Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on us. Jesus, bearer of our sins, have mercy on us. Jesus, redeemer of the world, grant us Your peace.
It’s a simple prayer that I probably find myself saying (or singing) at least twice per week, as part of Saturday evening Mass which I’ve started attending and as part of Sunday morning Mass, although there are times when I get to sing it in Latin. Often they’re just words; often when I’m singing them, I’m concentrating on singing techniques, or the sound I’m making, or the mistake I just made, or the death stares the choir are getting, or the difficulty of holding my trembling hands still for long enough to read the notes on the page. Sometimes familiarity and distraction breed complacency, and oblivion.
Not the other day though. When my head exploded and, through tears and saliva and sweat and the painful pressure of my sobbing, I found myself murmuring the words of the Agnus Dei – there was nothing familiar about those words. Nothing complacent, nothing sanguine.
Jesus, bearer of our sins. The sin here is not mine: my sins in this were committed in the name of survival, and I am learning to forgive myself for them. There is no sin in victimhood, or survival. There is no sin in the grief I carry, in how hard life is. There is no sin in my struggles to care for myself and others in the darkness of what I face. But there is sin, in the hellish actions of another which separated me from safety, from love, from God. There is sin in the scars – both literal and metaphorical – that I carry, on my body and in my soul. There is sin in the darkness of flashbacks, in the mindless terror of panic attacks, in my desperate attempts to hold myself together when what I really need is to acknowledge that I’m a little bit broken at the moment. Not because I’ve done something wrong, but because sin is what blinds us to the Force of love.
Jesus, bearer of our sins. How can I describe the way in which the sin – the human darkness, the suffering, the fear, the scars – that I bear is drawn into God’s very own being through the reality of that prayer? The way in which that human darkness is welcomed into the light of God; that pain is carried gently, as though it’s important, precious, to be nurtured and cherished, and honoured. The way in which the heaviest thing I carry, my bleakest reality, my greatest pain, is accepted deep into the heart of the Source of the compassion of the world, the Author of light and dark, the Sustainer of my very being.
It doesn’t take the pain away; it’s not an anaesthetic, not a tranquilliser. That the Ground of our life bears our sins does not mean that we ourselves don’t bear them, or their consequences. What it does mean though is that those sins are borne in and through the Origin of us all. Darkness is borne in light; pain is borne in compassion and love.
It’s shit, but God’s with me in the shit. And I can live with that.