Gospel Jn 18:1-19:42. After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, ‘It is accomplished’.
If the sacred language of Christianity is the body, what happens when the body dies? Anyone who has been with a loved when the spirit has left their body knows the sudden awful, awesome feeling of absence and separation. What was until then a living language expressing a living person, alive however barely, is now silent and still. But not the silence or stillness of meditation or of those moments of communion in love when the language of the body perfectly expressed mind and feelings.
The one who has died and started a new journey has a new body-language and the separation feels absolute and final. We have memories, relics, stories, dreams, remnants of psychic experiences maybe. They are precious and meaningful, but they intensify the sense of separation even as we start to arrange and order them.
The unthinkable but all too obvious fate of the old form left behind is out of our hands, cared for by immediate funereal or by professionals. Everything that the living body radiated about the wonder of a living human being is now in a relentless process of reduction into materiality. The beauty and wonder of skin that stretches, breathes, blushes, communicates, smells and touches, that elastically envelops everything inside us is gone for ever. As the language disappears somebody unique becomes some body.
Everything that gives meaning to life is undermined by death. If we can’t understand death, life won’t make sense. Everything that death puts the survivors through can be seen in the death and burial of Jesus. The details are only too realistic, the taking down from the cross, the presence of his mother and his beloved disciples Mary and John, the rituals of entombment and the final ritual of anointing that had to be delayed for religious reasons. Everything is in a void that cannot be avoided. Finding meaning is all that is left to us but how? Even after the Resurrection the church struggled to explain the purpose of the Cross. The easiest and least satisfactory answer was ‘atonement’: God demanded a human sacrifice to atone for the sin of Adam. It is like asking an accountant to assess the value of a life.
The meaning of his death lies in why he was rejected. (Officially, for blasphemy.) But what happens when we refuse a gift because to accept it demands too much of a transformation of how we see the world and live in it? It is usually the gift of a love greater than we can handle that we reject. The force of rejection and the pure freedom of the gift offered are turned against the giver. Love rejected spawns hate.
Jesus was willing to be rejected (‘he submitted to death, death on a cross’) because his manner of death would show the full nature of the gift he was offering. He refused to believe in the rejection and so the gift remained on offer. The Cross then is not a sign of divine punishment but of infinite forgiveness. When we reject a gift the rejection kicks back at us horribly with shame, denial and guilt. But what if we see the giver has not been destroyed
and is not seeking revenge? The full meaning of the gift becomes visible in a new body.
Lenten Reflections 2021