sermon was preached
Reading: Mark 15:16-39
This evening we look at the last of our “Personalities of the Passion”
and I want to reflect briefly on the figure of St Veronica.
Which brings us back to St Veronica.
If you go to a Roman Catholic Church this week to a service of the Stations of the Cross, you will be told of 14 events on Christ’s journey to the cross.
One of these events is “St Veronica wipes the face of Jesus with her handkerchief”
There is no reference to Veronica in the four NT Gospels – so what are we to make of this tradition?
Well in a word, the vast majority of scholars are agreed that Veronica did not exist.
Which you might feel should be the end of a short sermon.
But of course – whilst preaching is rightly grounded in Scripture (and this week in the story of the journey to the cross), we do seek in many ways to draw on tradition, the insights of those who have reflected on scripture.
Those insights may take the form of theological reflection or topical sermons which seek to draw out the meaning of scripture for today.
They may also take the form of imaginative retelling or embellishing of the Bible Story.
And if you have ever sung “Away in a Manger” or “In the Bleak Midwinter” you will understand about the way artists can embellish the Biblical story, which of course contains neither lowing cattle or freezing snow…
The question is – Do we go too far if we make the non-existent St Veronica the basis of our reflection?
Jesus himself of course told stories about (as far as we are aware) fictional characters – Good Samaritans and prodigal Sons – as the basis of theological reflection.
So maybe we may do the same?
As long as we recognize what we are doing – and see the traditional embellishments as tools to help bring alive the Gospel story – then I guess we are OK.
So what is the story behind this elusive lady?
Well, in the world of the early Church there were circulating a number of likenesses or portraits of Christ, which were treated with veneration in different Churches.
But one image in particular was believed to have come from the Holy Land and to have particular authenticity. To distinguish it from the others it became known as the Vera Icon (The True Image).
In time Vera Icon became corrupted to Veronica.
From then it was just a matter of time before the sacred image of Christ connected with the name Veronica developed a legend about it – of a lady called Veronica who had mopped the brow of Christ on the way to the cross and received a miraculous imprint of his face on the cloth she used – the cloth which she then took to Rome to be venerated by the Church - the Vera Icon, the Veronica, the true image of our Lord.
This is not a part of the historical Scriptural record – but maybe food for reflection this Passiontide.
walked the way of the cross and stumbled and fell and wept and perspired –
he was alongside us in our need and suffering.
And if you are struggling or suffering, here is the good news –
Christ has come to share your trials and tribulations and to see you safe home.
And here is the challenge.
took a bowl and towel and washed the feet of his followers.
We are called to follow in his footsteps
or not St Veronica existed,
you and I exist
and we are called to wipe the brow of our sisters and brothers who stumble on life’s path.
called to go out and search for those in need, to lift the fallen,
to care for them and to wipe their brow, -
for there is something of God in each of them –
in serving them we serve Christ.
As Christ said, “Insomuch as you do it unto one of these my brothers, you do it unto me”
So in Holy Week of all weeks we affirm that the age of miracles is not over.
When we wipe the brow of the needy, we see the face of Christ