Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jesus without surfboard

This is not Jesus!
Holy Wednesday.  Many churches will hold Tenebrae services this evening, as it grows dark, to commemorate the encroaching shadow of Good Friday. In my own halting way, I am limping after Jesus towards Jerusalem and the cross.

Jesus is the most real for me during Holy Week. I understand pain and loss. I have a notion of what betrayal feels like. Gethsemane might look familiar to me, were I there. Most people have suffered. Most of us have had our Gethsemane moments.Pain and loneliness are known to most of us. We have seen them written on each others' faces.

To the left, in contrast, is a photo of Ted Neeley, who played Jesus in the movie version of Jesus Christ, Superstar. My grandmother had on her dining room wall a painting of Jesus that greatly resembled Mr. Neeley, except that her Jesus's eyes were blue.  This is the image of Jesus I grew up with -- Blond, Gentle Jesus. Jesus who loved the little children. A Jesus who would look perfectly comfortable with either a flock of lambs or a surfboard. Or a bong (no offense to Mr. Neeley, but .... yes).

At some point I either "got over" or outgrew Blond, Gentle Jesus. Not that Jesus wasn't kind and often gentle. But he was so much more.

The Jesus I trudge behind during Holy Week is much different. the Middle-Eastern, only-too-human Jewish prophet, who, if typical of the first century, was probably about 5'1" tall and 115 pounds (I read that somewhere; part of the great fun of getting old is that you can never remember attributions correctly. Let me apologize for filching it). Jesus was more or less homeless, a vagrant. He may have had bad teeth; he may have been undernourished. Nearsighted, probably. Fond of wine and parties. Comfortable with people considered unsavory.

Human, in other words, a real first-century human being, but enlightened in a way that we can only dream about. Jesus understood that life under the heel of Rome was not what God intended for Israel, and who knew that the class distinctions drawn in his own society did not reflect the Kingdom of God. Who acted out, spending time with foreign women, prostitutes, sinners. Who raised hell (in so many ways), and got killed for his trouble.

I am walking in his dust. He moves ahead of me on the road, a dark silhouette in blinding sunlight.

This is my Jesus, the Holy Week Jesus. Jesus of the dirty feet, walking towards Jerusalem, on a mission he suspects will not end happily.

The Resurrected Christ of Easter morning is a mystery I grapple with, sometimes rather unsuccessfully. But Holy Week Jesus? I'm following him.

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