Archive for the ‘Easter’ Category

Easter 5: I Am the Vine

May 2, 2012

I Am the Vine © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter 5: John 15.1-8

This week I’ve designed some multimedia yumminess for you as you reflect on the evocative passage from John that serves as our gospel lection for Sunday. Along with this fresh-from-the-studio painting, I’m delighted to offer the song “Remain In Me” from my singer/songwriter husband, Garrison Doles. It’s from his CD House of Prayer. Just click the audio player below to enjoy.

In these Easter days, may you know yourself intertwined with the true vine who is our sustenance. Blessings.

[To use the image “I Am the Vine,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Easter 2: Living into the Resurrection

April 13, 2012


Into the Wound © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter 2: John 20.19-31

Happy Easter! I am grateful for the wisdom of the liturgical calendar that tells us that, like Christmas, Easter is not just a day but a season. It comes as both a comfort and a challenge to know that living into the resurrection is an ongoing journey.

Things have been quiet here at The Painted Prayerbook this week, with taking a deep breath after posting daily throughout the season of Lent and also spending time in preparation for upcoming events, including a retreat I’m leading next week for the women bishops of the United Methodist Church. With this, and needing to spend time in my studio to see what images are waiting to show up after the wave of paintings for Lent, it may be a little while before we get back into the blogging groove here. But know that new work is on its way. In the meantime, I’ll post links to previous reflections I’ve offered on the lectionary readings that we’re traveling with in this Easter season.

Since this week’s gospel lection from John 20 recurs each year, I have several reflections on this passage and would be delighted for you to stop by:

Easter 2: Into the Wound

Easter 2: The Secret Room

Easter 2: The Illuminated Wound

Blessings to you in these Easter days!

[To use the “Into the Wound” image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

 

Easter Sunday: Seen

April 6, 2012

I Do Not Know Where They Have Laid Him © Jan L. Richardson

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
—John 20.11-13

From a lectionary reading for Easter Sunday: John 20.1-18

Reflection for Easter Sunday, April 8

I never fail to be dazzled by this moment when Jesus calls out the name of the woman whom he finds weeping by his tomb. Mary. At the sound of her name, the Magdalene finally sees and knows who has found her there. It is a stunning moment of recognition.

Yet as I spiral back around this passage this week, what draws my attention is not only the way that Mary Magdalene sees Christ when he calls her name. What tugs at me this time is how, in that moment of hearing her name, Mary Magdalene must see herself.

With an inflection that only Christ could have given to it, his speaking of her name conveys everything: all their history, all that passed between them in their friendship, all that he knows of this woman whom he healed and who, along with other women, traveled with him and sustained him from her own resources. He knows her. He sees her. And now he asks her to see herself as he does.

Mary.

In that moment, and in the call and commissioning that will soon come, the risen Christ gives Mary Magdalene to herself. Not, of course, as if he owns or controls her but because, as ever, he knows her and wants to free her from what would hinder her from the life that God desires for her. Long ago, Jesus had released the Magdalene from the septet of demons that haunted her (“A demon for every day of the week,” writes Kathleen Norris; “how practical; how womanly.”) Now he releases her again, this time from clinging to him, from becoming entangled with him. Where holding onto him might seem holy, Christ sees—and enables Mary Magdalene to see—that her path and her life lie elsewhere. Beyond this moment, beyond this garden, beyond what she has known. In going, Mary affirms that she has seen what she needed to see: not just Christ in the glory of his resurrection, but also herself, graced with the glory that he sees in her.

In the centuries to come, Mary Magdalene will become layered over with other visions that people have of her: other titles, other depictions, other names. Sinner, prostitute, penitent, bride: the stories and legends of who the Magdalene was and what she became will both fascinate us and frustrate our ability to know her. But on this day, the Magdalene we meet in the garden is simply one who has learned to see, and who goes forth to proclaim what she has seen.

