He carried a seamless robe.
It was a thing of delicate beauty and of great craftsmanship, robust and at the same time light, woven in one piece from top to bottom; like the robe a high priest would wear as he went about his duties.
Like everything else, it would be taken from him.
Freshly made, it billowed from the loom as it was released, completed. The freshness and the newness of it made you want to bury yourself in its folds. Or else just put it on. The fingers that spun it, the hands that made it, held together in satisfaction of a job well done. For things crafted have a lasting value: but one that is easily squandered. Mass production leaves little space for the tiny detail that makes this thing this and that thing that. Or it is just plain compromised by cheap labour and the lust to possess everything.
Laundered and hung out to dry it drifted in the breeze like a flag.
But there was no breeze that day. The air seemed to hang in the sky like a great, leaden weight; like the yellowing clouds of smog that stain our own cities. Somewhere a fire was crackling. Dogs barked. Children cried out in fear or stared in bemused amazement.
His sweat and blood stained the cloth. It clung to him, and where he had been lashed, the fibres of the material stuck to the congealing wounds.
Around the hem, where the stitching was plain to see, the material was starting to fray. Something was unravelling, becoming undone.
And on another day, in another crowd, one would reach out to touch this hem. Not to admire its beauty, or measure the quality of the cloth, but to come as close as one could to touching the man; to feel his pulse and know the energy of his life. And even in a crowd, with hundreds jostling around him, clamouring for attention, he would cry out, ‘Who touched me?’, as if this were something obvious. But he could tell. He could be pressed in on every side and still discern each touch. You see, there are no crowds for him, only people, each one a thing of beauty, each one delicately and unrepeatedly distinct. He sees each face, knows each name, feels each touch and knows its meaning.
What do you want me to do for you …
Unless I wash you, you have no share with me …
Soon there will be rough hands upon him, uncomprehending and uncaring. No one dies with their clothes on. And if it wasn’t so lovely they would have torn it off him, as though they were raping him, but it was too costly, too comely. So suddenly they were gentle. This thing could make them a few pounds, or keep them warm, or spruce them up, or give them something to brag about. They rolled it carefully over his head. They gave this robe a dignity that they did not give to him, for he was a thing despised and a thing rejected. It stung as the cloth pulled against the wounds, and then they held it to themselves smiling, triumphant. And he was left naked. And now they did not look away. They exposed him. They smirked at him and they held him to the beam of the cross ready to secure him.
And when he was nailed there, and when he had been lifted up, and when the final cycle of the struggle towards dying had commenced they crouched at the foot of the cross and spun their dice, gambling to see which one of them would have it, this seamless robe, this last uncovering.
And he carried the seamless purposes of God: that was what he was carrying at this moment, though exhaustion and terror and the raw, uncomplicated torment of dying meant that he did not need to know he was carrying it, he just had to do it. He had arrived at a point where there were no choices left, except the one to utter words of gentle forgiveness to those who ducked and dealt, for they too were being woven into the tapestry of God’s story. A seamless purpose: his birth, his life, the slow unfolding of vocation, the chill awakening of his baptism, the pleading in the garden for another way, and now this, his dying, all part of an unfolding hope and a glory that was present in the heart of God before the world was made. Now planted in his heart, turning slowly towards completion, the hour of reckoning, and as the strange eclipsing darkness gathers, the beckoning of a new dawn, a new heaven and a new earth. God’s work of redeeming planted in our hearts. Those words of forgiveness spoken to us. Father forgive them, they don’t know what they do.
Hold the most beautiful piece of cloth you can find. Imagine who made it and how it was made. Admire and cherish the intricacies of each stitch.
If you are in a group, either get everyone to bring in a piece of cloth, each person showing and sharing what they have brought, or pass around one piece.
If you are on your own, hold the cloth and think about it.