The Sixth Station: Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross
March 22, 2012 § 1 Comment
Every Friday night in the Taizé Community, a more or less life-sized iconic cross is removed from its stand and laid parallel to the ground upon a few cinder blocks. During the Community’s evening prayer, the brothers and any guests who are present (sometimes as many as 5000 people) gather around the cross in a shared gesture of remembrance and devotion. All are invited to approach the cross, kneel by it, and rest their forehead upon the painted wood for a moment of prayer. Unlike any Veneration of the Cross that I have experienced elsewhere, prayer around the cross in Taizé is unique in that it is inescapably communal: the iconic cross is large enough for up to eight people to gather around it at a time. To approach the cross is, quite literally, to approach others.
In the many Friday nights that I have shared in this incredible ritual, it is always the gritty, physical, human aspects of prayer around the cross that strike me most deeply. It is one thing to make a tidy genuflection before a far-away crucifix, and quite another to wait in a throng of thousands for the chance to wedge yourself, shoulder to shoulder, into a circle of eight strangers, elbowing your way forward to find a spare corner of cross upon which to lay your head. Tears flow freely, murmured prayers in dozens of different languages are audible to all; to venerate the cross in Taizé is hardly a private devotional practice. I have often been struck by the impression that the wood of the iconic cross serves as a conduit, binding together all those gathered around it, uniting them not only in physical presence, but also in an invisible bond of prayer. Although it has been four years since I was last in Taizé, the memories of those Friday nights remain burned into my consciousness. I cannot think of Good Friday without thinking of the fleeting but profound community created around that cross or the explanatory words of one of the brothers: “the closer we come to Christ, the closer we come to one another.”
Death, as horrific as it can be, has extraordinary power to bring people together. It is by no means inevitable that the tragic rupture of death creates and builds up community, but the opportunity is always there, even if it is not always lived out. We can see it, perhaps, in our own encounters with death, in the gatherings of family, friends, and sometimes strangers around sickbeds and at memorial services. We can see it, too in the story of Christ’s Passion, where the birthing of community happens even at the foot of the cross:
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” (John 19:26-27)
As we move closer and closer to Holy Week, may we find ourselves swept up – together – in the great mystery of life and death. May we be given hearts wide enough and imaginations broad enough to fathom the community into which we are being called as we approach the Cross, and may we strive to welcome each other with delight and with awe.
– Kristin Saylor