This day, what will we allow ourselves to see: of Christ, of ourselves? How would it be to know ourselves as he does, to see ourselves as he sees us, to know that the risen Christ speaks our name, too, and releases us to tell what we have seen? What will you proclaim as you leave the empty tomb this day?

Seen
A Blessing for Easter Sunday

You had not imagined
that something so empty
could fill you
to overflowing

and now you carry
the knowledge
like an awful treasure,
or like a child
that roots itself
beneath your heart:

how the emptiness
will bear forth
a new world
that you cannot fathom
but on whose edge
you stand.

So why do you linger?
You have seen
and so you are
already blessed.
You have been seen
and so you are
the blessing.

There is no other word
you need.
There is simply
to go
and tell.
There is simply
to begin.

P.S. For previous reflections for Easter Sunday, click these images or titles:

Easter Sunday: Risen
(includes “Easter Blessing”)

Easter Sunday: Out of the Garden

Last year, Gary and I created a video that weaves images from my “Hours of Mary Magdalene” series with his gorgeous song “Mary Magdalena,” which tells of Christ and Mary Magdalene’s encounter on the morning of the resurrection. Click below to see the video.

The Hours of Mary Magdalene

[To use the image “I Do Not Know Where They Have Laid Him,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. To use the “Hours of Mary Magdalene” video, please visit this page. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Ascension/Easter 7: Blessing in the Leaving

May 29, 2011


Ascension II © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Ascension Day: Luke 24.44-53
Reading from the Gospels, Easter 7, Year A: John 17.1-11

Throughout this Easter season we have seen how the gospel lections have emphasized the theme of knowing: knowing the risen Christ, knowing what he has done for us and to us, knowing what he desires of us and calls us to do, knowing what he is preparing for us—and preparing us for. The fact that most of the gospel readings for the Easter season take place at a table underscores the intimacy that comes in knowing—in knowing Christ, in knowing God, in knowing one another.

This theme of knowing reaches its stunning apex in the gospel texts for this week. The reading from John’s Gospel draws us once again to the table where Jesus has lingered with his friends on the night before his death. He finishes their final feast by praying for his disciples. In his prayer, Jesus is knowing all over the place: “And this is eternal life,” he says, “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent….I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world….Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you.” Then Jesus, who knows these friends so well, releases them into the world and into the care and protection of God, who has known them from the beginning.

In the reading from Luke for Ascension Day, we see the risen Christ appearing one last time to his disciples. He opens their minds, as Luke tells us, “to understand the scriptures,” and he impresses upon them that what was written about him, they have seen with their own eyes. Jesus then takes them to Bethany: this place so familiar and dear to Jesus, the place where Mary and Martha and Lazarus lived—his close friends who knew and were known by Jesus. And from this place Jesus leaves, blessing his beloved companions as he ascends.

As we spiral back around these stories this year, what still takes hold of me is this: how Jesus prays for and blesses his friends as he leaves them. How the leaving is part of the blessing. As if the blessing can happen no other way than by his departure, by his letting go of the ones whom he has loved—these ones whom he will never cease to love but must release into their own lives, so that they may enter into the blessing and enact it on this earth.

This week provides a good occasion to remember that the English word bless comes from the Old English word blod—blood, referring to the use of blood in ritual acts of consecration. The blessing that Jesus gives as he goes is one that will infuse the community with his love, his grace, his lifeblood. He gives a blessing that will run in the veins of those he has called to be his body; a blessing that will beat in the hearts of those whom he is sending into the world.

As we prepare to leave the season of Easter and cross into Ordinary Time, what blessing do you need? What word or gesture of grace and love do you need to infuse you and sustain you to be a blessing in this world? Is there a blessing that might depend on your letting go, on releasing something—or seeking to be released from something—so that there will be a space for the blessing to enter?

Blessing the Distance
For Ascension Day

It is a mystery to me
how as the distance
between us grows,
the larger this blessing
becomes,

as if the shape of it
depends on absence,
as if it finds its form
not by what
it can cling to
but by the space
that arcs
between us.

As this blessing
makes its way,
first it will cease
to measure itself
by time.

