March 9, 2017 Comments Off on The Third Station: Jesus Falls the First Time
Recently a wise person gave me advice about writing an application essay: When describing significant issues or struggles, “move quickly to the resolution.” Don’t dwell too long on what has been painful or limiting for you, without putting it in the context of present health and strength.
While this is helpful advice for framing a journey to wholeness, it occurs to me that sometimes we tend to live by it in other moments. We sit with a friend sharing their pain and struggle, and it’s hard to know what to say. We are quick to offer advice. In our discomfort, we turn to reassurances that can grate in the thick of illness, loss, or transition: Be thankful for what you still have, or, God must have given you this struggle for a reason. It is uncomfortable to look directly at pain, our own and certainly others’. It can be uncomfortable to keep listening with full openness, not only for a whole conversation but sometimes over weeks, months, or years.
The passion narrative is practice for this kind of discomfort. It is the kind of story that Jesus’ friends and family must have found hard to talk about. It is hard to remember even now, looking directly at the pain of someone we love deeply. Exhausted and injured, Jesus fell under the weight of the cross. He would get up and continue under that weight. The road was still much longer.
This morning immigrant rights leader and New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC Executive Director Ravi Ragbir faced an ICE check-in and the possibility of immediate deportation or detention. He was accompanied by a crowd of supporters, people who love him and believe in his work. Ravi emerged from the check-in, and there was a collective sense of relief. Yet a month from now, he will be required to re-appear. This morning was part of a much longer road, marked by uncertainty, anxiety, and at times, pain. As Ravi makes us aware, many other undocumented people are on this same road.
In Jesus, we are not alone in struggle, even when it doesn’t move quickly to resolution. God does not turn away from our struggle or our pain, even when we are at our most broken, furthest from health and strength and even from God. God does not turn away from us when the news makes us afraid that we or people we love will be deported, or alternatively, when it forces us to look directly at injustice for which we share responsibility. Instead, God walks with us, bearing our burdens and strengthening us to bear each other’s burdens.
– Aaron Miner
March 5, 2015 Comments Off on The Third Station: The Cross is Laid on Simon of Cyrene
And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. (Mark 15:21)
It is no secret that Mark is my favorite of the Gospels. Short, pragmatic, and dramatic, it gets right to the point. Mark is honest and raw. Personally, I love a Gospel that end with the witnesses to the resurrection being terrified and telling no one. There is something so human and so in need of God about this telling of the life of Christ. His depiction of Simon of Cyrene is no exception. There is exactly one sentence.
From the text, we glean that Simon of Cyrene was not a loyal follower. He is not depicted as a worshipper of Christ. He appears to just be the victim of fate. Not much more than a random guy traveling in from another country, Simon was pressganged by the Roman soldiers into the humiliating act of caring a cross for a criminal.
Let’s stop for a moment to imagine what Simon might have felt. No doubt he was surprised in being singled out by the soldiers. You can almost hear his laments of “why me?” Likewise, I am sure he was not too happy to be linked by fate and the cross to this Jesus fellow; a criminal condemned both by Roman and Jewish authorities. He was no doubt embarrassed to be publically humiliated like this. He was at the very least irked to be held up and delayed.
Yet this little snippet is all we hear about Simon. We are left with more questions that answers. Was Simon changed by his encounter with Christ? Did he know who Christ really was? Did he stay for the grisly execution or did he get off that hill as soon as possible? Did he go on to other countries and other business or did he stick around Jerusalem for that eventful Sunday morning? We will never know.
And what about the sons of Simon, Alexander and Rufus? Why does Mark include them in this text when so many others are not named? Were they present? Or maybe they became followers and leaders in the early church? Again, we may never know.
This story is not tidy or happy. It does however present a realistic depiction of suffering. Simon’s experience mirrors many of our own experiences. How do we handle the unexpected pain and suffering that comes to us in life? How do we carry our own cross and help with the crosses of other people when to do so if difficult and confusing. I don’t have reason to believe that Simon was proud of this moment or that it was a time of particular importance or spiritual clarity. I think it was exhausting humiliation. However, that exhausting humiliation played an important role not just in death but also in resurrection.
