Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wednesday in Holy Week

Isaiah 62:11; 63:1-7 / Isaiah 53:1-12 / Luke 22:39-71; 23:1-53

Surely He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought Him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted.

Most of us probably take mirrors for granted. While it may be true that infants do not seem to recognize the image in the mirror as a reflection of themselves until the age of at least fifteen to eighteen months, for our conscious memory, the fact that the face gazing upon us is our own is for most everyone neither surprising nor worrisome. Psychiatrists, however, have noted a phenomenon which they call mirrored-self misidentification. As a result of this delusion, the afflicted person does not recognize that the image in a reflective surface such as a mirror is his own. Indeed, he is likely to regard the image as someone else entirely, even if occupying a world "out of his reach" or "beyond the mirror." Even in those cases when he admits the reflection to be a "dead-ringer" for himself, persons thus deluded are simply unable to see what seems to them as someone altogether other as actually no one but themselves.

In Isaiah's prophecy of the Suffering Servant, Israel is confronted with the a figure quite terrible to behold, a man positively repulsive — there is no beauty in him, nor comeliness: and we have seen Him, and there was no sightliness that we should be desirous of Him ... and His look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed Him not. The prophet then turns the tables on us. Where we imagined we had been looking upon the ugliness of alterity, the horrible visage of someone altogether other, the prophet tells us that He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows ... He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him. In short, all the wounds, and the brokenness, all the disfigurement in his appearance was nothing other than a reflection of our own selves. We had collectively suffered the delusion of mirrored-self misidentification, and we had taken the abjection of the Man of Sorrows to be something other than an unobscured image of the lives we had already crafted for ourselves.

What, then, are we to do when faced with the vision of the body of the Savior, bruised, beaten, bloodied, and broken, nailed to the wood of the awful Tree? We might, of course, continue in our delusion, and even consider as pathological those who kneel before this despised and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity, and in solidarity with the wicked robber crucified with the Lord, we would blaspheme him, even as we die the same terrible death. We might, when coming to realize that his abjection is a reflection of our own, recoil in despair, and failing to see any hope in such horror, go out with Judas to the Field of Blood to meet our doom.

Or, we might see in the mirror-self which Jesus presents to us a kind of mercy. As Perseus was able to look upon the lethal visage of Medusa by gazing upon the reflection in his shield, so did Jesus present to us the ugliness of our sins in his own holy, innocent body, where we might gaze in safety so as better to put to death in us what would harden us had we confronted it by our own power. Like the good thief crucified with Jesus, we can know the hideous wounds and fate of Jesus as our own deserts, and in the kindness of that reflection, make both full confession of our fault and plead for that undeserved joy for which we nonetheless long: Neither dost thou fear God, seeing thou art under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due rewards of our deeds; but this man hath done no evil ... Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom.

Let us cast our gaze upon the Crucified. Let us see in his merciful ugliness an image of ourselves, set before us not to strike us down, nor turn our hearts to stone, but that we might turn back to him. Having thus opened our eyes, let us open our ears as well, and hear that voice from the Cross which we longed to hear from the day we came alive in the waters of the font: Amen I say to thee: This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.

Look down, we beseech Thee, O Lord, on this Thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ did not shrink from being delivered into the hands of the wicked and undergoing the torments of the cross.

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