Then it will release
how attached it has become
to this place
where we have lived,
where we have learned
to know one another
in proximity and
presence.

Next this blessing
will abandon
the patterns
in which it moved,
the habits that helped it
recognize itself,
the familiar pathways
it traced.

Finally this blessing
will touch its fingers
to your brow,
your eyes,
your mouth;
it will hold
your beloved face
in both its hands,

and then
it will let you go;
it will loose you
into your life;
it will leave
each hindering thing

until all that breathes
between us
is blessing
and all that beats
between us
is grace.

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

P.S. For a previous reflection on this passage, click the image or title below:


Ascension/Easter 7: A Blessing at Bethany

Using Jan’s artwork…

To use the “Ascension II” image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Easter 6: Love and Revelation

May 22, 2011


Love and Revelation © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter 6, Year A (May 29): John 14.15-21

On a day more than six hundred years ago, in the English town of Norwich, a woman walked into a cell attached to the parish church. She intended to stay there for the rest of her life. The original name of the woman is unknown, and the cell where she would live as an anchoress—a woman devoted to a life of contemplation and solitude—no longer remains. It is likely that she took her name from the church in whose cell she lived: the Church of St. Julian.

Nearly everything we know about Julian of Norwich comes from a manuscript that she composed in her cell. In it she tells of how, at the age of thirty and a half, she became desperately ill. Just as she thought herself at the point of death, her pain suddenly departed. As Julian continued to pray, she was visited by a series of sixteen visions or revelations—what she called “showings”—in which she came to experience and know God’s love for her.

Julian recorded her visions in a short text, and then, after nearly two decades, she expanded on them in a longer text that incorporates the insights that she gained through years of reflecting on and praying with the visions. Together Julian’s texts became the book known as Showings, or Revelations of Divine Love.

In the final chapter of Showings, as Julian comes to the end of the remarkable work in which she has revealed to us a God whose endless mystery encompasses a deep desire to know and love us in all our human particularity, she writes,

And from the time that it was revealed, I desired to know in what was our Lord’s meaning. And fifteen years after and more, I was answered in spiritual understanding, and it was said: What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same. But you will never know different, without end.

From her anchorhold, with her stunning simplicity, Julian echoes and embodies what her beloved Jesus says to his friends in this week’s gospel passage. At the table where he gathers with his disciples on the night before his death, he persists in telling them what he wants them—needs them—to know about who he is, what he has done, what he will yet do, what he is calling them to do after he is physically gone. In this passage, Jesus becomes very clear about why he wants them to know these things, and what underlies and encompasses and is the reason for their knowing.

“They who have my commandments and keep them,” Jesus says, “are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

The knowledge that Jesus shares with his followers is not for the purpose of giving them worldly power. It is not designed to make them feel important, or to initiate them into secrets meant for a select few, or to make their lives easier. He does not intend for them to use the knowledge as a weapon to threaten or diminish others. What Jesus reveals to his friends—his friends at the table that night, his friend in the cell at the Church of St. Julian, his friends throughout the ages—he does for one reason:

For love.

Jesus speaks of love and revelation in the same breath. He wants his friends to understand that loving and knowing are of a piece, that loving draws us deeper into knowing and being known by the one whom we love. Here on the threshold of his death, Jesus cannot go until he assures them that he will not leave them bereft but will, in fact, continue to love and help them. He cannot leave until he tells them that by their loving, they will remain in relationship with him; through their shared love, he will yet reveal himself to them and be known by them.

What knowledge does your loving lead you to? As you stretch yourself into loving others, what becomes revealed to you—of them, of yourself, of God? How has love challenged or changed what you know? How are you opening yourself to its presence in your life?

Blessing that Knows Your Name

Chances are
there will come a day
when you will forget
every last word
of this blessing.

It does not matter.

Let this blessing
slip through
your fingers.
Let it roll from
the smooth plane
of your palm.
Let each line
disappear
and every syllable
fall away.
Let this blessing
return
to where all
blessings begin.

