Tuesday, 4 December 2007

VI. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

The face: it is the most public, and most intimate part of our being. We only touch the faces of the the people we love. We touch them to express our most private emotions, love, grief, sorrow, celebration. If you ask people to recall a moment poignant in time for them, happy or sad, they remember peoples faces. Our most treasured memories are those when we witnessed people show their emotion in their faces: 'I remember you laughing'; 'you cried on that day'; 'the look on your face'; that is what we recall and share.

Faces make their home in our subconscious. They come back to us when we least expect it: the face of your mother when you notice something she would have disapproved of (a dusty shelf, perhaps), a friend when you hear someone else utter the words of a once shared joke, your father when someone new tells a story he always narrated. When we are apart from those we love most, it is their faces which we miss, and which we want to see again. In the faces of people we read thoughts, emotions and reactions, but we also recognise the wealth of emotions that remain hidden from us in the guarded smile, laugh or grin. Perhaps this recognition is why, in so many cultures, their is a desire to see the face of their dead - to say goodbye, to recognise a 'passing' of those features which made someone precious. We cover the faces of the dead, close their eyes, when we recoginse that they have 'gone.'

Veronica, so we have heard in tradition, went and wiped the face of Jesus while he was in his weakest moment. Many people believe that the image of his face, full of the emotion of that moment in history, scarred the cloth which she used. To run to someone and wipe their face in a moment of need is a remarkable act. Even recalling those whom we might tenderly wipe the face of, we can see this is a act which simultaneously reveals love and vulnerability. Children, the very sick, the old and the vulnerable trust others to wash their face. The healthy and the strong would not allow themselves to be so personally touched by someone they barely knew. Veronica acts with compassion and is received with compassion. In her act of love a gift is bequeathed - she would remember, have imprinted upon her mind, the face of Christ. This gift she would no doubt treasure, but it would also bring with it the inevitable pain of longing to see again the face of someone you have loved. The desire to see and speak with someone 'face to face'.

The gift of Veronica on the way of the cross is an intimate gift of loving compassion and a gift of longing. Jesus came to show all people the face of God, and in the revelation he rekindled in all people the desire to speak once again with the divine honestly, face to face. This desiring is echoed in our human longing to see those we love 'face to face', when they are travelling far away, or when they have died and passed on to their final resting place. Travelling the way of the cross it is possible to recall our own desires to see God's face and begin to understand fully what it is we have been called to become.

Love never comes to an end....When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, and see things as a child does; but now that I have become an adult, I have finished with all childish ways. Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles, but then we shall be seeing face to face. Now I can know only imperfectly; but then I shall know just as fully as I myself am known

1Corinthians 13: 11 - 12

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