-The Rev. Emily Phillips Lloyd
March 20, 2014 Comments Off on The Third Station: The Cross is Laid on Simon of Cyrene
I wanted to pause and meditate for a moment on the meaning of this famous scene, of Simon the Cyrene carrying Jesus’s cross. I think it’s really significant that we get this picture not just of Jesus’s sacrifice, not just of his kenosis or pouring out, but of being supported by another. Even though this is something that the Roman soldiers imposed, I feel that our imitation of Christ should not only be in self-sacrifice, but maybe also in receiving the sacrifice of another. In allowing some burdens to be borne for us by our sisters of brothers in Christ, it reminds us of our dependence, not just on each other, but ultimately I think it reminds us of our dependence upon God. Christ didn’t do it on his own; why on earth do we think that we should?
This is why Paul will can say to the Galatians, “Bear each other’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ.” Paul makes the fulfillment of the law of Christ contingent upon mutuality between self and other. Contrary to the law of nature, where self-preservation is the governing concern, relationality in the mystical body of Christ functions through selflessness. To bear one another’s burdens builds community. And, you know, there’s something about bearing a burden for someone else that makes it feel less heavy. It’s like it feels lighter than if it were my own.
This law is a constant check on human instinct, which is always bubbling up: the instinct to self-preservation. To bear the burdens of another, and to allow an other to bear one’s own burdens, demands a decrease in selfishness and an increase in humility. It’s an acting out of these two virtues, and what they say is true, if all else fails, fake it till you make it…. In helping somebody else who has a need, automatically I become less obsessed with my problems, less absorbed in my stuff, in my hurt. By the same token, allowing myself to accept help from another instantaneously creates in me a feeling of humility.
Under the law of Christ, it’s no longer that, in order to get something, one must take. That is the old law, and the law of Rome. To be members of the mystical body of Christ means that in order to get, one must give. And what one gets is access to life in the Spirit, and freedom from hierarchical relationships and the violence inherent in them.
I think part of what Jesus means when he invites believers to take up his yoke is exactly this, to help carry someone else’s cross for a while, and to allow others to do the same for you.
– Atticus Zavaletta
March 1, 2012 § 1 Comment
I promise I’m not trying to derail the solemnity of Lent with this post, this is all my personal, humble reflection, nor am I trying to deliberately contradict any of the observances in the Preface of Lent enumerated in its invitation (“… self-examination and repentance … prayer, fasting, and self-denial … reading and meditating on God’s holy Word…”), but I’m finding, in my advanced years, that I’m getting crotchety. People (read: MainStreamMedia, Christianists, and politicians) keep using broad strokes when painting definitions of ordinary matters, assigning absolutes to words which exist in a flux, and I’m pretty tired of being manhandled. I ran to the open, loving arms of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America because I was promised the “three-legged stool”, the three-fold sources of authority in Anglicanism being scripture, tradition, and REASON as, it is said, these three sources uphold and critique each other in a dynamic way.
I think my cranky nature this Lent is due to the, er, vibrant, um, discourses during this election cycle with so many people pontificating with very little forethought or consequence to their words, and many of these absolutes are being attributed to this being I’m in contact with, God, these teachings I study by this Rabbi, Jesus, and this movement I espouse, Christianity.
The topic of my assignment is The Third Station in The Way of the Cross, Jesus Falls the First Time. The collect at this station reads:
O God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: Grant us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers, and carry us through all temptations, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BOS, ’94)
The tradition of The Way of the Cross fixes Jesus with three “falls”: he falls on stations three, seven, and nine. In earlier iterations, there were Seven Falls and they were considered less literal falls and more pauses, depictions of Jesus coincidentally being prostrate, or nearly so, during performance of some other activity like some of the current stations, Jesus meeting his Mother and Jesus consoling the women of Jerusalem.
