On the first Sunday in Lent, I was walking down Bellaire carrying my Stations of the Cross art piece. It is a curious thing to see a priest carrying a piece of wood cut to loosely resemble Jesus’ bruised face being wiped off by the hand of Veronica.
The name Veronica comes from the Latin meaning “true image”-Vera Icon. My art piece is far from a true image. However, the poetry of “true image” combined with the face of Jesus piqued my imagination, particularly as I walked to church with the names of the seventeen people murdered at the high school in Florida on my mind. One victim, Cameron Schentrup, was Episcopalian and buried by my friend and classmate, the Rev. Mark Simms.
I am reading a Richard Dawkins’ book about genes and human creation, titled Rivers Out of Eden. What interests me about this book is the individuality of each of us, and our genetic combinations. We are the carriers of information that stretches back to the dawn of life. Each and every person is uniquely created and each of us is tethered to the other by our mutual creation. When we lose one life, we all lose a life that held the information of humanity since the beginning. The heritage of seventeen of us died on Ash Wednesday, which was also Valentine’s Day. The true image of love was destroyed when a young man tragically used an AR-15 to murder and injure innocent people.
The death of Jesus is also tragic. A man, condemned to a public death, whose only crime is the healing and feeding of people. Surprising things happen to Jesus as he walks to Calvary. One is this moment where Jesus is cared for by Veronica. A stranger in a crowd, moved to clean the face of Christ. She’s unaware of who Jesus is, all she knows is the impulse to care for the broken human in front of her.
Veronica is not in the Bible. The memory of her action comes much later in our Christian story. Her lack of mention does not lessen the importance of her act. Christian legend holds that the face of Jesus was imprinted on her cloth. Veronica’s action represents the truest Christian virtue. Each time we wipe the face of the broken, the image of Christ is imprinted on the fabric of our soul.
I am convinced that human kindness wins the day. Our empathetic ability continues to triumph as a tool of our mutual survival, otherwise we would have jettisoned it long ago. Veronica’s empathy does not spare the Lord, but it reveals a truth that violence is fleeting and empathy is divine. We can kill, but the vast majority of us willingly shun violence. The true image of us rejects the AR-15 and any tool that destroys the human family. The true image of us is moved to mutual care and love more than to mutual destruction. Each time we act with compassion the image of Jesus is engraved onto our souls.
-The Rev. Patrick J. Miller, Rector