Midway through Holy Week my thoughts have turned to Jesus in a surprising way: in the symbol of the Sacred Heart. As a child I marked the First Friday of each month by accompanying my enthusiastically pious father to the Mass and Novena of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. My own fervor was sparked by a painting of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus with an extended heart encircled by a crown and with rays of light streaming from it. It hung above our living room couch where at age fifteen I received what I thought was a vocation to join a Trappistine monastery. Right.
Imagine my surprise, then, when ten years ago, after all the liberated theology- from Berkeley no less- this symbol made a stunning re-entrance into my life. I was meditating when a vision manifested before my inner eye. Jesus stood before me with hands outstretched, holding his bloody, and beating heart out to me:
Jesus: Take my heart.
Rita: (in breathless horror) I couldn’t do that!
Jesus: (Lets go of his heart with one hand and opens my hands) Do you love me?
Rita: Yes. I do.
Jesus: Take my heart. (Puts his heart into my hands)
Take my heart. The heart of Jesus, or Aung San Suu Kyi, or Nelson Mandela, does not belong on a wall, safely enshrined to soothe our communal conscience. Rather, we must embrace it, bloody mess and all. May this Good Friday remembrance teach us compassion. Beat on mighty heart!
“….I came into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” John 18: 37
(Note: I have faith in Jesus as a great prophet who loved his religious tradition. At the same time, I abhor acts of violence against Jews perpetrated by hateful and ignorant Christians who label all Jewish people as “Christ-Killers.” This Good Friday I will be repenting the recent killing of three people at two Jewish community centers near Kansas City, Kansas USA, and I will ask for conversion of heart for all of God’s people.)
Michelangelo’s resurrected Jesus leaps out of the tomb just as he tumbled out of Mary’s womb: a clean and unhindered human. This Friday many will hear the evangelist John tell the story of his passion once again. Jesus stands before Pilate and Caiaphas in the eye of a storm powered by fear. The power of truth lives in the spaces between his scant words: “I am.” “YOU say that I am a king.” “Why ask?” “I testify to the truth.” “I thirst.” “It is finished.”
At the end he substitutes the vulnerable silence of the manger for the strength in his few words truth. As we read Jesus’ responses, we can feel power emanate from his truth that is contemplated and lived. His experience is not unlike Martin Luther’s, “Here I stand, for I cannot do otherwise,” or Thomas a Becket’s “It is not given me to win you over, Henry; it is simply given me to say no.” Jesus is the unmoved mover, speaking sparingly but powerfully from the eye of the storm: “Here is the truth. I know it because I live it.” It proves to be too much for the power mongers.
And what of us? How does the witness of Jesus speak to us from John’s gospel on this Good Friday? Love truth. Seek it. Preach it. Preach it from the spaces between our eloquent words, where human traffickers and immigration officials, and yes, even legislators, will be confounded by its power. Only when we recognize truth, live it and preach it, does it belong to us and we to it.
John 19-19:42 New Revised Standard Version: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+18%3A1-19%3A42&version=NRSV
Photo Credit: “The Risen Christ” Michelangelo ca. 1513 black chalk drawing Collection The British Musiem, London, England