I’ve watched a lot of folks for a lot of years practicing many different “brands” of Christianity, in praise and in worship, and sometimes there is some propensity for some, especially during Lent, to adopt a “pious” attitude which is almost dramatic, like, as if they have to “act” repentant like they’re being filmed. That’s dreadfully Judge-ie McJudge-ster of me, I know, and I promise I’ll repent … it is Lent, after all. But I think Lent makes people do silly things, like, the “I’m giving up chocolate” kids or the sackcloth-and-ashes kids who are determined to read the entire Bible during Lent or to me, the saddest of all, the kids who feel so overwhelmed by all the perceived impositions and restrictions of Lent that they give up and do nothing and then feel horrible about themselves the entire time.
Then as if all of Lent’s judgments and restrictions aren’t bad enough, we are being bombarded lately with declarations of what is “holy” and what is “right” and what is “Christian” and what is “American” and what is “patriotic” and what is “traditional” and it’s driven many to self-loathing and destructive behaviours, even to the point of suicide, and it’s kept many people from coming home to God because they HEAR they SHOULD be ashamed and that their love and homes and children are not valid and that their desires are sin when, in fact, they were knit perfectly this way in their mother’s wombs. I just want to scream at the top of my lungs, “ENOUGH!”
Before I came to scriptural terms with the gift of my same-sex orientation, I read unfortunate translations of the Bible and was in a continuous shame spiral. I thought for years that every time I found a man attractive I was “in sin”. I was decades in to my healing upon my first few visits to St. Luke’s and I distinctly remember the sun from the windows streaming through the smoke, and listening to Bobby’s beautiful bass reading a long passage, and seeing this guy a few pews up who I thought was mighty cute, and I started dreaming about the matching outfits we would wear at the Easter vigil, and wondering if we were too old to have kids, and devising the order I was going to introduce him to my friends, and what what WHAT ?! and a wave of the ‘ole SHAME came over me. I was thinking inappropriate thoughts and sinning in church! Same-sex attraction is intrinsically disordered and Church is an inappropriate place for such musings! Then I looked at the altar and saw women priests who mirror the Jewish women of the first century, Christianity’s first priests, and I remembered where I was and I shook myself silly and remembered that my dreaming was exactly what intrinsically ORDERED people have been doing for time immemorial. Church is the PERFECTLY appropriate place to weave the fantasies of my marriage because all my life God has had it in my heart that one day I would find a man who was as in love with God as I am, and one day I would be sitting with him tucked under my arm while we listened to a Sermon while we worshipped God in the house of God among our spiritual family in our home parish. It is meet and right so to do!
I think this year I feel it more instructive for me to take a lead from the thought of “Jesus pausing” and not of Him “falling” … which puts me in mind of the contemporary meaning for the Psalm’s selah, a pause, a breath to weigh the gravity of what was just heard, what is settling on our spirit. To reasonably self-examine – not to the world’s standards but the standards of what Jesus said were the greatest commandments: to love God and love our neighbor; repentance – for all the times I fall short under the weight of those enormous requirements; prayer –that I would hear only God’s voice and not the world’s when examining myself; fasting – from all the negative garbage coming at me from the world; and self-denial – from pity parties I throw for myself when God tasks me and I-don’t-wanna! And to always remember that strength and protection as may support us in all dangers comes from reading and meditating on God’s holy Word, truly an instant spa treatment which replenishes us and fills us and rejuvenates us with peace and joy and love, which will carry us through all our temptations and allow us to relax in self and reach out to serve.
Artist: Julie Lonneman (Please visit Trinity Stores for more of her work.)
March 23, 2011 § 1 Comment
My favorite movie line is from Julie & Julia. Julia Child, as played by Meryl Streep, asks her husband: “But what I am going to do?” Streep elongates the “do-oooooooooo” in her line, making it sound like both a release of frustration and a petition for help.
The beginning of Julie & Julia shows us Julia Child’s struggle to find herself and her calling. She tries playing bridge with the other wives, but doesn’t have much fun. Six foot two inch tall Julia tucks into a tiny Parisian workshop to learn how to make hats, but doesn’t like that either. Julia just doesn’t fit in. Then at age 37 she tries a cooking class — and we know the rest of her story.
