It was Palm Sunday of Our Lord's Passion some years ago. I had the opportunity to visit one of our major cities. Participating in the liturgy at the city’s famed cathedral was on my liturgical bucket list. I was not disappointed. It was an experience Egeria would have written about had she lived in our times.
As prescribed and not entirely different from what we are accustomed to in Minneapolis, we gathered in "another place" for the first part of the liturgy. After the proclamation of the Gospel we processed to the cathedral commemorating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. On our way to the cathedral we walked by large cardboard boxes. Blinded by the beauty of the liturgy I had not noticed these until I nearly tripped over a man who crawled out of one of them. Apparently the procession drew his attention, maybe even woke him up. His appearance caused me and my fellow Christians to make a quick circle around him and continue on our splendid liturgical way.
When we entered the Cathedral the true quality of the liturgy was revealed. The bishop himself was presiding flanked by auxiliary bishops and a throng of other clerics. The service was marked by exquisite music, beautiful vestments, countless candles, bellowing incense... a liturgist’s delight.
Though I had thoroughly enjoyed the liturgy, it was the man crawling out of the box who stuck with me. More than that, his face haunted me throughout Holy Week. I saw his face in the man whose feet I prepared to wash and in the woman who came forward to receive Holy Communion on Holy Thursday. I saw his face in the child who knelt down to kiss the wood of the cross on Good Friday. And I saw his face in the many people who were baptized and confirmed on Holy Saturday. In all of these faces, reflecting the many cultures gathered for worship I saw one face, the face of Jesus.
For centuries we have tried to figure out what Jesus looked like. Thousands upon thousands of artists have presented us with their depictions of Jesus. We have even tried to recreate a three dimensional visual of the face that is imprinted on the shrine of Turin. And, there he was, right before me climbing out of a cardboard box. And there he was having his feet washed by me. And there he was in the many, many faces comprising the Body of Christ.
It was indeed a splendid Easter celebration, that year, thanks to the glorious cathedral setting, the extra-ordinary music, the flawless liturgical choreography, and the inspiring preaching. Yet, above all, it was an eye-opening celebration because of the man who climbed out of his cardboard box and woke me out of my liturgical daze so I might see Him as He is.