the mangled body of christ

in the late 1980s, i used to know a presbyterian elder in garden grove, ca. we used to talk about the christian faith. one day he had a serious look on his face while we were talking about crosses. i remember him looking at the cross in his office as he said, “i just can’t understand why catholics have the body of jesus on their crosses.” i do not remember my response that day but i always remember his statement and look of genuine confusion.

my 2021 self would respond to that statement with an observation: the corpus of the jesus nailed to the cross is real– the body of christ and his suffering death continues in our world today.

in my mother’s home, there has been a crucifix in the rec room for years. this year, it has captured my attention more than before. i have been praying with this crucifix during lent– it has the body of jesus writhing in pain on the cross.

a candle at the foot of jesus on the cross

two mysteries of faith come at the beginning and end jesus’ life are the incarnation and the resurrection. both have to do with the body– the body of christ. the suffering of jesus culminated with his body nailed to a cross. death was a relief from the unimaginable pain. but lent reminds us of this inevitable part of our lives here and now: suffering

for me, the power of the meditation on the crucifix is that it locates our suffering in the flesh. and this pain is messy. we cannot separate our minds from it too. our head is part of our body which encompasses all of who i am. all the pain and suffering we endure. can cannot will it away– we cannot heal ourselves.

if we truly believe that we are part of the body of Christ, we have our own crosses to bear– we have our unique pain in our experiences of life. can we just sit with them? scripture tells us that jesus is the head of the body — the church (col 1: 18). when we sit with christ in his suffering, it connects us to one another. sitting in front of the crucifix, invites us to recognize the suffering of christ in our brothers and sisters. in that recognition, we are called to be people of compassion for and with others.

the Spirit enlightens us to look not at social problems like homelessness, immigration and hunger primarily as issues. we ought to see — in their flesh and blood– people experiencing homelessness, people who are immigrating, people who are hungry. real people suffer. the body of christ on the cross challenges us not to disembody christ from suffering but to see with compassion the real people who are being nailed to their own crosses.

if we dare worship jesus on the cross, how can we not respond in love to our brothers and sisters? are not they part of the body of christ as we are? is not our communion with the body of christ in the eucharist that which spurs us to wash each other’s feet in loving service? did not jesus prepare his followers for the cross with his actions at the last supper?

paradoxcally, the deeper we dive into the power of the crucifix, the deeper we understand the power and hope of resurrection. lent– and especially good friday– leads us to easter.

let us ask st francis to intercede for us as we bear our own crosses:

“Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart, and give me right faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, wisdom and understanding, Lord, that I may carry out your holy and true command”. Amen.

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