Like Julia Child, like all of us really, I wonder all the time about what I am here to do. How can I best use my abilities to help other people? What does being a Christian obligate me to do? How can I make the world a better place?
This is what comes to mind when I stare at the challenging Third Station: The Cross is laid on Simon of Cyrene. Simon is suddenly pulled from the crowd to serve Jesus. He takes up the cross and carries it just behind Jesus, according to three Gospel accounts. Right on the spot, Simon has his calling. Now he knows what he’s here to do. The Gospels do not tell us if Simon volunteered to carry the cross, or if the Roman soldiers guarding Jesus forced Simon to help. This anonymous man finds himself yanked into the center of the story and responds as best as he can.
Please pray with me:
Dear God, hear our questions this Lent. Help us to uncover the mystery of our callings. What are we supposed to do? Will we discover our callings slowly or will you suddenly pull us from the crowd and compel us to try a new thing? We pray that we will hear you and be ready to do the work you have given us to do.
We pray today especially for the people of Lybia as the U.S. continues military action there. Simon’s ancient town of Cyrene is in present day Lybia.
– Chris Phillips
March 23, 2011 Comments Off on The Third Station: The Cross is laid on Simon of Cyrene
March 2, 2010 Comments Off on The Third Station: Called to share the burden
This is an odd piece of the story. There is no indication that Simon had any interest in participating in what would otherwise be seen as an act of compassion. And it’s an uncomfortable act of compassion at that — helping Jesus with his burden as he is being led to an unjust punishment. I am reminded of a scene in the film Lady Jane, about the brief reign of the young woman placed on the English throne after the death of Henry VIII’s son Edward VI, to block the accession of the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor. Jane is sentenced to death after Mary’s forces win the war that follows Jane’s installation. At her execution, John Feckenham, the Roman Catholic priest who failed to convert Jane to the Roman faith (the film contains several spirited discussions between Jane and this priest regarding the sacraments), is moved to reach over to assist a panicked and blindfolded Jane as she gropes for the block. He leads her hands to it, and the axe comes down as she cries out to God. To help someone on the way to their execution — this is not the simple and untainted compassion we like to think about, where we position ourselves outside whatever is contributing to the suffering of another. Or, ideally, we fight against the whatever is causing the suffering.
I don’t want to encourage passivity in the face of injustice, but, honestly, there are plenty of situations in this life where a simple display of compassion, of sharing the burden of another, is all we can really do. The sight of the hungry and homeless in the streets should of course stir us to work for a more equitable society where there are fewer hungry and homeless, but sometimes we just need to give money, food, blankets, and comfort to those in pain. Jesus would have been crucified anyway. Jane would have been beheaded regardless. Sometimes I feel like we use intellectual arguments about justice to avoid simple acts of compassion. There are plenty of reasons not to give money to those begging in the subways and on the streets (we are treating the symptom, we are making the problem worse, we aren’t addressing the root cause of poverty), and we can even come up with reasons not to reach out to our friends and family in distress (I don’t want to encourage my parents’ hysteria, I’ve already done my fair share, I need to teach him a lesson, what about my needs for a change?). These can comfort us in our inaction.
We often tell ourselves that people — friends, family and strangers alike — have brought about their own misfortunes, and that is our preferred reason to stay back. As the religion scholar Karen Armstrong puts it, we prefer being right to being compassionate. That’s one reason why the apparent involuntary nature of Simon’s involvement here is striking. Maybe he had no knowledge of this condemned person whose burden he was sharing. Against his will he is swept up in the tribulations of another. Roman soldiers were surrounding him. This is also much like life. We don’t choose much of our lot. We don’t select the family from which we come. Our lives don’t pan out exactly as we had planned. We are entwined in a web of relationships and obligations that we can’t easily sever should we just decide to walk away. Our finances and state of health also limit our actions. Roman soldiers surround us. And we are presented, again and again, with those who need us to shoulder part of their burden. This is what we are called to do.
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Simon ends up following this exhortation this quite literally. In addition to our part as the vengeful, judgmental, bloodthirsty crowd, we are also given the opportunity to play the role of Simon in this moral drama.
– Eric Patton
Image: Eric Patton