March 27, 2017 Comments Off on The Eighth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
At first glance this seems to be a “Fear not” moment. Jesus says to the weeping women “Do not weep for me” But instead of continuing, as Luke does in the telling of his birth, with angels assuring shepherds of wonder – here Jesus turns the lens of grief back upon the women. “Weep for yourselves and for your children.”
God manifested in human form in order to deliver a message of love and radical inclusion and rather than being universally embraced, Divinity walks up a dusty mountain road carrying a cross on which to die.
This is not so much a moment of judgment, but of clarity. A reminder of the work left to be done in order to bring the world closer to that heavenly country. That the tragedy the women see unfolding before them – innocence heading to crucifixion – won’t end with a single man on a single day.
“Do not weep for me Daughters of Jerusalem, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”
– Caroline Prugh
April 3, 2015 Comments Off on The Eighth Station: Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb
Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock; and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and departed. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the sepulchre.
I am so used to mentally separating the Nativity and the Passion. That is, after all, the usual mental habit around Birth and Death. Yet, in this last Station of the Cross, where Jesus is truly and finally dead, I am forcibly reminded of the Nativity. Having entered fully into humanity, a step begun at his birth, Jesus has traveled to all the way to the bottom: both in the sense that he has experienced the worst of humanity (abandonment, betrayal, humiliation, torture, murder) and the full experience of humanity, which ends in death.
But at this Station, after all of love’s failures, still the fact of Jesus’ body allows people the chance to actively love him. The Word has become so fully flesh that it can no longer offer anything in the way of thought or council or comfort–it is flesh that can’t even care for itself in physical ways. It is in that helplessness that opportunities for human love abound, just as they did at the Nativity. Mary gave Jesus a womb to shelter in as he was still becoming; Joseph of Nazareth cared for Mary all the way to Bethlehem and found shelter for her and Jesus there; Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths; Joseph of Arimathea took the body and wrapped it in clean linen, and laid it in his own new tomb. The women who were with Joseph went home and prepared spices and perfumes for that body.
No sooner has human love failed God in the ultimate way, even to the point of torture and death, but there is the chance for humans to love God and be needed by God. Grace is the persistence not only of Love given, but the persistence of Love’s need and desire to be loved in return.
In each of the gospels, the telling of the resurrection seems to be an extension of this moment when Empire and Greed have accomplished their ultimate goal in Jesus’ death. Because as soon as sin wins, it hasn’t. There is immediately an opportunity for humans to be as needed and loving as when Jesus was first born, and a few people answer that need, nurturing Jesus’ body for the coming Resurrection.
Jesus’ body is resurrected and the opportunity to offer love persists until others are ready and able to return to the communion of relationship. There’s the chance for Mary and Jesus to meet in the garden several mornings later; for Thomas to touch Jesus. There’s a chance for Peter, with all his big broken promises, to leap from the boat at sunrise and swim toward the beach where Jesus is cooking him breakfast. There’s a chance for Jesus, ready to be loved again by Peter as much as Peter hates himself, to tell Peter how he wants to be loved: Feed my sheep.
And here we are today, fed and loved, no matter how often and deeply we fail at love. The chance we see for human love and nurture on Good Friday is one attitude of Grace, one very particular way for love to appear when we’d be unable to perceive it otherwise. When we fail love is often the point when we are most convinced we can’t ever receive love again. One of the ways love reaches us in these moments is by giving us an abundance of new chances to offer love. It won’t be the same chance we failed before, because love’s failure is real: Jesus’ friends no longer have the man that was crucified; just his dead body. Even when he’s resurrected, he’s resurrected a wounded man. But the new chances to love just keep appearing. And in the abundance of chances, there is the chance to perceive the abundance of love for us.
– Elisabeth Watson
April 19, 2014 Comments Off on The Eighth Station: Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb
The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.
O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.
The lot of man is ceaseless labor,
Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.
I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know
That it is hard to be really useful, resigning
The things that men count for happiness, seeking
The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting
With equal face those that bring ignominy,
The applause of all or the love of none.
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends.
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.
The world turns and the world changes,
But one thing does not change.
