I’m not good at Good Friday, and after watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ for the first time earlier this week, I’ve realized that Protestants in general are probably not very good at Good Friday either. For example, I had an inkling that Gibson was following the Stations of the Cross, but I couldn’t have told you what they were, merely that Christ’s falls and Veronica’s appearance seemed in some way important. Only someone working out of a tradition rich in paintings, icons, and stained-glass could portray Christ’s head, rivered with blood and crowned with thorns, so poignantly or could end the crucifixion in a wrenching Pietà.

As she discusses her reluctant conversion to Catholicism, poet and memoirist Mary Karr writes: “But the church’s carnality, which seemed crude at the outset—people lighting candles and talking to dolls—worked its voodoo on me. The very word incarnation derives from the Latin in carne: in meat. There is a body on the cross in my church.”

So, this is where I leave you today: with a poem from Karr’s Sinners Welcome, with a body and with blood.

 

Descending Theology: The Crucifixion

To be crucified is first to lie down
on a shaved tree, and then to have oafs stretch you out
on a crossbar as if for flight, then thick spikes
fix you into place.

Once the cross props up and the pole stob
sinks vertically in an earth hole, perhaps
at an awkward list, what then can you blame for hurt
but your own self’s burden?

You’re not the figurehead on a ship. You’re not
flying anywhere, and no one’s coming to hug you.
You hang like that, a sack of flesh with the hard
trinity of nails holding you into place.

Thus hung, your rib cage struggles up
to breathe until you suffocate. If God
permits this, one wonders if some less
than loving watcher

watches us. The man on the cross
under massed thunderheads feels
his soul leak away, then surge. Some wind
sucks him into the light stream

in the rent sky, and he’s snatched back, held close.

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