Let it leave you
until all that remains
is the place where
it pierced you—
whether like fire
or like breath
you could not say,
only that you heard
your name as it entered,
then heard its own
as it blew away.

P.S. For a previous reflection on this passage, click the image or title below:

Easter 6: Side Orders

[To use the “Love and Revelation” image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Easter 5: Many Rooms

May 15, 2011


Many Rooms © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter 5, Year A (May 22): John 14.1-14

Many years ago, a recurring dream began to take hold of my nighttime brain. The details shift and change each time it visits, but the essence of the dream remains the same: I am wandering through shops—not a mall, but a series of connected stores. The stores are the kind that I love to browse through, the sort that I find in communities that value artistry. As I wander among the stores that spill into one another, I savor what I see: richly hued artwork, finely crafted jewelry, beautiful pottery that calls out for me to touch it.

In the dream, no matter the changing details, I always find a bookstore. Often it’s a used bookstore, crammed with volumes and with more shelves around each turn. Once the bookstore contained a case of gorgeous hand-bound books, displayed like artwork. I marveled at the colors, textures, and designs, knowing as I touched the books, I want to do this, to create books like these.

Along with the persistent presence of a bookstore, one other detail of the dream never changes: it always begins with my walking down a familiar street. I turn a corner and suddenly find myself among the shops, thinking, Of course—that’s where they were! These treasures were in my neighborhood the whole time, waiting for me to find them.

And you know the way to the place where I am going, Jesus says to his disciples on the night before his death. Here at the table where they share their final meal before his crucifixion, there are many things Jesus wants to tell them. His hunger for them to know—which we see again and again in the gospel texts in this Easter season—becomes particularly acute as Jesus gathers with them just hours before his death. And so he will go on to tell them about the Holy Spirit whom he will send, and how this Spirit will be in them. Jesus will tell them that he is the true vine in which they will abide. He will tell them—command them—to love one another, and how the world will hate them. He will tell them that their sorrow will turn to joy. Jesus is desperate for them to know these things, and more.

But when he tells them, before all this, of the place he is preparing for them—the house with many dwelling places—Jesus tells them that they already know the way. When Thomas—ever the good questioner—asks him how they can know the way, Jesus reminds them that he himself is the way. If they know him, they know the way, and the One who sent him to prepare the way for them.

This text has me wondering if following in this way has less to do with striving and working at it, in the frenetic fashion we sometimes do, than with letting ourselves recognize what we already know; less to do with wrapping our brains around points of belief that grow so contentious than with opening our eyes to the door that has always been there in our soul, our heart, waiting for us to see it and walk through it and find the spacious dwelling place that has been there all along. To be sure, following Christ our Way takes work and effort and focus and sacrifice. Yet I find myself thinking of the poem by the Sufi poet Rumi in which he writes of how he has been living on the “lip of insanity,” as he puts it, knocking incessantly on a door. Finally the door opens, and he realizes, “I’ve been knocking from the inside!”

Here at the table, Jesus wants to make clear that although the place he describes is a someday place, a promised home that he is preparing, it is at the same time a dwelling that his followers can have a glimpse of in this world, a space that even now takes form in our midst. An abiding-place fashioned by—and fashioned of—the Christ who dwells in God, and is a dwelling place for God, and offers his own self to us as both a habitation and a way. A way that we find by opening the door that is already within us.

In this season, where are you making your home? Where are you dwelling? Is there a place in your life where you are pushing and pouring out your energy—something you are trying to wrap your brain around to understand it or to change it—when the way might lie instead in releasing, in finding the doorway that appears in letting go?

Blessing with Many Rooms

As you step inside
this blessing
we wish to tell you
it is large enough
for you to lie down in.

Or
(though it may not look it,
small as it is upon this page)
you can curl up
in this blessing
with a cup of tea
and a good book
beside the window—
here, just behind you—
that faces east.

Likewise it is true,
though you might not have
paused long enough
to notice,
that this blessing
is big enough
for a table—
quite a sizeable one
can be accommodated—
where your guests
will want to linger
far into the night.

