The Good Friday passion narrative (John 18:1-19:42) proclaimed in many Christian churches today is familiar to most worshipers. However, the story that is missing from this version or any other account is one of the most touching scenes along the way of the cross: “Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.” This moving and tender act, the sixth station of the cross, is not reported in the bible. Most scholars agree it is a Medieval addendum. This omission does not mean it did not happen. Grieving for him, Veronica and other women of Jerusalem surely followed Jesus on his way to Golgotha. The name Veronica in Greek means “she who brings victory.” The derivation from Latin is “true image.” Both of these translations are valuable and can help us dwell on what Veronica did as we replay the passion story and “the victory of the cross.”
The cross was the end of the road for Jesus of Nazareth. His crucifixion, according to scholar Reginald Fuller, marked the “culmination of the intensely personal mission of Jesus as a whole.” Catholic doctrine holds that what we do in the name of Jesus is made possible because of what Jesus did for us. Fuller suggests that a good way to understand what is expected from Christians is to think of ourselves, as being so caught up in (“obedient to”) the life of Christ that we are compelled to carry out acts of mercy and tenderness as he did.
In his lifetime Jesus broke down the borders that prevented people from living with dignity. For this itinerant rabbi, all people, regardless of who they were, deserved to be treated equally. In doing so Jesus modeled a new way of living. To this day the cross is a powerful symbol of what Jesus of Nazareth lived and died for.
The COVID-19 virus has caused us to see in the deaths of others our own mortality. Elizabeth Palmer, an editor at Christian Century magazine wrote, “Being forced to envision our own mortality can strip us bare of all pretenses and reveal who we really are.” No matter how hard we try to go about daily affairs our lives and normal routines have been disrupted. We ask: how will some people ever survive this pandemic and bounce back? On this Good Friday we contemplate more emphatically what it means to bear not only our crosses but those that weigh down others.
Mindful of the origins of Veronica’s name we too reflect the “true image” of Christ. The cross stands in our midst not only as a reminder of what Jesus suffered. It also beckons us to grasp and carry it as many individuals, congregations and other groups have done. The cross continues to be a grim reminder that the task Jesus set out to do — to free people from the chains of captivity — is far from being accomplished. We’ve named these atrocities before but the list continues to grow. Who among us is ready to step up to wash the face of the earth clean of immoral acts?
What then do we do in a world ravaged by a pandemic, nativistic autocrats, immigration camps, prisons along borders, and, the lack of a health care safety net for all? The Coronavirus has exposed yet again societal and economic inequities. We are overwhelmed with unanticipated responsibilities for ourselves, families and neighbors and also for those who are more vulnerable than others. They include young children, parents, homeless and hungry people, unemployed personnel, prisoners, and so many others who do not have the means or abilities to survive the pandemic.
Just reading or hearing the passion today is not enough. The cross Jesus died on belongs to all of us. Veronica knew this. Like her name suggests we can be the true image of Christ. Together we can raise each other up. That is what Jesus died for.