I am not sure how many of you have been to the Roman Catholic pilgrim church of Triberg—I mean that little German village in the middle part of the Black Forest. My wife and child and I have returned to Freiburg from a bit of a trek—facilitated by a train here and there—to Triberg. And although we did buy a clock or two, the church was the first thing we went to see, climbing endlessly uphill with sleeping baby and empty stroller.
Thankfully, the church was open to pilgrims, and we were able to go inside to pray and reflect a bit (a Friday). The impressive interior seemed a tad rococo or late baroque to me—lots of gold ornament contrasting with the rustic wood pews, statuary of various saints overlooking us in relatively vivid color, a magnificent altar. Overwhelming, especially when the interior quiet was contrasted to the invasive blurtings of modernity staggering in from outside (I mean car and motorcycle noises, but the description includes us, alas, with our halting high German).
Then my wife whispered: there is a skeletal girl behind glass to the side and in front of the altar. Yes—Serena, reclining like a Roman matron on her couch, resting her head on a hand (if I recall correctly) and holding what I think was a goblet in the other hand: she was a martyr to the Virgin, wearing what seemed to me to be an extremely ornate dress. And yes, she was skeletal, though what remained of her mundane body was discreetly outside plain view.
We were impressed indeed, even intimidated. Imagine human remains on display at your local parish church: Saint Q...could it happen? Would it “fit”? Not just a knuckle or part of the skull (though go ahead and imagine that if you can) but the whole body. Would your congregation file in weekly before the saint’s remains, kneeling, say, only a few feet away for Holy Eucharist? Mind you, this church is still in use; there is a congregation doing just that.
What manner of Christianity, what parish spirituality supports or would support such a display of a saint’s remains? It is worth thinking about. We are a notoriously corporeal religion, from our emphasis on bodily resurrection to the weekly Eucharist. We are given to know Christ in the flesh—and what about this flesh, the saint’s bones displayed? Might the Spirit work in a congregation through that display to not merely remind them of death, but of life, the life that they are to live even now, already?
Well, what about it? I can picture an angel saying something like “If this could not move you to return to your Father, what would? This is not violent, but only the naturally appointed end awaiting all brought out of hiding into plain view.” Why am I repelled? What am I hiding in the interest of propriety and tidiness that needs to be brought to plain view if I am to return to our Father? And what about you?