Armour from the Denver Art Museum this week
Many theologians refer to what we are doing in this thing we call “church” as reclaiming land. They say we are, by every act of kindness, every gift of money to the financially poor, every payment of our pledge – that gift we return to God – its rightful owner – every hand we dirty by washing the puss off a dying man …by every such ask of being God’s hands on earth we are reclaiming part of the Garden of Eden – one inch at a time.
I like etymology – the birth of words. The word “recognize” was a land term originally. In the 15th century it was a word used for the reclaiming of a rightfully owned piece of land which had been taken by another. Land was reclaimed after a treaty returned it. Land was recognized.
Today we use the word in its most literal sense. We re-cognize. We re-know. For example, I see maggots on flesh and I am grossed out. But I recognize – I re-know that maggots on a burn victim, placed there by surgeons, will clean the wound better than any ointment modern science has been able to develop. I must be forced by the hospital and the white doctor’s cloaks to re-cognize maggots in this new way – no longer as disgusting, or scary, but as helpful and essential. Their past image is re-formed for me.
The story we retell this week is gory. Do we look or do we turn away? Do we come back for the hard, painful, sad parts of the Triduum – that great Easter service in three parts on Thursday, Friday and Saturday or do we just wait for a scene change of pastels and eggs? Can we stand to see the strange upside-down of God coming in the form of a man to save us? Do we re-cognize God in human form?
What kind of God comes to be with his human creations in that form- a skinny, blood-streaked, sweaty, scared, quiet man? What odd costuming. Who wrote that script? Why not come in the glory of salvific power? That is what the people of Israel were expecting – are still expecting. Why not come in great glory instead of great gory? Because we need a savior and this is the way we can re-cognize God – as a being like us – frail, fleshy, wounded, scared, mistreated, tired.
Could it be that we frightened, over-stimulated, over-caffeinated, exhausted souls, imprisoned as we are by a standard of living we are fighting tooth and nail to maintain – could it be that we are so frightened of the headlines we see every day – the 2,500 images of illness and natural disaster we see every day – could it be that to reach a people like us with our gassy, incontinent days and our unparalleled greed and our diagnoses and our thinly draped fancy clothes – could it be that the King of Glory had to step-out of that glory in order to be recognized by us?
As bodies, we are what we eat. As souls, we are what we adore. It is essential that we recognize and join this savior who comes and touches us.
In his wonderful book Blue Like Jazz, Don Miller re-tells a story told to him which illustrates the salvation Jesus bears to us. He tells the story told by a navy SEAL. He and his team of navy Seals flew in by helicopter, made their way to the cement bunker in a subterranean cement prison where of a group of hostages were being held in a dark room in a dark corner of the world huddled in a dark corner in their own urine and feces. The SEALS stormed the room where six hostages had been tortured, starved and held captive for six months.
When they entered the room they found the hostages curled up in a corner and they heard the hostages’ gasps as they burst into the filthy, dark room. From the door they called to the prisoners to tell them they were Americans and asked the hostages to follow them but they wouldn’t. The hostages sat there on the floor hiding their eyes from the light of the door- insane from the torture and fear – not believing what they saw – not even recognizing it as a possibility – not believing that their rescuers were really Americans – rescuers.
The seals stood there not sure what to do. They could not carry everyone out. Then one of the navy SEALS got an idea. He put down his weapon, took off his helmet and night-vision equipment and bulky jacket. He then curled up tightly next to the hostages – so closely that his body was touching some of theirs. He softened the look on his face and put his arms around them. He was trying to show them that he was one of them. None of the prison guards would have done this. He stayed there until some of the hostages started to look at him, finally meeting his eyes. The navy SEAL whispered that they were Americans and that they were there to rescue them. “We have come for you. Will you follow us?” he said.
He stood up. Then one of the hostages stood up and then another one until all of them were ready to go. Their story ends on an American aircraft carrier.
Our story ends with Jesus coming to us, being murdered by us, lovingly touching us, and telling us “Do not be afraid.”… “Here……let me show you…come join me… as odd as I appear… it’s ok…you are safe with me… I have come to rescue you from fear…” Can you? Can I? Take that outstretched hand, even though the rescuer looks so odd? “You are safe with me. Come.”