In all of my years, one thing does not change,
However you disguise it, this thing does not change:
The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.
Forgetful, you neglect your shrines and churches;
The men you are in these times deride
What has been done of good, you find explanations
To satisfy the rational and enlightened mind.
Second, you neglect and belittle the desert.
The desert is not remote in southern tropics
The desert is not only around the corner,
The desert is squeezed in the tube-train next to you,
The desert is in the heart of your brother.
The good man is the builder, if he build what is good.
I will show you the things that are not being done,
And some of the things that were long ago done,
That you may take heart, Make perfect your will.
Let me show you the work of the humble. Listen.
In the vacant places
We will build with new bricks
There are hands and machines
And clay for new brick
And lime for new mortar
Where the bricks are fallen
We will build with new stone
Where the beams are rotten
We will build with new timbers
Where the word is unspoken
We will build with new speech
There is work together
A Church for all
And a job for each
Every man to his work.
What life have you, if you have not life together?
There is not life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of GOD.
Even the anchorite who meditates alone,
For whom the days and nights repeat the praise of GOD,
Prays for the Church, the Body of Christ incarnate.
And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbor
Unless his neighbor makes too much disturbance,
But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.
Nor does the family even move about together,
But every son would have his motor cycle,
And daughters ride away on casual pillions.
Much to cast down, much to build, much to restore;
Let the work not delay, time and the arm not waste;
Let the clay be dug from the pit, let the saw cut the stone,
Let the fire not be quenched in the forge.
The Word of the LORD came unto me, saying:
O miserable cities of designing men,
O wretched generation of enlightened men,
Betrayed in the mazes of your ingenuities,
Sold by the proceeds of your proper inventions:
I have given you hands which you turn from worship,
I have given you speech, for endless palaver,
I have given you my Law, and you set up commissions,
I have given you lips, to express friendly sentiments,
I have given you hearts, for reciprocal distrust.
I have given you the power of choice, and you only alternate
Between futile speculation and unconsidered action.
Many are engaged in writing books and printing them,
Many desire to see their names in print,
Many read nothing but the race reports.
Much is your reading, but not the Word of GOD,
Much is your building, but not the House of GOD,
Will you build me a house of plaster, with corrugated roofing,
To be filled with a litter of Sunday newspapers?
And the wind shall say: “Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.”
When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city ?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?
Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.
There is one who remembers the way to your door:
Life you may evade, but Death you shall not.
You shall not deny the Stranger.
They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
But the man that is shall shadow
The man that pretends to be.
Then it seemed as if men must proceed from light to light, in the light of
Through the Passion and Sacrifice saved in spite of their negative being;
Bestial as always before, carnal, self seeking as always before, selfish and
purblind as ever before,
Yet always struggling, always reaffirming, always resuming their march on
the way that was lit by the light;
Often halting, loitering, straying, delaying, returning, yet following no other
But it seems that something has happened that has never happened
before: though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where.
Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no God; and this has
never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first Reason,
And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race, or Dialectic.
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards
In an age which advances progressively backwards?
There came one who spoke of the shame of Jerusalem
And the holy places defiled;
Peter the Hermit, scourging with words.
And among his hearers were a few good men,
Many who were evil,
And most who were neither,
Like all men in all places.
In spite of all the dishonour,
the broken standards, the broken lives,
The broken faith in one place or another,
There was something left that was more than the tales
Of old men on winter evenings.
Our age is an age of moderate virtue
And moderate vice
The soul of Man must quicken to creation.
Out of the meaningless practical shapes of all that is living or
Joined with the artist’s eye, new life, new form, new colour.
Out of the sea of sound the life of music,
Out of the slimy mud of words, out of the sleet and hail of verbal
Approximate thoughts and feelings, words that have taken the
place of thoughts and feelings,
There spring the perfect order of speech, and the beauty of incantation.
LORD, shall we not bring these gifts to Your service?
Shall we not bring to Your service all our powers
For life, for dignity, grace and order,
And intellectual pleasures of the senses?
The LORD who created must wish us to create
And employ our creation again in His service
Which is already His service in creating.
