Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday, The Suffering Servant and The Saint John's Bible

Today, Good Friday, I awoke thinking about the passage in Isaiah commonly called "The Suffering Servant." It is a long passage, so here is just an excerpt:

He was spurned and avoided by people,
a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity,
one of those from whom people hide their faces,
spurned, and we held him in no esteem.
Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,
our sufferings that he endured,
while we thought of him as stricken,
as one smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins;
upon him was the chastisement
that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep,
each following his own way;
but the LORD laid upon him
the guilt of us all.

For the full passage, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, which is the first reading for liturgy today, click here.
When I think about this passage, I always think of the illumination in The Saint John's Bible that accompanies it, by Donald Jackson (above).
I first saw it in a slide presentation at Saint John's University, and immediately when it was flashed on the screen, I thought-- that's the Door of No Return! The abstract bars that hold in the suffering servant looked to me so much like the door of no return in Accra, Ghana, the door through which slaves passed to board ships for America.
The image of the suffering servant in this illumination is based on starvation victims in Africa, not slaves, but for me, slavery is an apt association with this story. In fact, Holy Week has had me thinking about slavery and the general mistreatment of Africans and African-Americans in this country. After hearing the Passion story last Sunday, all I could think about was lynching. And what a horrible time it must have been to live in a country where lynching was going on regularly. Innocent people hung from trees by angry mobs. I am worried about the potential for violence, politically-motivated and racist violence, in our current society. But nothing can really compare to those decades of violence in the mid-20th century, in America and abroad.
There is still much suffering by innocents-- victims of terrorism, ongoing slave trade and mistreatment of children throughout the world.
That is a heavy burden we place on our God.

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