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We have probably been obsessed with personal beauty from the beginning. But it is in nature that we see the most ravishing beauty to which we cannot compare. Except for one person - and then we shall be speaking rather about the beauty of the person. There is a difference. Our word for person comes from the Latin persona - the word for the mask an actor wore. And that might still hold for ourselves if we feel that we must put on an outward show, which we are all tempted to do at one time or another. But in our best moments we would also feel that to be a real person is something that we all desire to aspire to. We are learning today just how complex we are as people. To be a person is to be capable of selfess love, of compassion without bounds, a wondrous, unitive creature; enabled in mind and responsive body to transcend and to mirror what is beyond oneself. A spiritual body capable of creative action, receptive to the presence and being of others and yet, ultimately, totally vulnerable.
That one person is of course Jesus. Perhaps for too long, over the course of history and many, many brutalising controversies over the person of Jesus, to be enshrined in dogmas, as in stone, Jesus' beauty has become forgotten. The great poetry of Isaiah's servant songs has often deceived us - "... he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." (Isaiah 53:2) Applied to Jesus at the moment when, as in Hamlet, the mortal coil has been shuffled off, is even then to ignore both the fact of the beauty of his person during his ministry and also the witness of Paul that
'... though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.' (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)
If there is one thing that should always and at all times be uppermost in the lives of Christians, it is this fact of the astonishing beauty of that new creation of God in the risen Lord. To do so is not to be avoiding the catastrophes and terror in the lives of so many people but to be intent on perhaps making it possible for the reflection of his beauty to be made available to others. The human person has the capacity for sensing the presence of those who are not physically present. We belong to one another - 'no man is an island'. This sounds strange but there are dimensions of human life beyond the small and narrow circles of daily life in which we are normally engaged.
This time of year has always, for Christians, a sense of the extraordinary events that happened in Jerusalem in that week before Passover. But it is possible, right from the start of this commemoration, to be always renewing our sense of the new creation of the risen Lord, so that there is no break in our lives from that crucial moment when we ourselves believed in his divine beauty, right up to each new day and each new moment. Then we shall be more aware of the extraordinary 'beauty' of the years before his death. He is that flower of humankind before whom the most ravishing beauty of plant or human pales into insignificance except in relationship with him.
In the words of the Hebrew poet -
The voice of my beloved!
My beloved is like a gazelle ...
Look, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows ...
My beloved speaks, and says to me:
'Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past ...
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come ...
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away ...
let me see your face,
let me hear your voice ...'
© Aelred Arnesen
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© Aelred Arnesen