Wednesday, 1 April 2015

St Veronica's Veil

Talk for the City of London 'Stations of the Cross' event, 1/4/15.

Station #6, 'Veronica wipes the face of Jesus'

Preached in Bow Bells Churchyard

The world has long divided over the question
          of whether it is honouring or displeasing to God,
          to represent him through image or statue.  
We find this debate played out in the icons of orthodox Christianity
                    and the artwork of Roman Catholicism,
          we find it in the iconoclasts of the Puritan era,
                    and we find it in the prohibitions against idolatry in Islam.

The recent murder of journalists and artists
          at the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo
are a twenty first century expression of this same controversy,
          and the question remains before us still
          of where we are to look, to see the image of God.

Some look to the heavens, to the furthest reaches of the cosmos,
          others plumb the mysterious depths of the atom.
And whilst our most gifted scientists have great success
          at thinking God’s thoughts after him,
and whilst it is certainly true that the created order
          bears the imprint of the creator,
the transcendent other remains yet veiled in mystery.

And so we come to Veronica,
          the apocryphal woman who wiped the face of Jesus with her veil,
          and found the imprint of his features on the cloth in her hand.
The insight of the legend of Veronica
          is that if you want to know what God looks like,
you need look no further than the image imprinted on her veil –
          the image of the invisible God - is revealed in the face of a man.

This is, of course, the foundational insight of Genesis
          and it is echoed in the person of Christ ;
- the image of God is made flesh in human flesh,
          with each created person bearing the likeness of the creator.
If you want to truly know what God looks like,
          don’t look at an idol, or a statue, or a picture.
Rather, look at your neighbor, look at yourself,
          because we humans are made in the image of God.

Not only do we share common humanity with the victims of Paris, 
          but we bear the imprint of the divine,
          we are each made in the image of God. 
And this is true of us all, from satirist to terrorist. 

Jesus, the son of Man, is the embodiment of God,

In Jesus, the great I Am of the Jewish faith
          declares not just je suis Charlie
          but je suis homme, ‘I am man’. 

In the person of the Son of Man
          God undertakes the ultimate act of solidarity with humanity.

The offensive image here 
          is not some cartoon representation of the divine 
                   in defiance of those who would see such a move as sacrilegious, 
          but an incarnation of the divine in human flesh, 
                   a rendering of God himself in the body of a man. 

And it is this man who joins us all on the path to death,
          who carries his cross in full identification with each mortal soul.

In a world where so many would seek to control God 
          by declaring that it is their responsibility 
                   to speak on his behalf, 
                   to defend his honor, 
                   and to police his image, 
the image of God in the life of humanity
          offers us a powerful counter testimony, 
where God takes the ultimate risk, again and again;
          every time a human being is born, 
                   recommitting himself to the stuff of creation, 
                   for better or for worse; 
always seeking to bring good from the chaos of the world,
          and light to the darkness of our lives. 

This is Good in human form, 
          in solidarity with the worst of sinners, 
                   even and including those who would take up Guns in a Parisian street. 

This is the scandal of God-made-flesh, 
          and this is the offence of the Christian gospel 
                   that finds its ultimate conclusion in the outrage of the cross, 
          as God in human form not only identifies with humanity's sinfulness, 
                   but takes decisive action to bring about the end of violence
          by embodying forgiveness and reconciliation once, and for all. 

So in a world divided on issues of religion,
          perhaps we need to discover, once again, 
                   the scandal of the Jewish creation story, 
          and to embrace, once again, the offence of the incarnation of Christ.

All those of us who would follow Jesus on this path to new creation,
          are invited to take up our own cross and follow him.
And in so doing, we are invited to identify with him,
                   as he identifies with us,
          and so to share with him
                   in the renewal of all things.

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