Saturday, March 22, 2008

nudus nudum

I ran into the famous aphorism of St Jerome again recently: nudus nudum Jesum sequi––“Naked, we follow the naked Jesus.” He was speaking of evangelical poverty, though sometimes the meaning is extended to include going beyond images in prayer and the purification of our faculties, but it struck me in another way in relation to the Passion of Jesus. As Spidlik explains, in Scripture and the rabbinic tradition being deprived of one’s clothes is a sign of loss of identity, or of freedom being taken away; it is usually applied to captives, slaves, prostitutes, the demented, as well as to the dead who were buried naked.

We often note the parallels between the gardens of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection and the Garden of Eden, the story of Adam and Eve. Here’s one of them: Adam and Eve were “naked and without shame,” the story tells us, with no reason not to trust the benevolence of God or the Universe that surrounded them; on the other hand here is Jesus, surrounded by malignant forces, with every reason not to trust, and yet totally exposed and vulnerable, somehow trusting that even death could not destroy his real self.

There is a moment in the reading of the Passion, at the mention of Jesus’ death, when we pause and kneel, and it has always seemed to me to be the most profound silence of the year––the whole world is quiet for a moment while we chew on this greatest of all mysteries––death. And in that moment, and throughout this celebration, we are challenged to face it, and to trust that our real selves, hidden with Christ in God, can never be destroyed if nudus nudum Jesum sequi––if “naked, we follow the naked Jesus.”