the one whom they have pierced through


What I am particularly intrigued by today is the image from the first reading, from the late prophet Zechariah: They shall look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only child.[1] In context, Zechariah is speaking about Jerusalem becoming a great conquering power––I will make of Jerusalem a cup of reeling, a heavy stone, I will make of Judah a blazing pot on a pile of wood––but it all seems to be mysteriously predicated on someone––this beloved firstborn––being pierced through. This has resonances with the Songs of the Suffering Servant in the prophet Isaiah, which we hear especially during Holy Week, and which in turn point us to Jesus. And sure enough, Saint John especially picks up this theme in his Gospel, and we hear this exact passage of scripture quoted at the crucifixion, after Jesus has died: One of the soldiers thrust a lance into his side and immediately blood and water poured out. And John says that This was to fulfill what had been spoken of in scripture: ‘They shall look on him whom they have pierced.’ [2]

To put that in context think about that beautiful canticle in Ezekiel 47: I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple; the water brought God’s life and his salvation.[3] In its original context, the prophet Ezekiel is having a vision of life-giving power pouring from a new Temple, to replace the Temple of Jerusalem that had been destroyed. But under Jesus everything gets relocated, including the Temple. Remember at the beginning of the Gospel of John when Jesus clears the Temple: When the Jews challenge him he says, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Of course they take him literally as if he were speaking about the building, but John lets us in on the secret and whispers to us, off to the side, somewhat parenthetically, he was speaking about the temple of his body.[4] So the Temple has been relocated: first it was a building, which had already gotten destroyed once. But according to Christianity, even the vision that Ezekiel has of the new Temple was not another one of brick and mortar, but a person in whom the fullness of the godhead dwelt bodily.[5] The life-giving power of God now dwells in that sanctuary, the sanctuary of Jesus’ body. So when we sing that phrase at Easter––I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple––, we are supposed to remember that soldier thrusting a lance into Jesus’ side and the blood and water that flowed out. This blood and water of course symbolize for us specifically Baptism and Eucharist, and the whole sacramental life of the church, but most of all the blood and water symbolize the very stuff, the very energy, of life flowing out of the pierced right side of the temple of Jesus’ body. They shall look on the one whom they have pierced through…

But it doesn’t stop there. St. Paul tells his readers that the temple gets relocated yet again, from the body of Jesus to our bodies––the 1st Letter to the Corinthians: Do you not know that ou are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple![6] In another place Paul says, The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Spirit living in us.[7] This is what Jesus came to establish––that the love of God would be poured into our hearts by his Spirit living in us, poured into the deepest part of our beings; that the human person, the human body, would be the dwelling place of God, the new temple. And this then is what it means to be church, like living stones let yourself be built into a spiritual house.[8] (Especially nice for us to be reminded of this again today, since yesterday­—June 18­­—we celebrated the anniversary of the dedication of our church. This is what it means to be a “church.”)

But that is still only the first step!

What I also noted was that the Lectionary skips over a whole bunch of verses in Chapter 12 of the Book of Zechariah about the day of mourning in Jerusalem…as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo, and the mourning of all the tribes and there wives, and presents us instead with this delicious line from the beginning of chapter 13: On that day, after they pierce the firstborn, a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem… The piercing and the fountain go together, just as the blood and water flowed from the pierced side of Jesus. And so in the Gospel passage from Luke that we heard today,[9] as soon as Jesus gets someone to articulate his glory––‘You are the Christ of God’––, Jesus himself contextualizes it by saying that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected––and you too must carry your cross if you are to share in my glory.

thAnd so for us, there are two movements to this. Once we recognize that this is inside of us, this living water, this life and salvation, then we realize that it comes with a responsibility: It is supposed to flow from out of us, from out of the side of the temple that is our beings. It’s not stagnant water! Bruno called this the “eucharistic energy” as opposed to the “baptismal energy.” The baptismal energy is realizing this love of God poured into our hearts. What is the eucharistic energy? I’ve quoted this thing from Nathan Mitchell so many times, but it applies here too: “If we come away from the table feeling fat, full, content, and satisfied”––and I want to add, “If we come away from our prayer or our meditation or our Yoga, or our za-zen (or one of Michael Fish’s retreats!) feeling fat, full, content, and satisfied––if we come away purring like cats, licking the last drop of cream from our whiskers––then we’ve missed the point. Because the point of the eucharistic meal [the point of all our spiritual practice] is not to leave the table sleek, sassy, and satisfied; the point is to leave hungry, troubled, dissatisfied. The point is to leave with a burr under the saddle, with a tickle in the throat, with a heart broken by the passion of God.”[10]

The point is for our hearts to be pierced. And that’s the second part––a heart broken by the passion of God. Our hearts need to be pierced, too, so that the blood and water flows out, so that a fountain is opened for the house of David, a fountain of love.

Someone reminded me of this little lesson about love recently: as Mary found out, love always comes with a sword to pierce the heart. Actually I’m not sure which comes first: do we love and that pierces our heart open, or do we pierce our heart open so that we can love? Maybe they are simultaneous movements. Another friend who was here recently was talking about his kids and I heard the poet David Whyte say much the same thing––so this is not just about romantic love: to be a parent, prepare to fall in love and have your heart broken. To follow Jesus prepare to walk down the street and fall in love with the poor and the lonely, just as Jesus looked out on the crowds and had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Or like the Buddha, who as soon as he reached enlightenment spent the rest of his life as a wandering monk teaching people how to overcome suffering. If we want the spiritual life we’ve gotta be ready to have our heart pierced and broken. But those are just the hearts that God seems to prefer: broken humbled hearts. Turn out hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.

If there’s any warning issued about the pitfalls of the contemplative life and the monastic way that I have heard across the board––from John Cassian to Teilhard de Chardin to the Bhagavad Gita––it’s about this. In Gandhi’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita he warns that the sannyasi life––the life of total withdrawal––is “beset with obstacles and is likely to encourage hypocrisy,” as the Gita itself warns, unless it goes hand in hand with ceaselessly working to “serve others… in a perfectly disinterested spirit.”[11] That’s why Cassian warns of the pax perniciosa–the pernicious peace, and Saint Benedict adds mutual obedience into the mix, always regarding others’ good over our own. And Teilhard’s suspicion too particularly of Eastern mysticism was that it could be too inward, too immanent. He thought that even the phrase “Communion with God” could be too other-worldy, if we see God and religion as exclusively transcendent, totally separate from the world. No, as St. Peter wrote, we are to become stones and a house, a temple out of which the love of God, the Holy Spirit, pours like a stream of life giving water, pours out like love, like charity, pours out as creativity and participation, and we become co-creators, participants in the divine nature![12]

But in order for that to take place––we have to be pierced, we have to be willing to be broken like the bread that we’ll offer in a moment until we become the bread. We have to take up our crosses and follow the Lord. If we wish to save our lives we’re going to have to lose them, give them away, let our hearts be pierced; but the promise is that if we lose our lives for Jesus’ sake––and allow our hearts to be pierced through––we’ll save them, and a fountain will flow from the house of David again.

[1] Zch 12:10.

[2] Jn 19:34.

[3] Ez 47:1ff.

[4] Jn 2:13–22.

[5] Col 3:3.

[6] 1 Cor 3:16-17.

[7] Rom 5:5.

[8] 1 Pt 2:5.

[9] Lk 918-24.

[10]Nathan Mitchell, “Remembering Assembly”, Pastoral Music, Oct-Nov 2000

[11] The Bhagavad Gita According to Gandhi, commentary on Chapter 5, 103.

[12] 2 Pt 1:4.

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