This is my body given for you. (Luke 22:19)
Last night at our Wednesday evening gathering, Debbie Swanson led us through a consideration of the stations of the cross. (Debbie is a teacher of formation and soul care at Denver Seminary, spiritual director, and our church’s senior warden.) She spent some time sharing with us about the origins of the practice, its growth, development and codification in the Roman Catholic Church. She also shared with us several “variants” of the practice that have arisen in more recent times.
After sharing all of this, Debbie then led us in an extended time of imaginative listening — a practice in which one sits and listens to the reading of scripture with intermittent prompts from the reader that are designed to bring the listener “into the text” in an attempt to make oneself available for an encounter with God. It was wonderful!
Debbie began her reading from Matthew 27:45 and read slowly and contemplatively the account of Jesus’ crucifixion. She led us to consider our presence at the site of the crucifixion asking us to imagine what it might have looked like, where would we have been standing, what would we have thought of the others who were there, what did we hear, what did we feel, etc.?
As I sat and allowed myself to be drawn into the narrative and imagined myself there, I couldn’t help but be disturbed by the brutality of crucifixion and what that meant in the first century world. This was not just state execution. This wasn’t just the death penalty. This was a form of death that took place on highly travelled roads so that all could see. The bodies that hung from those crosses (thousands and thousands of people were crucified by Rome) were meant to communicate a message — “Don’t do what these people did, or this is what will happen to you!” The bodies were often left on the crosses for wild dogs to devour. It would have been a gruesome sight. And in the case of Jesus, his body is said to have been torn to shreds by the beatings he received before he even arrived at the cross. This is human cruelty and violence on full display in all of its demonic horror.
As I woke this morning, I was still reflecting on all of this, particularly the body of Jesus as he hung condemned in all his shame, pain and sense of betrayal from friends, family, and even his Abba. Then the thought crossed my mind — the words he uttered to his disciples the night before, “This is my body given for you…” And immediately I became aware…it was that body that hung in agony and shame and separation that he gives to us. It is the body that was mocked, spit upon, torn and pinned to a piece of wood. This is the body he gives to humanity. This is the body through which humanity is reconciled back to God. This body that would have been identified with shame and horror is the body he gives.
The bread we eat can make us forget this. The bread is clean, it tastes good, it is eaten in the peace and tranquility of a worship service. But we must always remember that the bread we eat is a sharing in the body of Christ — this Christ who suffered a humiliating, unjust, tortuous death so that humanity might be awoken from its slumber and behold the beauty of the Lord, the beauty of love that shines through earth’s greatest evils.
So the next time you stand or kneel and extend your hands to receive the body and blood of Christ, remember the body you are receiving and the body we are becoming by sharing in his body. And in your “remembering,” may you find forgiveness and healing and wholeness. Amen.