The breath of God returns now to its birth,
The second Adam’s dust to Adam’s dust.
Some spices seek to cheat devouring Earth
Of her fair prey for Eden’s broken trust.
Through Him one son, one daughter dodged the grave,
And Lazarus the grave clothes shortly left,
Undid their dying ‘til another day:
But death’s Undoer’s now been done to death.
With Roman signs and soldiers seal the tomb
To guard from those whom fear now holds in ward.
With bars and bolts lock up the upper room
To ward off those whom fear now keeps on guard.
And silently inside the tomb Christ lies:
Here falls he last to know that he must rise.
He clothes our naked guilt with his last breath
Breathed out to shape a small child’s bedtime prayer.
The breath of life now stopped by breathless death
Commits itself into to the Father’s care.
From Adam’s nostrils God’s gift now withdrawn
That finished Eden’s work and gave us life.
Our bodies nothing now but fleshly brawn,
Our days now nothing but survival’s strife.
The One whose Breath once brooded on the deep
Of chaos’ void and called forth dark’s first light
Now sinks in darkened night and breathless sleep,
That suffocates our souls in airless plight.
They free his corpse. They handle mangled earth.
The breath of God returns now to its birth.
He, naked, waits for hate’s uplifting stroke,
An emptied bucket dancing in the air,
Foul spittle’s target, butt of scoffing jokes:
With God nailed safely what will men not dare?
The first blood ever drawn by him was shed
To make a cloak for our first parents’ shame.
Now his own blood he offers in our stead
And hangs exposed, uncovered, blasted, blamed.
What hope for naked sinners when the King
Of Heaven high for all to see
Lacks any veil to veil his suffering?
What hiding place for us now can there be?
Our Covering uncovered covers us:
He clothes our naked guilt with his last breath.
Luke records Jesus’ words to the weeping women of Jerusalem (Lk 23.27). His words refer to the invasion of Jerusalem which he has prophesied earlier during Passion Week (Mt 24, Mk 13, Lk 21) and which occurred in AD 70.The “green tree” describes Rome’s reaction to Jesus’ supposed “revolt.” The “dry tree” glances ahead to the empire’s response to an actual armed rebellion: the utter destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the exile of the Jews from their homeland. I think Jesus, from beneath the cross, offers us a choice in the face of injustice: violence absorbed or violence accelerated. His own resurrection validates the option Our Lord endorses.
He turns our tears to those for whom he weeps:
The victims of war’s purple testament.
A woman’s tenderness of heart he seeks
To see the price of power, and lament.
The tree he bears, though dead, is green with hope
Of life lived out in meek humility
And violence overcome by love’s wide scope,
And ending of the sword’s futility.
We weep beside the way of Calvary’s cross,
Yet set aside our crosses for the way
Of swords drawn to revenge our pain and loss,
And yet more swords in yet a drier day.
‘Neath our false tears he falls yet full of hope
And naked waits for hate’s uplifting stroke.
The legend of St. Veronica lacks any basis in Scripture. Tradition eventually attached the name Bernice to the woman healed by touching the hem of Jesus’ garment. The Greek name means “Bearer of Victory” but, coming into Latin, lends itself to a lovely pun, vera + ikon, “true image.” As far as I can discover, the story of her wiping Jesus’ face with her veil as he bears the cross does not appear until the fourteenth century in a book of popular devotion called Meditations on the Life of Christ.
If I have chosen to write about Veronica it is not because I would put the weight of history – let alone doctrine – on the tale but because, as I once heard Calvin Miller say about a different story, though there may not be any truth to it, there is a tremendous truth in it. That a simple act of kindness offered to Our Lord as he embodies all the rejected, neglected, downcast and outcast, would reveal His face and preserve His image, makes perfect sense and it is for this reason, I think, that the legend has persisted.
A human hand here helps a human God
To clear his sight. Who’s spittle healed the blind
Is blinded now by sweat and salty blood.
She can’t stop cruelty, but she can be kind.
The first veil ruined on this ruined day
Is freely given. Face to face she sees
The face of him who walks for her this Way
Of Sorrow, slaves to set her free.
Like all we give to Christ this cloth comes back
Infused with the true icon of his gaze.
She bears his victory in a simple swatch
Of linen set with sacred blood ablaze.
We never see his face in what we keep.
He turns our tears to those for whom he weeps.