For Man is joined in spirit and body,
And therefore must serve as spirit and body.
Visible and invisible, two wolds meet in Man;
Visible and invisible must meet in His Temple;
You must not deny the body.
Now you shall see the Temple completed:
After much striving, after many obstacles;
The work of creation is never without travail;
The formed stone, the visible crucifix,
The dressed altar, the lifting light,
The visible reminder of Invisible Light.
Be not too curious of Good and Evil;
Seek not to count the future waves of Time;
But be ye satisfied that you have light
Enough to take your step and find your foothold.
O Light Invisible, we praise Thee!
Too bright for mortal vision.
O Greater Light, we praise Thee for the less;
The eastern light our spires touch at morning,
The light that slants upon our western doors at evening,
The twilight over stagnant pools at batflight,
Moon light and star light, owl and moth light,
Glow-worm glowlight on a grassblade.
O Light Invisible, we worship Thee!
We thank Thee for the light that we have kindled,
The light of altar and of sanctuary;
Small lights of those who meditate at midnight
And lights directed through the coloured panes of windows
And light reflected from the polished stone,
The gilded carven wood, the coloured fresco.
Our gaze is submarine, our eyes look upward
And see the light that fractures through unquiet water.
We see the light but see not whence it comes.
O Light Invisible, we glorify Thee!
In our rhythm of earthly life we tire of light. We are glad when the day ends, when the play ends; and ecstasy is too much pain.
We are children quickly tired: children who are up in the night and fall asleep as the rocket is fired; and the day is long for work or play.
We tire of distraction or concentration, we sleep and are glad to sleep,
Controlled by the rhythm of blood and the day and the night and the seasons.
And we must extinguish the candle, put out the light and relight it;
Forever must quench, forever relight the flame.
Therefore we thank Thee for our little light, that is dappled with shadow.
We thank Thee who hast moved us to building, to finding, to forming at the ends of our fingers and beams of our eyes.
And when we have built an altar to the Invisible Light, we may set thereon the little lights for which our bodily vision is made.
And we thank Thee that darkness reminds us of light.
O Light Invisible, we give Thee thanks for Thy great glory!
April 5, 2012 Comments Off on The Eighth Station: Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb
“Jesus being laid in the tomb” is the one time everything becomes still in the Gospels. So ominously, in fact, that it has implications for each of us and the churches where we worship. God has lost His Son for the sake of love to this grave and the bewilderment we experience in serious meditation upon this fact brings everything to a precipice. Indeed, the silence of the sepulcher confronts us with a spirituality which is the scourge of a domesticated Christianity. In philosophical terms, the tomb brings us to the edge of a desert experience and all the coarse, rough-and-ready comments about our lifestyle that goes with it.
But how can laying Jesus to rest send us and our ecclesial trappings into the wilderness and out of our comfort zone? The answer is found in the atmosphere invoked by Our Lord’s abrupt end and our intention to take seriously what has happened. All bets are off.
Like a rifle shot Jesus goes to Jerusalem and orchestrates a grand and symbolic entrance into the city. Of course he goes to the temple; confrontation is in the air. To be Jesus there is a certain inevitability to all this. Tension builds…his death is a terrible public spectacle. Then, thud, he’s dead…just like the rest of us one day. Jesus is tenderly placed in a borrowed tomb—imagine laying out a dead child and closing the door. Invoking similar thoughts of a deceased loved one are helpful but such recollections—even memories of Jesus alive and well–separate us from the “now” of what is occurring.
Sitting alongside Jesus’ cold, dead corpse is troubling yet if we can do so with courage deep forces are stirred. When keeping a vigil with a body there is a feeling that the room is emptier than before. We feel troubled thinking, other than honoring the dead, “There really is nothing here.” In meditative terms that discomfort is a cue that a boundary has been approached. That restless emptiness, a panic maybe, can bring us to an open, featureless land. In this case it is brought on by thoughts of death yet it’s also an invitation from all spiritual paths to enter many sorts of deserts and places we fear. (1)
The desert is any uncharted terrain beyond the edges of structure, a world of order we cannot imagine ever ending. Yet it does. At that point where the world begins to crack, where disorientation suddenly overtakes us, there we step into wide, silent plains of a desert we had never known. We cross sands, stripped of influence and reputation, the desert caring nothing for (our) worries and self-importance. In the desert everything is lost. (2)
If we enter this uncharted territory by matching the desert’s indifference and with our own prayerful attentiveness to what’s really important a new level of clarity comes into view. Pretense, suffocating niceness, and too-cozy support of the status quo are items tossed off the caravan trail by a church now focused on lean and honest survival.