And if they desire to stay,
you will find that
through this door—
you did not see it before?—
there are rooms in plenty
where they can
lay their heads
and stretch out with abandon
in their dreaming sleep.

One room,
many rooms—
in this blessing
it is all the same.
The point is that
there is space
enough.

Enough to make
a life, a home;
enough to make
a world.

Enough to make
your way toward
the One who has made
this way for you.

P.S. For a previous reflection on this passage, click the image or title below:

Easter 5: A Place to Dwell

[To use the “Many Rooms” image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Easter 4: Blessing of the Gate

May 9, 2011


Blessing of the Gate © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter 4, Year A (May 15): John 10.1-10

Once again, for the fourth time in this Easter season, the lectionary turns toward the theme of knowing. Beginning with Easter Sunday, the gospel readings have beckoned us to pay attention to where we pay attention, to how we turn ourselves toward the Christ who comes to us. To the women at the empty tomb, to Thomas in the locked room, to the two at the Emmaus table, Jesus shows himself, inviting others to see and recognize him, even to place their hand within his very flesh so that they may know and trust who he is.

And here again this week the gospel lection impresses upon us how keen Jesus is for us to know him, to follow after the One who first knows us. Knows us by our own name, Jesus tells us in this Sunday’s text from John’s Gospel.

Jesus recognizes, of course, the import of knowing another’s name. Throughout the scriptures as well as in mythology and folklore, we see how knowing someone’s name often means having a kind of power; one’s name holds something of a key to one’s nature. Yet with Christ, this knowing is always steeped in grace, not control. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out,” Jesus says in this passage where he describes himself as the good shepherd. The gate of Christ swings toward freedom, not captivity. The shepherd does not assume a role of domination, of power-over that constrains and confines; he is one who pours his power out on our behalf, that we may enter into the places where we can flourish. “…that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” Jesus says.

As the Easter season continues to unfold, this theme of knowing will persist. As we travel through these days of resurrection, how will you open yourself to the Christ who desires to know you and to be known by you? How well do you want to be known? Are there any corners of your heart that you resist being known? Might those very spaces become a place of prayer, a doorway, a gate that opens into freedom?

Blessing of the Gate

Press your hand
to this blessing,
here along
the side
where you can feel
its seam.

Follow the seam
and you will find
the hinges
on which
this blessing turns.

Feel how
your fingers
catch on them—
top,
bottom,
the slightest pressure
sending the gate
gliding open
in a glad welcome.

Wait, did I say
press your hand
to this blessing?

What I meant was
press your hand
to your heart.

Rest it over that
place in your chest
that has grown
closed and tight,
where the rust,
with its talent
for making decay
look artful,
has bitten into
what you once
held dear.

Breathe deep.
Press on the knot
and feel how it
begins to give way,
turning upon
the hinge
of your heart.

Notice how it
opens wide
and wider still
as you exhale,

spilling you out
into a realm
where you never dreamed
to go
but cannot now imagine
living this life
without.

P.S. For a previous reflection on this passage, click the image or title below:

Easter 4: In Which We Do Some Sheep Wrestling.

[To use the “Blessing of the Gate” image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Easter 3: Known

May 5, 2011

Image: Emmaus © Jan Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter 3: Luke 24.13-35

Then they told what had happened on the road,
and how he had been made known to them
in the breaking of the bread.
—Luke 24.35

Everything in this passage, it seems, can be summed up in this verse, where the two who walked with the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus tell of how they finally recognized him in the breaking of bread. And this is where Christ shows up again and again: at the table where we gather, in the bread that we break. In the feast and in the simple fare, his presence persists and his blessing abides: waiting for us, staying with us, hungering to be known. May we taste and see.

As we travel with Christ in this season of resurrection, how will we approach our tables, our meals, and one another in a way that will open our eyes and help us to see and to know the Christ who lingers with us?

