THE AGONY IN THE GARDEN, c. 1595
While before he had gone to a lonely place to pray, now in his naked need “fell on the ground” and prayed before his disciples. He who had always spoken to God in secret now begged, within their hearing, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will” [Mt. 26: 39].
He had been given to know that he would have to go up to Jerusalem, and be killed, and that he would rise on the third day. But could knowing he would rise have diminished his agony? We, too, “know” we will rise. But unlike us, he did not have the image of the stone rolled away, the empty tomb, the risen Christ. He had not gone before himself. Unlike us, he had no companion, no forerunner, no Gospel story of Mary Magdalene meeting him in the garden: "Mary!" "Rabboni" [John 20: 11-18].
Noli me tangere. Don’t touch me. I haven’t yet ascended to the Father, and perhaps he also told Mary not to touch him because the wounds were still fresh and to put pressure on them would have hurt.
To over-focus on the violence of the Crucifixion, however, is to miss its essential point. No violence we could re-enact could come close to the Passion of Christ—not because we can’t imagine the violence, but because we can’t imagine Christ’s heart. The Crucifixion was Christ’s labor, and just as no loving mother would show her child a gory video of her labor—“Look what I endured for you!”—the writers of the Gospels sketch in the outline and leave the details to our imagination.
Christ doesn’t keep score, count the cost, or hold the Crucifixion against us. That is neither to diminish, nor to fail to take full account of, its unspeakable violence. But we don’t honor the Crucifixion by feeling guilty that Christ died for our sins. We honor the Crucifixion by consenting to be stripped down and to die for love ourselves.
Still, what if we could see that when we are cruel to people, we are pressing against the wounds of Christ? What if we could picture each other as survivors of some botched crucifixion: picking our way among the ruins of Golgotha, foraging for a crust of bread and a drop of wine? What if we could realize that everyone is walking around naked with a battered crutch, a dingy bandage over one eye, an arm in a makeshift sling?
In “You Whose Name,” Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz imagines the final defeat of death. “A retinue advances in the sunlight by the lakes./ From white villages Easter bells resound.”
|CZESLAW MILOSZ, 1911-2004|
photo: Kino Koszyk via joannahelander.com