would mean something like a “picture poem.”
It was a form of writing and meditation popular in the 8th and 9th centuries in the theological circles of the court of Charlemagne.
This poem is by the great theologian Rabanus Maurus, abbot of the monastery at Fulda. It was composed sometime in the 820s.
This carmina figurata is titled In honorem sanctae cruces, or, In Praise of the Holy Cross.
We have here an image of Jesus as a stiff body with open eyes.
This is sometimes called the Christus Rex – Christ as an unvanquished King.
We have here Christ hanging on the cross but also defeating the cross, showing forth his immortality and defeat of the cross.
Indeed the cross has entirely disappeared.
It has been replaced by words praising Christ and proclaiming his victory as the fully human and fully divine King of kings and Lord of lords.
Those are the words we read around his nimbus, his halo – King of Kings, Lord of Lords.
This poem hails Jesus Christ as the author of the cosmos, the one who is of the same substance with the Father.
He has conquered death and conquered it so thoroughly that we now use the cross as a sign of victory.
Rabanus intended his viewers to meditate on this picture poem.
He wanted his viewers to not only to look at the images but to sense their spiritual reality.
I invite to spend some time meditating on this image with these words from the Gospel of John in mind:
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ (John 12:32)
Christ has been lifted up from the earth upon the cross.
He draws all to himself and as he does the cross disappears and the embrace of his arms remain.
I invite you into meditation.
For more on Rabanus Maurus and this poem, I recommend: Celia Chazelle, The Crucified God in the Carolingian Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)