Sunday, April 9, 2017

Spirituality: “Christ on a Donkey” By Henri Nouwen

I went to the museum to spend some quiet time with Christus auf Palmesel (Christ on a Donkey). This fourteenth-century sculpture originally comes from Niederoweil, a small town close to Breisach on the Rhine. It was made to be pulled on a cart in the Palm Sunday procession …

Christ’s long slender face with a high forehead, inward-looking eyes, long hair, and a small forked beard expresses the mystery of his suffering in a way that holds me spellbound. As he rides into Jerusalem surrounded by people shouting “hosanna,” “cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in his path” (Matthew 21:8), Jesus appears completely concentrated on something else. He does not look at the excited crowd. He does not wave. He sees beyond all the noise and movement to what is ahead of him: an agonizing journey of betrayal, torture, crucifixion, and death. His unfocused eyes see what nobody around him can see; his high forehead reflects a knowledge of things to come far beyond anyone’s understanding.

There is melancholy but also peaceful acceptance. There is insight into the fickleness of the human heart, but also immense compassion. There is a deep awareness of the unspeakable pain to be suffered, but also the strong determination to do God’s will. Above all, there is love, an endless, deep, and far-reaching love born from an unspeakable intimacy with God and reaching out to all people, wherever they are, were, or will be. There is nothing that he does not fully know. There is nobody whom he does not fully love.

Every time I look at this Christ on a donkey, I am reminded again that I am seen by him with all my sins, guilt, and shame and loved with all his forgiveness, mercy, and compassion.

Source: Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak, as quote in Henri J. M. Nouwen, Eternal Seasons: A Spiritual Journey Through the Church’s Year, edited by Michael Ford, pp. 126-127.