Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Naked Christ

"It's scandalous to see this nearly naked Christ," some critics said, as the story goes, when an initial draft of Ford Madox Brown's Christ Washing the Feet of Peter was viewed. Brown lived through the majority of the 19th century as an English painter in a Victorian climate, where the sight of a woman's ankle might be seen as improper. It's ironic to think that those whom Christ stripped himself to serve would be scandalized, not by his act of love, but by his physical appearance. When Peter was scandalized, it was because of his interior unworthiness. The Victorians were shocked by his exterior "impropriety."   
What does this tell us? It tells us that we have issues, in every time and place, with the realm of sexuality and the body. Deeper still, with the realm of trust and vulnerability, of which nakedness is the physical sign. Nakedness is a spousal call to see the other, to enter into the vulnerable mystery of the other.  And it tells us that the Messiah, the Heavenly Bridegroom, will do anything to get our attention. He will play the fool, he will strip down and serve, he'll make himself that vulnerable. And he'll also make it clear that he wants us to see him, to know him. He will reveal himself to us, in all of the vulnerability of a lover to his beloved bride. He wants to come close. So close to us. 

I wonder how the Victorians would've reacted to the true history of Roman crucifixtion. The victims were too often left naked on those crosses, shamed and publicly humiliated. But for Jesus, as Augustine tells us, this was the moment where the cross turned into a "marriage bed." The cross is the crux where all horizontal earthly love meets the power of the vertical love of a God that rushed down in love to be with us! And this perfect love has no fear! Like the first Adam in the beginning, Christ the second Adam is "naked without shame" and he like Adam was called to "cleave to his wife, so the two could become one flesh"... 

Like Peter then, we must loosen our grip, let the blood flow back into our clenched knuckles and allow The Lord to love us. Totally, humbly, wholly His Way. 

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