Art | Poetry | Theology & Spirituality

A COVID Via Dolorosa

This year, our loneliness deeply resonates with the forsaken Christ. But take heart! Resurrection is coming.

It is the forsakenness of it all.

Long before that piercing cry,
Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,
long before that God-forsakenness on the cross,
Jesus is forsaken on the Via Dolorosa.

Here on that road of sorrow,
he is devastatingly alone.

No one leading him out.
No jeering crowds.
No virus-carrying spittle.
No bloodthirsty mobs.
No mocking soldiers.
No politicians inciting a riot.
No one washing their hands of any responsibility.

No one to bear witness.
No one shaking their heads in horror.

The streets are empty in James B. Janknegt’s
portrayal of Jesus carrying his cross.

Where are the daughters of Jerusalem,
wailing and beating their breasts?
Where is his mother, or Magdalene, or the other women?
Not even his most beloved disciple is in the picture.

A black Christ carries his own lynching tree,
but this is no white supremacist rally,
neither the Proud Boys nor the QAnon devotees
have shown up.

Alone.
Forsaken.
A Via Dolorosa for a pandemic.
The streets are empty.
How lonely sits the city
that was once full of people.

Under an ominous sky,
perhaps a portent of what is to come,
when the sun would refuse to shine,
the lonely Jesus is walking out of the frame.

The longer I look, the deeper the disquiet,
and an anxious foreboding takes hold of my soul.

All of creation is about to grieve in darkness,
the very earth is about to be shaken to its core,
but there is no one there.

Apart from this desolate man on a death march,
there is nothing animate in this cityscape.

Not a tree to be found,
nor so much as a blade of grass
No animals,
not even a rat.
No birds of the air,
even the starlings have disappeared

Jesus walks down a city street,
devoid of even a few stones on the side of the road.
There will be no crying out on this lonely parade.
Neither loud “hosannas” nor screams of “crucify him!”

At this moment of utter abandonment,
shattering betrayal, and heart-breaking denial,
Jesus walks to the cross without witnesses.

Save two.

The city itself,
and us.

The city bears witness.

From the neo-classical dome with echoes
of the Capitol in Washington,
to the corporate skyscrapers,
the city bears witness.

Jesus didn’t grab a slurpy at 7-Eleven,
nor a Big Mac at McDonald’s.
Carrying his cross, he had no need to get a fill up at Shell,
and it is too late in the game to drop into
Target or Walmart for some retail therapy.

And the World Bank has nothing to offer,
no assistance to extend,
to this forsaken man carrying a cross.

Is that a church that we see just behind Jesus?
But it too is empty.
There is no one to come outside to see their saviour,
no one to offer him a drink of water,
no one to weep for him.
The church is as empty and as lonely as the city.

The city bears mute witness,
but there is no one there.
Nor is there even anywhere for people to live.
This is a cityscape of institutions of commerce,
government and religion,
but it is not a place of human habitation.
No houses or condo buildings,
not even a tent encampment for the homeless.

No one is there . . . except us.

Standing outside of the frame,
holding this Easter issue of Christian Courier,
meditating on this evocative painting,
we are called to bear witness
to this forsakenness.

Maybe after a year of such isolation,
in the wake of so much death,
with grief-filled tears still flowing,
with eyes opened anew to the forces of death,
we can join the procession.

Maybe for the first time our own loneliness
can deeply resonate with the forsakenness of this Christ.

And maybe beyond that ominous sky
we can catch a glimpse
of the shell-pink dawn of resurrection.

Maybe beyond that city of death
we can imagine a new city,
with streets for living in,
a treed city with living waters,
a city of renewed joy.

Maybe beyond the loneliness of this city,
the breathlessness of this pandemic,
the forsakenness of this man,
we can breathe again the breath of new creation,
gathering together at the resurrection party.

  • Brian Walsh is a retired campus pastor and the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community in Toronto. His most recent book, with Sylvia Keesmaat, is Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice (Brazos).

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