Every Friday during Lent in my grade school years, we endured the Stations of the Cross. We knelt for what seemed like hours, and as Father and the altar boys moved from station to station, we dutifully read from a little red-covered book imprinted on the front with a crown of thorns. At each station, there was a prayer to be read aloud by all, with slashes indicated for pauses, which detailed Jesus’ suffering at each stage of his Way of the Cross.
And so we read of Jesus’ physical agony, and ended each meditation with a sentence that went something like this, “Teach me to understand that when I sin, it hurts you more than (name suffering, such as “the nails pounded into your hands and feet.”) I don’t know if this ever sunk in, or I ever believed my responsibility for this was concrete. Jesus wasn’t all that real in my everyday world, but something stuck–the rhythm of the common reading comes back to me, and a faint sense of the physical sufferings of Jesus in my own wiggly discomfort kneeling through the stations and then Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
An Offended God?
This attitude toward the effect of my sins on Jesus or on God still lurks around today. Parents and teachers still tell children that they are “hurting Jesus” when they do wrong, and often we feel a sort of residual guilt hearing prophetic passages of the Hebrew Scriptures and even some of the sayings of Jesus in a “I have offended God and I will be punished—or am being punished” way. Perhaps we will never quite overcome that, for the Redemption and the Resurrection of Jesus and the vastness of God’s energy as Love are beyond our comprehension, and we tend to ascribe our human responses to wrongdoing, and our demand for justice, as being founded in God.
The Risen Body and A New Humanity
I’m pondering two mysteries of God-in-Christ that should help us make peace with this nagging tendency. First, Jesus is Risen from the Dead and not only cannot ever die again, but suffers no more. We simply cannot “hurt” Christ Risen, although we trust his presence to us in our own trials. And the second, perhaps the deeper and more difficult mystery is this: Jesus left us his Spirit, that Divine Dynamism who is our bonding with one another, in what we call, as did Paul, the Body of Christ.
So we can and do “hurt” and neglect Jesus who dwells in and among the humans that form his Body. Incarnate among us, with a presence that transcends time and place but is also firmly rooted in the here and now, Christ continues to “home in” and offer the hope of salvation graciously and expansively through us, stretching his life and his mercy and that constant connection in the Spirit to all our brothers and sisters, and the vastness of the whole of creation.
Insofar as the Incarnation, sealed by the Resurrection, is the bond that holds us together, here and now, it is right to ponder our capacity to hurt, neglect, resent, belittle. But by grace, we are also Other Christs: Healers and Intercessors, Voices for Peace and Justice, Servants and Lights for the world. Holy Mystery.
And Holy Clarity, as Jesus firmly states in Matthew 25, ”Whatever you do to/for them, you do for me.”