As the newest member of the chaplaincy team I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself. Originally from Pukekohe, I studied Philosophy at Waikato, then spent 5 and a half years studying theology and discerning the priesthood at Holy Cross Seminary in Auckland. When, after a major epiphany, I decided to leave the seminary, the adventure of discernment continued, taking me to the UK, where I got married to Cheryl and then started my PhD in theology just before the birth of our first child, Daisy-Ann (now 7). After three years away I returned to New Zealand with my little family, completed my studies, and worked for four years in young adult formation at the Catholic Discipleship College. That time at CDC saw the arrival of two more children, Abigail (now 3) and Joachim (1 year old).
Being a student and working with students, you soon learn the power and significance (and sometimes the burden) of writing – writing essays and reports, reviewing and analysing the writing of others. What follows is an excerpt from my PhD thesis which I offer here as a little Easter-themed reflection, using the analogy of writing to shed some light on who Jesus is.
I’m drawing from a Good Friday sermon by John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, England (he died in 1535). The sermon is centred on the vision of the prophet Ezekiel in which the prophet is handed a scroll: “and he spread it before me; and it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and [songs] and woe” (Ezek 2:10). For Fisher, the scroll is an analogy for Jesus crucified. He describes Jesus as a book, “written within and without”. On the inside of the leaves of that book is written a single word, his divine Sonship (Logos) while on the outside, on the parchment of his flesh, is written “three manner of things: … Lamentations, songs, and woe.”
On the pages of Christ’s scourged and crucified flesh the small letters are the marks of the whip, and in addition to these there are also “great Capital Letters . . . illumined with rose colour” and these are “the great wounds of his body, in his hands, and in his feet, and in his side.” It is these illumined capital letters that will remain in the Resurrection. We know this from the Gospel of Luke: “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself” (Lk 24:39), the Gospel of John: “he showed them his hands and his side” (Jn 20:20), and it is hinted at again in the Book of Revelation: “I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain” (Rev 5:6).
If the wounds are, as Fisher has it, a kind of text, then what does it mean? Fisher understands the “lamentations, songs and woe” as follows.
First is lamentation . . . For whosoever will [joy] with Christ, must first sorrow with him. And by sorrow and lamentation he may come unto [joy]: But he that will not sorrow and lament with Christ here in this life, he shall come finally to the place where is everlasting woe”.
It is striking to note that what, according to Fisher, is written on the flesh of Jesus is not simply a message to which we may or may not respond. Rather, because it is we who, by our sins, have scourged him and crucified him, the words are our words and our responses just as much as they are God’s revelation to us. The wounds are the obscenities that by our rejection of God we have etched upon the flesh of Christ, like a scrawl of hideous graffiti. And yet by bearing them with unwavering love he has transformed them, given them a new meaning. Through love they have become a most poignant and persuasive poetry that invites a heartfelt response from us – a response that involves sorrowful repentance leading to joyful song. To respond in this way is to lament because the wounds are our own work, while at the same time to delight in the beauty of this corpus-text – Jesus risen from the dead. To refuse to recognise this ‘graffiti’ as our own and to resist the invitation of this ‘poetry’ is to harden our hearts and so, cut off from our only hope, to enter into everlasting woe.
Let us pray that Jesus, who did not leave any written record in this world but is himself the Eternal Word of God, transforming our wayward words into the saving message of love, may be with us in our studies, especially as we write, granting us wisdom and peace, and guiding us into the fullness of the truth. Amen.