The Weight of His Body

Palm Sunday

Isa. 50:4-9a • Ps. 31:9-16 • Phil. 2:5-11 • Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49

The ear wakens to listen and is taught the terrible wisdom of transient praise and the vigorous march of betrayal, torture, and death. “The Lord has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn back” (Isa. 50:5). Jesus is going up to Jerusalem. He sets his face like a flint, strong in the wisdom of what he must do. He empties himself into the hands and will of his Father. Being humble and obedient, he looks at and faces his own death (Phil. 2:5-11). He thinks, “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard” (Isa. 50:6). Beyond all human knowing, he knows a divine truth: “he who vindicates me is near” (Isa. 50:8).

Entering Jerusalem, Jesus hears “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Every knee bends, cloaks are strewn along the way in honor of the way, the truth, and the life. But his face is set for what he knows will come. He eats with his disciples, saying, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). That is, with deep inner pain, he is ready to give himself to a tree of terror, to pour his innocent life over the dry earth. Those with whom he keeps this feast simply cannot know the depth of his oblation.

He refuses violence, refuses even to speak in his own defense. He endures mockery, beatings, insults, nails, exposure, and public ridicule. He is in hell. Hanging from this tree, he says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). At his last breath, he falls into the hands of the Father, in whose hands he has always been. Then, absolute silence. The world stops. To hear this silence we need the mind of Christ. “He who possesses the Word of Jesus is able indeed to hear his silence” (Ignatius of Antioch to the Ephesians, nn. 13-18,1). The dead weight of this death is every sin and every suffering, every loss, every deprivation. Time itself is strangely contracted, for this moment is the center of everywhere and always. There is simply no suffering that is not his. If he didn’t assume it, he didn’t save it.

Anyone who looks at this and glories in it as the very meaning of life has some explaining to do. It is evident folly and foolishness “to hang your life upon him who hangs upon the cross” (John Donne). The explaining, however, will have to go along some strange roads and observe unusual sites. While the chariot of the sun reigns on high, darkness suddenly shrouds the land as once there was darkness upon the face of the deep. A new beginning is about to be. The curtain before the holy of holies is torn and the feared presence of the Almighty escapes. Convincing? Only if providence pulls one deeply into the story, so deeply that one is drawn to the body of Jesus, takes him from the cross and bears his weight like Michelangelo’s Mary, his dislocated shoulder in her huge hands. Belief will never come until tender hands wrap him in linen as once his mother swaddled his newborn flesh. Faith puts him in a rock-hewn tomb. And then faith is sorrow, for sorrow is a grace and by this grace we are healed. All we may know on this day, if only God will let us know it, is that Jesus loves us to the end.

Look It Up
Read Luke 24:38-50 An exercise in discursive meditation: Fix both heart and mind on the verbs: asked, took, wrapped, and laid. Now wait and let grace take you to the silent land.

Think About It
Pro nobis.

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