Emmaus Blessing

Already a blessing
in the walking

already a blessing
on the road

already a blessing
drawing near

already a blessing
in the listening

already a blessing
in the burning hearts

already a blessing
in the almost evening

already a blessing
in the staying

already a blessing
at the table

already a blessing
in the bread

already a blessing
in the breaking

already a blessing
finally known

already a blessing
give us eyes

already a blessing
let us see.

—Jan Richardson

P.S. For a previous reflection on this text, see Easter 3: Comfort Food. And for a Mother’s Day reflection and blessing, visit Mother’s Day: Blessing the Mothers.

Bonus round: For a blessing for your ears, click the player below to hear the song “On this Road,” which was inspired by the Emmaus story. It’s by my husband, Garrison Doles, from his CD Draw Us Closer.

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the “Emmaus” image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

Easter 2: The Illuminated Wound

April 24, 2011


Into the Wound © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter 2: John 20.19-31

“Have you believed because you have seen me?” Jesus asks Thomas as he, at Jesus’ invitation, reaches his hand into the wounds of the risen Christ. “Blessed are those,” Jesus goes on to say, “who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

While Jesus accords special honor to those whose faith does not depend on sight, surely he does not mean that the gift of blessing is reserved solely for those who can make the leap of imagination toward belief. Christian history would indeed come to label Thomas with the moniker—something of an epithet—of “Doubting Thomas,” (though elsewhere, in John 11, Thomas displays remarkable courage and devotion to Jesus) and cast a suspicious and sometimes deadly eye on doubt. At the same time, through much of its history the Christian tradition has offered tools and gifts specifically designed to foster sight and thereby deepen belief.

Thomas would have found good company amongst many Christians in the Middle Ages, when there arose a form of devotion that gave particular attention to the wounds of Christ as an entry into prayer and contemplation. The writings of medieval mystics both helped give rise to this form of devotion as well as to articulate it. With an approach to both flesh and spirit that can be challenging for us to comprehend in our day, these mystics saw in Christ’s wounds, particularly the wound in his side, an array of meanings. In their prayerful imagining, Christ’s wound became, among other things, an opening through which he offers his life-giving sustenance as a mother shares her milk with her child; a womb-space that offers the possibility of rebirth; and a place of union between lover and beloved.

These ideas about Christ’s wounds made their way into images that medieval artists created for the purpose of devotion. We see this, for instance, in paintings that depict the wounded Christ and his mother. As Christ offers his wound to the viewer, Mary offers her breast with a nearly mirrored gesture that suggests the similarity of the sustenance they give. We see signs of this devotion also in a number of illuminated manuscripts that include life-sized renderings of Jesus’ side wound. Divorced from his body, the wound itself becomes an object of contemplation, making an intriguing portal into the page and doorway into prayer.

This kind of depiction of Jesus’ wound sometimes appears in illuminated prayer scrolls that were used by women in childbirth. The women placed the prayer scrolls around themselves as birth girdles, with the depiction of Christ’s wound serving not only as an object of contemplation but of hoped-for protection as well.  One can imagine the laboring women saw this wound-symbol as a confirmation that Jesus, who knew what it meant to suffer in bringing new life, offered sustenance to them as they did so. More than one writer has remarked on the striking similarity that the depiction of Jesus’ wound bears to female genitalia (noting also the similarity between vulva and vulnus, wound), prompting one to wonder if those who clung to Christ’s wounds in prayer noted the similarity of these portals by which new life enters. (But, as another writer has noted, how could they have missed noticing it?)

While such a vivid approach to the wounds of Christ may strike our 21st-century sensibilities as odd or gruesome, this form of contemplation was not seen as an end in itself. In the myriad ways that mystics and artists reflected on Christ’s body, it seems clear that they understood the flesh of Christ as a threshold: that his wounds were an entryway, a portal into God. As Sarah Beckwith describes it, the wounded body of Christ offered a rite of passage that held the possibility not only of a deeper relationship with him but also a redefinition of oneself.

