"Then our good lord Jesus Christ asked: "Are you well satisfied that I suffered for you?" I said, "Yes, good lord, all thanks to you. Yes, good lord, blessed may you be!" Then said Jesus, our kind lord: "If you are satisfied, I am satisfied. It is a joy, a bliss, an endless delight to me that I ever suffered passion for you; and if I might suffer more, I would suffer more." (Chapter 22)
There are few things I love better than to hear of people's experiences with God. One of my friends has shared with me that through the last several years of her life, while she has been going through difficult times, Jesus has shown up and sat on her bed just so she knows she's not alone. I believe her story; I slow down to imagine what it must be like to have Jesus come and sit on my bed. It's a comfort to me to know that God cares enough about my friend to manifest Himself to her in this way.
One of the gifts that Julian of Norwich brings to her readers is her direct experience with God. In Chapters 22-24, Jesus aks Julian if she has seen and been satisfied by His suffering for her as shown in the previous visions. When she replies in the affirmative, He is delighted. If she is able to truly understand the depth of His passion, she will be able to grasp the extent of His love! What catches me is that there is no desire to make Julian feel guilty by revealing the magnitude of the pain and travail that have been endured on her behalf. Rather, like a child who has spent the whole day crafting a special card for his mother, Jesus is eager to have something to present which shows the immensity of His deep love.
In our culture, a lover does not have to go through a fiery ordeal to win the hand of his beloved. We've left jousting and duels behind us. Kingly fathers do not ask for great deeds to prove devotion of would-be suitors. In this season of "the Bachelor," all that was required of the groom was that he be open to connecting with one of the ladies on the show, not that he scale a mountain, or collect a rare bottle of perfume, or retrieve a golden apple guarded by mythical creatures.
I wonder if we're left the poorer without these stories of heroic suffering, of the means and the proof of showing powerful love. If they were more a part of our collective experiences, it might be easier grasp what Jesus is talking about. I want to believe that I'm deeply loved in this way. I want to understand the cross in these terms and to tie into the joyful bliss of Christ who takes on himself the suffering and sorrow that tugs at my life, and presents it, like a trophy, at my feet. But I have to admit, it's hard to get my head (or my heart) around this.
Still, this is Julian's experience and so I'm sitting with it, pondering...and open. Because it seems that Jesus strongly desires this for each of us-as much for His delight as for mine.
"The dear-worthy blood of our Lord Jesus Christ is as truly most plenteous as it is truly most precious...The precious plenty of his dear-worthy blood overflows all the earth and is ready to wash away the sins of all creatures that are of good will, have been, and shall be." (Chapter 12)
Three weeks from today we celebrate Good Friday, one of the holiest days in the Christian church calendar. Thanks to artist renditions and film directors' efforts over the years, the sight of the bloody face of Jesus is not unfamliar to many of us. Yet, it is is still discomfitting to come in Julian of Norwich's writings to her visions of Christ in his crucifixion, his body and face covered and dripping with "plenteous" blood. The blood of Christ as a theological concept is one that I'm comfortable with, but Julian requested to see Christ in his passion, and several of her visions are physically graphic.
In this vision, Julian is amazed at the quantity of the blood that flows from the body of her lord. There is so much of it that she imagines, were it real, it would soak the bed in which she is lying. It is so plenteous it "descended down into hell and burst its bonds", delivering all there which belong to the courts of heaven. It overflows the earth, and flows in all the heavens as well.
Julian's description of blood sounds floodlike. My oldest daughter responded to the frequent rain we've had this spring with an insightful post on her facebook page. Rain can be annoying, uncomfortable, depressing, but it is equally life-giving, refreshing, and nourishing. These constant rains are a powerful picture God at work in her life. Having just returned from Ireland (the Green Isle) she longs to be as verdant and vibrant as this land of continual rain. Let the rain flow, she says, to cleanse and bring new life and nourishment.
As I contemplate Julian's picture of the blood of Christ, I'm drawn to similar words - those of cleansing and nourishment. But how does that "really" happen? How does a phrase which has inspired multitudinous hymns (Power in the Blood, Nothing but the Blood, etc) move from metaphor to one's own lives? Lately I've been thinking of it like this: Blood is a symbol of life - the Old Testament writer states "the life is in the blood." And the giving of one's life is the greatest symbol of love that we have. Jesus says to his disciples right before He dies, that there is no greater love than that a man lay down his life for his friends. So in this mathematical equation blood=life=love.
In a graphic way, Jesus showed humankind the extent of God's love through giving his life fully and freely. This love is "plenteous," continuing to flow to us today, accessible at any and every moment. God's love offers cleansing (forgiveness) by taking the consequences of the things that we've done and promising to make things right, healing and restoring all who walk in the path of love, and ultimately all of creation. It also brings us nourishment (power) so we can have all we need to live a life of "godliness"-full of beauty, truth and love. Do we need forgiveness? It is readily accessible. Do we need power? It is ours for the asking. The rain is falling; the blood is flowing. Love is plenteous, given by a God who desires us to live. Fully. Freely. Every day. Forever.
Have you ever been in the dilemma where what you want to give and what the receiver needs are at odds? I often go shopping with a friend of mine who loves to buy clothes for her family members. The problem is that her taste and the taste of the giftees don't always match. There may be satisfaction as my friend buys something that she imagines will look wonderful on the recipient, but in reality, the gift will only be exchanged or put in a drawer until it finds its way to the Salvation Army drop off bin.
So what to do? For instance, as this Christmas rolls around, I find myself reluctant to be giving the gift of independence to my adult daughters. Are they really sure that they wouldn't prefer me to give them advice, for instance, or a lovely evening at home? The gift of independence may be delightful for them, but it leaves me feeling rather hollow. Yet if I love them, I know that I need to give them this gift; it allows them to become the healthy adults that I desire them to be. And I'm wise enough to know that if I don't choose to give the gift, independence will be wrested away from me anyway, resulting in broken edges and scars that bring their own pain.
In the midst of Advent, I find myself pushing the story forward to the Atonement, the real reason that Jesus came to earth. In some mysterious way, the death of a perfect human, who was also God with us (Emmanuel) was the gift we needed if we were to be able to experience a full and joyful life. But even Jesus, who willingly chose to come to earth for this exact purpose, realized that there was a personal cost to giving this gift. I think that's what we see happening in the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus struggles through the physical and emotional pain he was going to incur on the cross.
I cannot in any way plumb even the first few feet of what this sacrificial giving cost the the Savior. But when I am open to giving gifts that seem to have no benefit to me, or are painful, or strip me of the comforts that I want, I think I am putting my toes in the ocean of God's willingness to love me at any cost.