From The Way of the Cross
Once more Jesus has been helped to his feet, in order that he may suffer to the end. Once more the cross has been put upon his shoulders and he struggles on, still dragging it up to the summit of Calvary.
All around him, filling his ears, filling his mind, half deafening him, the cries of the crowd break over him like the waves of a sea in storm, a sea in which it would seem impossible not to be drowned. They are cries of derision, of hatred, of disappointment, of despair, despair with a note of accusation against him; cries of contempt; cries which could, and would, drown the soul of any man who loved less than he loves, who knew less of human nature than he knows.
These people, who are disillusioned, disappointed, contemptuous, even these people who fear and hate him, are those whom he loves and who, when at last he has dragged the cross to the summit of the hill and been lifted upon it, will be drawn to him. And not only will they be drawn to him, but their children, and their children’s children, all through the generations to come: drawn to him not only because he is their king, and because his love is manifest in his dying for them – “This is the greatest love a man can show, that he should lay down his life for his friends,” (John 15:13) – but drawn to him too, because each one of them will discover themselves in him.
All through the ages to come men will turn to the crucifix, and each one will see himself and his own particular suffering in the suffering of Christ on the cross. They will see their own suffering in his, and laid upon him their own individual sins, and him, triumphant in his love, turning their suffering to their glory and redeeming their sins.
If, instead of the third fall at the foot of Calvary with all its seeming failure and shame, Christ had turned his back upon Calvary, healed his own wounds by a miracle, and vanquished his enemies, men would have feared him for all time, but they would not have loved him. But in his physical weakness as a human being, in his struggle to the cross and on the cross, Christ identified himself with all the weak and sinful men in the ages to come who would be healed by his wounds: “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men to me.”
But before he is nailed to the cross, Jesus gives us yet another overwhelming showing of his love, yet another proof of his identification with men in their bitterest humiliation: Jesus is stripped of his garments.
It is hard to bring oneself to reflect on this, yet it is necessary because of what every detail of this dreadful incident can mean to men today. With all the wounds on his body, the wounds of the scourging, of the falls on the way to Calvary, of the heaviness and the roughness of the cross on his shoulder, Christ’s garments must have been stiff with blood and adhering to his body. The soldiers would not have treated him tenderly, although there is no reason to suppose they were fundamentally cruel. They would undoubtedly have torn his clothes from him as quickly as they could and as roughly as they must. It would have been almost as if his skin was being torn off him.
There, exposed in his nakedness, he stood in front of the whole mob – and, which must have been far harder to bear, in front of those whom he loved, his mother; John, his chosen friend; Mary Magdalen, who washed his feet with her tears. He stood naked.
He was stripped there on the summit of Calvary not to reveal his sacred body in its perfection. He was the fairest of the sons of men; no other men had ever had, or ever would have, a body approaching his in perfection; but it was exposed to the world only when it was disfigured by wounds and bruises, only when it was exhausted and almost falling to the ground with weariness.
Again Christ identified himself with those whom he would indwell through all time.
He stood there naked in front of the world and in front of his Heavenly Father, identified with all those sinners who are found out, whose shame is made public, or, perhaps more terrible for them, shown to those whom they love and from whom, above all others, they would wish to keep it secret.
He stood there identified with the neurotic who wants to hide his secrets under the thin disguise of his neurosis, and whose secrets are torn from him by modern “scientific” treatment.
He stood there identified with the convert, either from sin or unbelief, who must tear off the long-established habits of sin and weakness as if he were tearing off his skin.
He stood there identified with everyone who loves, because everyone who loves must be known sooner or later as he is, without pretense, his soul stripped bare.
Not long ago Christ had revealed his glory upon a mountain. He had gone up with his disciples to Mount Tabor, and there shown them his splendor, clothed in garments of burning snow. Now he has gone up into a mountain again to reveal yet another glory that is his, the glory that he gives to sinful men in the hour that seems to them to be their hour of shame but which, when it is identified with him stripped naked upon Calvary, is an hour of splendor and redemption.
There in Christ is the sinner who is found out, the lover who is stripped of all pretense, the weak man who is known for what he is, the repentant murderer who pays the price of his sin willingly before the world, the child whose disgrace is known to the mother whom he wanted to make proud of him, the friend who is stripped of all pretense before the friend from whom he longed for respect.
There upon Calvary Christ’s love for the world is shown in its nakedness, his love for the sinner in its intensity.
What became of Christ’s garments, precious relics that they were, soaked with his blood, worn to his shape, to the shape of his body, the shape of his life and his labors? Today we have not so much as a thread that was woven into his garments, just as we have not even a shaving like a rose petal, picked up from the floor of Joseph’s workshop in Nazareth, let alone a chair or a table made by the Son of God.
“The soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took up his garments, which they divided into four shares, one share for each soldier. They took up his cloak, too, which was without seam, woven from the top throughout; so they said to one another, Better not to tear it; let us cast lots to decide whose it shall be. This was in fulfillment of the passage in scripture which says, “They divide my spoils among them; cast lots for my clothing,” (John 19:23-24).
We were meant to have more than relics of Christ. We were meant to have, and are meant to have, Christ himself. If his garments had been preserved, they would have been relics to draw pilgrims from all over the world, only to kneel in front of them, perhaps to kiss the reliquary that contained them. Christ meant something much more than that for us. Just as when he was stripped of his garments he put on the nakedness of our shame, we were meant by him to put him on like a garment, to put on the shape, the purity of his body; the shape of his labors, of his human nature; his sleeping and eating and journeying, his austerities and his delights in the good and beautiful things of creation.
We do not know the story of the soldier who won Christ’s seamless garment in the lottery. It is good to think that, even in that tragic hour on Calvary, those boys who were the Roman soldiers who crucified Christ were stayed by their sense of what was beautiful and good from destroying the cloak that was woven in one piece. Certainly the soldier who won it would never have destroyed it, he would have worn it himself. He who, without fault of his own, helped to crucify Christ was the first to “put on Christ,” to try to fit his own body to the shape of Christ – the forerunner of us all who must put on Christ, who must try to grow to his stature, to the shape of his labors, his purity, his majesty, his humanity: who must try – and this is the most profound and the most difficult thing of all – to grow towards the shape and pattern of his love, his love for men that accepted even their shame as if it were his own.
stripped of your garments,
give me the courage
and the humility
to be stripped before the world
of all pretense;
to show myself—
even to that one whom I love
and whose good opinion of me
is vital to my happiness—
just as I am,
stripped of everything
that could hide
the truth of my soul,
the trust of myself, from them.
your own courage,
which compelled you,
for love of me,
to stand on that hill of Calvary,
covered in wounds,
without comeliness whereby
we could know you.
Give me the courage
and the dignity and splendor
of your love,
to live openly,
even when there is that in my life
which shames me.
Give me the one glory
of those who are disgraced
and ashamed before the world:
to be stripped with you,
Jesus Christ my redeemer,