Saturday, April 11, 2009

Alexamenos Sabete Theon

Don't ever forget this picture. Don't ever forget that this is the very first piece of Christian art, a taunt, graffiti, a mockery. "Alexamenos sabete theon," it says, "Alexamenos worships his God." Probably from 1st century AD, a playground bully makes fun of little Alexamenos for worshiping a crucified God. What could be more ridiculous? He is right. It is quite ridiculous. Nor should we ever forget.

But it is not only this picture that we should never forget. We shouldn't forget Alexamenos. He, a little boy, does better than all the Apostles except for John. He remains at the feet of Christ. In his daily life, in the playground. He was not willing to deny his God in a Roman playground. He held firm.

We must learn from him. We must do better than the Apostles. Let me repeat. We must do better than the Apostles. Jesus continues to look down from his cross. He looks down and he sees abortion, murder along the border of Juarez and around the world, starvation. He sees his people on the cross. But as he looks from the cross with these people, does he see us with him? Have all his apostles fled? Did they all opt for the easier option? Suburban Christianity, easy Catholicism? Did they opt for compromise instead? Have we fled the cross? Or will we stand there and remain at Christ's feet, no matter how that looks, what that means for us?

We must do better than the Apostles. We must; the world depends on it. We must imitate, not Peter but Alexamenos. In his playground, he stood firm. Will I stand firm. Or will the sufferers of this world look down from their crosses and see none of use standing there beneath, waiting, weeping, loving, taking them down from the cross when their ghosts have expired. Most of us experience Good Friday and Holy Saturday only once a year. They experience it every day of the year. The tabernacle is empty. God is dead and gone. And so we must bring him there, into their lives, into the empty tabernacle of the world that does not even realize that he is gone, does not realize that the sacramental presence of God has been stripped from its altars, and what is left are Nietzschean sepulchres.

Let us not forget this picture. It is what our Christian lives are all about.

"This crown, my Lord, a token
no, more, my self-will broken
and surrendered to your kingly grace."
Mockery? Yes, and No, as they recall
my words, tumbling rashly, mixed with gall
and thrown into his face.

Did I know, young squire; desiring only his lance
to carry; a young James or John seeking to enhance
his position with the king?
No I, pride-ruled, my will in hand
heeding not my Master's meek command
fixed on his brow this ring.

Now I watch; seems no victor's wreath
this band of torture, piercing crown beneath
Ah, now wrenched free
these tears, shed, bled in water dyed red
where he is mixed with me. And I? I bend low and kiss this noble head.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

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