Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday

In our books for the divine office, we make use of images borrowed from late medieval illuminated manuscripts. Meditating before the office of Terce this morning, I noticed the depiction of the humiliation of Jesus at the hands of the Roman soldiers. Like all medieval depictions, this is 'anachronistic' in the sense that everyone, save perhaps Jesus Himself, is dressed as a medieval person not as an ancient Roman or Jew. Medieval artists receive criticism for their lack of historical awareness, but I suspect there is something else going on. Judging by their depictions, they experienced Jesus Christ and the events of His life as contemporary, and therefore immediate and relevant.

This can have a powerful influence on whether we understand Christ to be among us or as a man who died a long time ago and who now speaks to us occasionally from His throne far away. To illustrate, I ask you to imagine the scene I mentioned above, except imagine Jesus being held in a federal detention center and being pistol-whipped, kicked and otherwise roughed up by prison guards of our present world. Then being convicted on trumped-up charges by a corrupt judge (and again remember to clothe these people like our modern judges and lawyers, not of some other [more barbaric?] period). Then imagine Him handcuffed and given His own clothes back (what would Jesus wear these days?) and led by a police cohort down State Street to an execution chamber where He has the death penalty dealt out to Him.

This might sound like an idle exercise, but surely if our faith is to be a living thing, we must understand that Jesus Christ is just as real today as ever, that He is involved in our daily affairs, and not in some separate sphere of 'faith' as opposed to the 'real world'.

I haven't seen "The Passion of the Christ" but I know that many people found it a powerful experience. For all its historical accuracy, it still can't match the liturgy which makes Christ's death present again and not in the imagery Palestine 30 A.D. but in the midst of contemporary people with our contemporary problems, ideas and ways of living. Jesus is among us still, particularly in those who suffer injustice, poverty, ridicule and neglect.


Koz said...

One small point, Pierre. Federal prisons are cruel in their own way, but the really nasty stuff is in the state correctional systems.

Prior Peter, OSB said...

Fair enough--I defer to your informed opinion on this one, Koz.
Fr. Peter


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