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Thursday, April 17, 2014

washing Jesus.

Before today, I had never washed Jesus. On Sunday, Palm Sunday, great guy and I hiked along the narrow, rocky donkey’s trail (Eselspfad). I remember that at particular uphill stretches, as we were slowly slogging one step after another, I thought about another donkey trip that took place on this day (or round about) a couple thousand years ago. So began my week; contemplating journey and sacrifice.

It’s a couple of days later and I’m standing in front of Jesus. I pour some water from the green plastic watering can onto a dry white cloth. Why great guy brought a white cloth along I don’t ask. As I stand inches away, I’m all of sudden greatly moved by what I’m about to do. Jesus’s head hangs down and so our eyes don’t meet. Not surprisingly, I’m taller than he is. His wavy brown hair and thorny crown are close to my face. The air is crisp, the wind sways through the trees as if it’s dancing, and the birds sing; but quietly, as if they’ve been told to keep it down. It’s Easter.

His skin is cold and hard, but so smooth like porcelain. Gently (I have this overwhelming need to be gentle) I start to brush the soft cloth lightly over his body. He is dusty and dirty. In places I need to really scrub to get the dirt off.  I run the cloth down his legs to clean his tortured feet, leaving his face for last. As delicately as if I were cleaning a newborn, I wipe under his eyes, along his nose and around his mouth. The pain in his expression I’ve always found hard to look at, and now touching his sad, but resigned eyes, I feel like I’m part of his pain.

I take a few steps backwards. Great guy is busy hacking the bushes violently and swiftly with a sickle; pruning. He doesn’t notice that I’ve been silent this entire time. He’s busy. I look back towards Jesus hanging on the cross. He is clean now. But, he still doesn’t look up. I know he’s thinking about bigger things; worrying about another type of cleanliness - mine, yours, the world’s.

I’m preparing for Easter: to welcome the father and maid marion home from their Spanish winter hibernation, to sing in Easter services beginning this evening, and to beautify the graves. I feel busy and expectant.

In Germany, even on normal days, the graveyards are more like interesting gardens: tidy, organized and taken care of. But, at Easter time the graveyards are a-bloom with colours bursting out of almost every plot. The weeds are plucked, leftover leaves are raked, flowers watered, headstones and statues polished, and unruly bushes are shorn. As loved ones come to visit at this time, inevitably thoughts turn to journeys taken together and journeys that have ended. To have a quiet (except for birds chattering), peaceful garden to relive these experiences is cherished here.

Today is Gründonnerstag (Green Thursday), and in church services around the country Christians will come to prepare themselves for tomorrow. I will be singing parts of Rossini’s Petite Messe solennelle, as part of a small choir in a big church. This piece is filled with repentant cries of Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy), exultant expressions of Gloria in excelsis Deo, sacrificial wails of Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), and appeals for Dona nobis pacem (Grant us peace); all set to mostly joyful tunes. 

Rossini was a witty composer, and once said, “"Good God, behold completed this poor little Mass. Is it indeed sacred music that I have just written, or merely some damned music? You know well, I was born for comic opera. Little science, a little heart, that is all. So may you be blessed, and grant me Paradise!" (source: Wikipedia)

Whether we choose to spend a few moments this weekend thinking about the journey we have taken with someone who is no longer with us; or we choose to pray for those who have or are sacrificing themselves so that others may live a better life; I feel extremely blessed a) to have the choice, b) to have had the privilege of walking with those who impacted my life in big ways, and c) to know the peace of someone’s sacrifice - some large, some small.

This weekend I will be thinking about the courageous ones who have, or have tried to pave peaceful paths for others to walk on: a pastor in Homs, a woman in Egypt, a teacher in Nigeria, a father in Calgary, a son on a cross.

At the grave of his mother, great guy rolls a big rock away to make room for a newcomer who will be laid to rest here next week. The letters ‘INRI’ are carved into the wood above the cross. I’ve forgotten what they mean and ask him to remind me. He says, without skipping a beat, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’.

We are clean. God, grant us all peace.


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