From her early years, Julian of Norwich had a burning desire:
to have been present at that time [of the crucifixion] with Mary Magdalene and with others who were Christ’s lovers that I might have seen bodily the passion that our lord suffered for me, that I might have suffered with him as others did who loved him. She had hoped that if she received a vision of Christ during his crucifixion, the reality of his bodily pains would become so physical, so visceral, so immediate that she could experience them as fully as if she had been standing in front of Christ on the cross, next to Mary, his Mother, and Magdalene, and the “others who were Christ’s lovers.” She wanted to be a living figure in the scene of the crucifixion. When Julian was herself near-death at the age of thirty, she received extraordinary visions of Christ on the cross in sixteen Revelations.
As we approach Holy Week, perhaps it would be of benefit to meditate on Julian’s own personal experience of watching Christ endure his passion. Julian does not spare us any aspect of what she saw. This is perhaps the most graphic account of the crucifixion in medieval literature. It is filled with details that remained indelibly imprinted in Julian’s memory as a result of her keen observation. There was the inexorable “drying” of the body, the enlarging of the wounds in the hands due to the great sagging of the body, with hair clinging to the flesh and thorns, and the thorns mingled with flesh and hair, all caked with dried blood. Most of all, Julian was struck by the endless flow of blood from Christ’s body. This moved her deeply:
For it is most plenteous, as it is most precious, and that by the virtue of the blessed godhead. And it is our own nature, and all blissfully overflows onto us by the virtue of his precious love. The dearworthy blood of our lord Jesus Christ, as truly as it is most precious, so truly is it most plenteous.
The Blood of Christ
Julian envisions the outpouring of Christ’s blood on the cross as “plenteous” and “precious,” precisely because it is the boundless blood of the Son of God. It is also “our own nature” because it is very human blood, just like ours. And as precious as it is, so is it plenteous, sufficient to cleanse every sin, if only humankind will allow itself to be purified by it.
Behold and see the virtue of this precious plenty of his dearworthy blood! It descended down into hell and burst their bonds and delivered them, all who were there who belong to the court of heaven. The precious plenty of his dearworthy blood overflows all the earth, and is ready to wash all creatures of sinne who are of good will, have been, and shall be. The precious plenty of his dearworthy blood ascends up into heaven in the blessed body of our lord Jesus Christ, and there is in him, bleeding, praying for us to the father, and is and shall be as long as we need.
Having watched Christ's suffering, Julian confessed she was at a loss to say what it was actually like to watch Christ die. She could write only that, “The shewing of Christ’s pains filled me full of pains.” She knew that Christ suffered “once for all” (Heb 10:10), but she also believed Christ showed it to her “as if” she had been there, so that he could “fill me with mind [of the passion], as I had before desired.”
Mind of the Passion
May we, with Julian, watch and pray before Christ on the cross during these final weeks of Lent, in compassionate union with those who are “Christ’s lovers” throughout the world. May we be filled with the "mind of the passion," and realize that all the suffering peoples on earth have an intimate share in Christ’s passion, as we do ourselves. And may we fully expect that these sufferings will be turned into Christ’s own resurrected glory on Easter morning.
PLEASE NOTE: The quotations above are from Julian's Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books), Copyright © 2013 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied or reprinted without the written permission of the author.
All text copyrighted © 2013-2018 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. No copying or reprints allowed without the express permission of the Author.