Good Friday 2011: meditation on the wounds of Jesus
Today, as we gather at the foot of the cross, I would like us to take some time to meditate on the wounds inflicted on our Lord and Saviour. For as the prophet Isaiah foresaw, it is by Jesus’ wounds that we are healed (Isaiah 53:5, in the context of 52:13-53:12): and as we look upon those wounds we learn what it means to live as people who are receiving healing, in a world of hurt and pain.
I am indebted to my theological college principal, Christina Baxter, whose meditations on this subject have sparked my own.
Jesus of Nazareth, son of a builder, apprenticed in working with wood and stone. His back, strong, muscular, walking ahead of us through the crowds. His back, which had become so familiar to his disciples as they followed him along the road. His back, which gladly takes up a yoke in order to share our burdens, to lighten our load. His back, turned on rebellion against God: get behind me, satan. His back, turned away from comfort, in order to carry the sin of the world. His back, beaten and flayed raw. His back, forced to carry a heavy, roughly-hewn wooden beam; eventually surrendering to its weight; and then thrown down, against another, longer, beam.
Will you follow his back? Will you follow his back, wherever he may lead? For if we are his disciples, we must familiarise ourselves with this back, must know it better than our own. Will we model our back on his? Will we carry one another’s burdens?
Sight, hearing, taste, smell, even touch: though we experience the world with our whole body, our senses are particularly focused on our faces, that part of our body which is most exposed, that part of our body which most readily makes us recognisable.
His face, his very identity, betrayed with a kiss, a touch-sensation on the cheek: light as a feather, gentle as a breath, heavier than a bandits club, sharper than an assassins dagger. His head, spat upon. His head, blindfolded, robbing him of sight, of orientation, of navigation. His head, beaten; a twisted crown of woven thorns, hard as nails, pressed down, breaking the skin, blood seeping into the blindfold, stinging the eyes.
And what of our head? Does our identity come from our power, our ability to navigate the world by sight? Or, powerless, from knowing, deeply knowing, that we are God’s, and all shall be well?
His hands, writing in the dust as those around cry out for blood. His hands, reaching out to Peter as he sinks beneath the waves. His hands, touching lepers and making them clean. His hands, taking loaves, and – having raised them in thanksgiving and blessing – breaking them, over and over, not running out, to feed a multitude. His hands, making a whip and driving out those whose activity within the temple crowded-out space that was meant to be set aside for the gentile nations to worship, robbing them of inclusion. His hands, reaching out and healing the ear of one of those who had come to arrest him; his hands, rejecting defence and surrendering to being bound. His hands, no longer free. His hands, large nails driven through the wrists: pinning him down to torturous death-by-suffocation when he was no longer strong enough to push against those nerve-shredding nails in order to fill his lungs.
Will you be the hands of Jesus? Will you reach out and touch others, to heal, to bless, to protect from hatred? Will we forgo our claim to the right to self-defence? Will we accept that God is not bound, even when he asks us to submit to binding?
His feet, calloused by the miles, the dusty roads across Galilee, the Jordan rift valley, Judea, Samaria. His weight-bearing feet, which had walked in the colonnades of the temple courtyards, the stone hard and cool beneath his toes. His weight-bearing feet, which had shifted over sharp volcanic rock on the lake shore as he called fishermen to leave their nets and follow him. His weight-bearing feet, which had walked on water, the very waves lifting him up in worship. His feet, which had been anointed with perfume and tears, wiped dry with hair, in preparation for his burial. His feet, which had borne him all the way to the cross. His feet, nailed through the ankles. His weight-bearing feet, pushing against those nails in order to summon the breath to bless: his enemies, with forgiveness; his mother and friend, with family; his Father, with trust to the end, even in the face of abandonment.
Our feet. The feet of pilgrims, following Christ along the road. The feet of messengers, carrying the news that he is coming, on his way here, even now: how beautiful on the mountains are the calloused, dusty feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7). Will we bring good news, proclaim peace? Will we follow, when Jesus says ‘Come to me’? Will we go where he sends us? Will we walk the road to dying to self, to rise with him?
In proclaiming the kingdom of heaven, Jesus called to his side those who had been elbowed-out by the power games of this god-forsaking world. At his side, those who had betrayed their people, exploiting their neighbours for an upstart puppet king, or the Romans directly. At his side – side-by-side with the betrayers – zealots who had opposed Roman rule by spilling blood. At his side, those compromised by sexual immorality. At his side, those under the curse of leprosy, or blindness. At his side, parents whose child had died, women whose husband had died, those whose family had been torn apart. At his side, friends who would desert him. At his side, a friend through whom he would be handed over to die.
His side, pierced with a Roman lance, pushed up, between the ribs, plunged into the heart. His side, already filled with internal bleeding, the unseen result of the torture he had been subjected to. His side, releasing a stream of blood and water. Blood, declaring him the sacrificial lamb killed in our place so that the angel of death would pass over us. Water, declaring this event not only our shelter from death, but the fount of our life.
Our side. Jesus said, ‘Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within them.’ (John 7:38) The Holy Spirit, given to us to quench our thirst; flowing out from us, to quench the thirst of others. Flowing out, as our side is pierced. Are we willing? Are we willing to draw the broken, the hurting, the abandoned, those judged cursed by God, those trampled underfoot and left to die in the gutter ... are we willing to draw them to our side, whatever it might cost us? Are we willing to let our side be shaped by his, so that we fit there, close, our head on his chest, listening to his heart-beat ... listening to his heart, his compassion, for the lost, the hurting, for us?
Let us meditate, then, on the wounds of Christ; for by his wounds, we are healed.