When I am getting ready for the day, I stand in front of a mirror that not only reinforces the reality of darkening circles under my eyes, the deepening lines that array around my mouth . . . It also reflects a window behind and to my left. The window is covered at the bottom, but the top is left open so natural light can saturate the room. But from the angle and relationship of the mirror to window I can see about the top third of a large tree in our backyard.
It’s nothing remarkable, except, as are many trees, it is home to a variety of birds. And with gloomy days and vegetation not yet vibrant themselves, when a shot of color streaks across the branches in my periphery, it grabs my attention. I’m especially attentive to the red of cardinals, and it always brings a happiness, a sort of joy to my spirit. At least for a moment.
Well, these last couple of weeks I’ve seen the blue of what looks like a Jay – and then, one that looked entirely white, at first. After trying to identify the bird and finding that jays are often more white than blue, and wondering at the beauty of these avian creatures that pull my attention from my face (thank you, Jesus!), two things occurred to me: 1. How American is that, that the tree in my backyard is home to red, white and blue bird varieties?! And, 2. There’s a spiritual analogy in there somewhere.
Indeed there is! But first, we must start with today’s scripture lesson:
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form.
To understand the nature of Jesus’ body and the nature of Christ’s action on the cross is no easy task. Many have tried to explain by either over-spiritualizing the body at the cost of human experience, or overemphasizing the human form at the cost of Spirit.
The revelations of Julian of Norwich of the crucifixion describes a theo-drama and may help us understand (or approach understanding) the action of the Trinity at the cross. In our faith tradition we attest to Jesus’ divinity and humanity – this element of infinite divine freedom that created finite freedom and inform where they meet, interact. And we can begin to see a bit more clearly when we consider the paradox of the nature of existence alone (spirit-body, individual-community, etc.)
. . . So to take a so-called narrow Aristotelian “middle”—between the extremes of, on the one hand the destructive over- spiritualization (shame) and on the other, extreme sensualization—any blueprint would be inadequate to execute fully both movements without hubris and without degradation: the perfect “flesh” must go beyond the realm of the “world” so as to bring both world and flesh with it, in its transcendence, up to God, “transfiguring” it, not “spiritualizing” it in some incorporeal manner.
It is spiritual and it is flesh; it is One and it is Community (Trinity). The work of the cross is not merely an event at a fixed point and time. It is an action—acting out—of the Triune God who is infinite freedom, infinite will, inter-acting—intersecting—at a specific point in time and space. Yet, this action is from outside of time while encompassing everything within time by that action.
How can we understand it? In her meditations on the crucifixion, Christ told Julian that his wound would remain open for as long as it takes, and that is how she could know that all will be well. Jesus died, was buried and raised up again on that weekend two millennia back. Still, Christ’s wound remains open to encompass any who are to be saved—any who want to live into their true divine-image self (saved from themselves) – until all who will be saved, are.
The Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, wrote about the significance of Jesus’ bodily form and the origin of the shame we maintain about them. Here is an excerpt:
Shameless: A Sexual Reformation, Nadia Bolz-Weber, 131-3.
There’s a new image theory in field of art referenced, Bildwissenschaft. It indicates a new perspective that brings attention to the way an image (e.g., painting, sculpture) is perceived. The image signifies by pointing rather than being described, a gesture that “moves the viewer to turn around.” It points past the self to the Other, communicates beyond the image, revealing something of the creator. In much the same way a parent holds a child’s hand while pointing with curiosity to something else. [Nicole Oliver Snyder, Leading Together: Mindfulness and the Gender Neutral Zone.]
Paul says in 1 Cor 13:12, that for now we see in a mirror, dimly, darkly, but then we will see face-to-face! We understand, yet, only in part. Our eyes that were opened to the knowledge of good and evil, rendering us blind to the inner soul, the true self, of one another – will see clearly, once again. What James says is equally true: when I lack faith and do not participate in God’s creative action (doer of God’s word) I am like one who looks in a mirror and in turning away forgets who I am—forgets Whose image I bear. Still, God’s grace is infinite. Somehow, God reflects divine light (that darkness cannot overcome) off of (out of) me, even in my forgetting.
As we watch this video together, consider what voices other than God’s that you might be listening to right now. Consider God’s voice that tells you in no uncertain terms: you are created in My image, My likeness. Listen and Look – see what is true. Meditate with me on God’s mercy and compassion to transcend and transfigure time and space, flesh and spirit—even if only dimly, for now.
“The Lord needs it.” The questions for each of us on this Palm Sunday are: Are we ready to carry the weight of the gospel beyond the parade into the rough places where darkness and death overwhelm? Will we carry the good news to the oppressed and those whose hearts are overwhelmed by shame? Look.