In early February I attended a book launch marking the 130th anniversary of the founding of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine. A simple Liturgy of the Word was followed by an opportunity to meet the author and chat with the sisters about their past and their future as a community of religious.
“In the meeting room down the hall”, one of them announced, “are a number of artifacts for the taking. If you would like to make a contribution we would be grateful.”
Down the hall I sauntered and to my delight found a couple of the renowned Oberamagau crucifixes. I made a contribution and gladly took away these priceless treasures. One hangs in my study at home and the other I have placed in the chapel at Church House.
Never have I sat before an image of a crucifix of such proportions (three feet in height and two in breadth) for any length of time on a daily basis. But this Lent, when I’ve been home, I’ve been able to do just that, each evening.
I light a candle. The flame quickly illuminates the carver’s detail in the feet of Jesus nailed to the Cross. Then my eyes are drawn to his pierced side, his outstretched arms, his sacred head sore wounded with a crown of piercing thorns. I look upon his face and think of the wood carvers whose skill and precision, love and devotion to Christ, reveal the agony he bore for the redemption of the world. My eyes are drawn to his and I wonder what he sees in me – what good, what ill? I wonder what he sees that I can or will not see? I wonder what he sees in his Church – What holiness, what brokeness? I wonder what he sees in the world – what righteousness making him glad, what injustice making him weep?
Then I find my eyes focussed on his very lips. I recall his prayer that we be forgiven our sins. I hear his word of mercy to a penitent thief. I remember his cry of dereliction and his thirsting that his work be finished. I hear him drawing his mother and the beloved disciple into a new relationship, and indeed through his reconciling love, all of us. I hear him commending his spirit into the hands of the Father and I think of all who earnestly yearn for a good life and a holy death.
It’s one or another of these words that has come to mind, depending on what I have been carrying into this moment at the end of each day…
I sit in silence…and invariably I find myself humming words from one of the great hymns of The Passion of Jesus,
“What language shall I borrow
to thank you, dearest friend,
for this your dying sorrow,
your mercy without end?
Lord, make me yours forever:
your servant let me be,
and may I never, never
betray your love for me.”
(Hymn 198, “O Sacred head, Surrounded”)
These words capture how lost I am for words before his suffering. They humble me to an honesty that leaves my soul naked and in need of that mercy and grace with which only He can clothe me. They summon me to renewed steadfastness in my devotion to Him.
As they have become my prayer through Lent, I carry them now into the solemnities of Holy Week.