The First Station: Jesus Is Condemned to Death
March 6, 2014 § 1 Comment
Yesterday, I went to church in the afternoon. I usually love Ash
Wednesday–thinking about life and death and preparing for this holy
season–I like the order and ritual of it all. I like nodding to people on the street who are also wearing ashes. But this year, I found myself lost in the privilege of Ash Wednesday. How many are
unable to take the time to go to church in the middle of the week? How many are ill? For whom is the reminder of death all too present, too imminent? Last week, my grandmother died. Yesterday, I held the prayer book she gave me for my 11th birthday in my hands and read psalm 51. The priest had just looked into my eyes and firmly, sternly reminded me, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It made me sadder than I had expected–it ushered me into a mourning I had not anticipated.
Today, we begin our journey through the stations of the cross.
Throughout the season of Lent, this blog will offer meditations on
this series of moments at the very end of Jesus’ life as depicted in
parishioner James Middleton’s paintings. So today, I face the outset
of this journey with ashes on my forehead, with mortality at the front
of my mind, with loss present and visceral. The stations of the cross
begin with, “Jesus is condemned to death by Pilate.”
It’s a plot point with which we churchgoers are familiar; we recite it
in the Nicene Creed each week. Still, I couldn’t figure out what I was
looking at in the image–faceless bodies holding spears and a seated
body washing his hands in a stream of water–until I turned to
scripture: “when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that
a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before
the crowd.” (Matthew 27:24) The deaths we begin with are complicated;
the mortality we remember at the beginning of this season of Lent is
not simple. Even a ritual as small and seemingly innocuous as washing
hands–what our priests do before every Eucharist–is called into
question as we start Lent.
It is a reminder that we are all called to death, and we are all
called to life. The two go hand in hand, just as the water that washes
us pours through our fingers. And in this liturgical season, the
miracle is that life comes after death. This is why we celebrate Holy
Communion after our imposition of ashes; this is why we can forge
through these 40 days with the promise of Easter on the horizon. As we
begin our journey through Jesus’ stations, may we marvel at the
incomprehensible promise of life which will come out of death.
– Julia Stroud