Contemplating the wounds of Christ could also prompt medieval Christians to touch the wounds of the world. In his book on traditional religion in 15th- and 16th-century England, Eamon Duffy notes that “the wounds of Christ are the sufferings of the poor, the outcast, and the unfortunate.” He goes on to write that devotion to the wounds of Christ often translated into acts of charity. Such acts became a tending of the living, wounded, corporate body of Christ.

These imaginative approaches to Christ’s wounds, and the access they offered to medieval folk who sought intimate acquaintance with him, do not dismiss or justify the violence of the crucifixion story. Encountering these visual images, however, has challenged me to wonder what sort of doorway they offer to me, and to us, in these days that, as they ever have been, are so profoundly marked by violence.

I have come to see more clearly the ways that being in the world and loving one another—even from our most intact, integrated places, much less our less-intact ones—exposes us to wounding, to the giving and receiving of pain. Christ’s wounds exemplify this. They underscore the depth of his willingness to enter into our loving in all its hurt and hope and capacity for going horribly wrong. In wearing his wounds—even in his resurrection—he confronts us with our own and calls us to move through them into new life.

Christ beckons us not to seek out our wounding, because that will come readily enough in living humanly in the world, but rather to allow our wounds to draw us together for healing within and beyond the body of Christ, and for an end to the daily crucifixions that happen through all forms of violence. The crucified Christ challenges us to discern how our wounds will serve as doorways that lead us through our own pain and into a deeper relationship with the wounded world and with the Christ who is about the business of resurrection, for whom the wounds did not have the final word.

As Thomas reaches toward Christ, as he places his hand within the wound that Christ still bears, he is not merely grasping for concrete proof of the resurrection. He is entering into the very mystery of Christ, crossing into a new world that even now he can hardly see yet dares to move toward with the courage he has previously displayed.

As we move into this Easter season, how do we see the wounds of Christ in the wounds of the world? How might we be called to reach into those wounds—not to wallow in them, not to become overwhelmed by them, but to touch them and minister to them and help to turn them into doorways that draw us deeper into Christ?

In this season of resurrection, may you see the risen Christ all around you. May you be blessed in your seeing, and lean yourself into the new world that he offers to you.

P.S. For previous reflections on this passage, see Easter 2: Into the Wound and Easter 2: The Secret Room.

[To use the “Into the Wound” image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

Beckwith and Duffy references:

Sarah Beckwith, Christ’s Body: Identity, Culture, and Society in Late Medieval Writing (New York: Routledge, 1993), 60.

Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c. 1400-c. 1580 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 248.

A portion of this reflection has been adapted from Garden of Hollows: Entering the Mysteries of Lent & Easter © Jan L. Richardson.

Easter Sunday: Risen

April 20, 2011


Easter II © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Easter Sunday:
John 20.1-18 or Matthew 28.1-10

Easter Blessing

If you are looking
for a blessing,
do not linger
here.

Here
is only
emptiness,
a hollow,
a husk
where a blessing
used to be.

This blessing
was not content
in its confinement.

It could not abide
its isolation,
the unrelenting silence,
the pressing stench
of death.

So if it is
a blessing
that you seek,
open your own
mouth.

Fill your lungs
with the air
that this new
morning brings

and then
release it
with a cry.

Hear how the blessing
breaks forth
in your own voice

how your own lips
form every word
you never dreamed
to say.

See how the blessing
circles back again
wanting you to
repeat it
but louder

how it draws you
pulls you
sends you
to proclaim
its only word:

risen
risen
risen.

P.S. For a previous reflection on Easter Sunday, see Easter Sunday: Out of the Garden. I am also offering daily reflections throughout Holy Week at the Sanctuary of Women blog and would be delighted to have your company there as well. And if you haven’t seen the videos that Garrison Doles and I recently released for Lent and Easter, I welcome you to check them out here: Listening at the Cross and The Hours of Mary Magdalene. Know that I’m holding you in prayer throughout this Holy Week, and I wish you a joyous Easter!

[To use the “Easter II” image, please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]