And what of our footsteps…can we allow God to direct our desert walk as He will? Can we linger in those impromptu meetings we so often avoid? If so, we find companions like ourselves, broken, fumbling in courage, on this journey of discovery who live fiercely, strive honestly and love uncompromisingly. We are bewildered by their offer of affection and loyalty with no strings attached. We know that’s so because our worth is summed up only by our person; it’s all we’ve got. “The deepest mystery of love is never realized apart from the experience of having nothing to offer in return. Only there does love reveal itself in unaccountable wonder.” (3)
– The Rt. Rev. George Packard, Retired Episcopal Bishop to the Armed Services and Federal Ministry
(1 ,2,3) The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, Belden C. Lane, Oxford Univ. Press, 1998, (Desert Father Evagrius, among others, commended this “desert habitus of contemplative prayer”), pp 11, 249, 252, 195, note,271.
April 22, 2011 Comments Off on The Eighth Station: What Are We Supposed To Learn From The Tomb?
The scenes we have encountered in the stations up until now are violent, bloody, shocking, disturbing – but they are all, at their heart, active. They offer us opportunities to put ourselves in our Lord’s shoes, to attempt to bend our minds and hearts around the unimaginable suffering he willingly underwent out of love for us. On his way to Calvary, Jesus models the ways God wants us to respond to the horror and evil of our world; every station thus far has given us an example of how to remain in relationship with God and others even as we plumb the depths of pain and grief.
Approached this way, the eighth station comes as a particular challenge: what are we supposed to learn from the tomb? What does death – without the assurance or even the possibility of Resurrection – model for us? For me, the eighth station is by far the most uncomfortable to contemplate because it demands that I stop. It demands that I suspend my knowledge that Easter is close at hand and face the finality of death. It demands that I wait. And it inevitably puts me in touch with all the places in my own life that feel like dead ends, the relationships that feel seem beyond repair, the dreams I have given up on.
In order to even begin to fathom what the Resurrection is, we have to go all the way with Christ. It is not enough that we stand witness to the bloody horror of the crucifixion, with all its dramatic shape. We must also dare to enter the tomb – that place between hopelessness and hope where all motion is suspended and all we can do is wait, without even knowing what we’re waiting for.
It is only when we willingly enter the tomb, when we come to terms with finality, that our conceptions of the possible and the impossible are turned upside down. There are no shortcuts to Resurrection.
– Kristin Saylor
April 3, 2010 § 1 Comment
A couple weeks ago, I went on a trip to “The Holy Land.” That’s how I put it to friends and colleagues when I explained where I was going — a “trip” to “The Holy Land” — making air quotes with my hands and rolling my eyes a bit. Not because I don’t think the land is holy, but because I was uncomfortable admitting that I was about to embark on what would probably more accurately be called a pilgrimage. That would be admitting that I might actually believe all this stuff about Jesus and the bible. Instead, I hedged: “Yes, it’s technically a pilgrimage, but it’s really going to be more like a vacation for me.”
The trip was a vacation … from my job, from all the busy goings-on of New York City. It was also a pilgrimage … to a land I’d never been, to learn about this different place.
I went with a group from the Episcopal church I grew up in. We hit the hot-spots of Israel, both Christian and otherwise, starting in the North and making our way to Jerusalem. I didn’t exactly know what to expect, but it was surprising to me how commercialized and tourist-driven places like the Sea of Galilee and “the baptismal site” at the Jordan River were. We would park our tour bus next to other enormous coaches and queue up with other American Christians as if we were at Disneyworld, waiting for the Tower of Terror. (The ride up to Masada via cable car was particularly ominous in that regard.) The guides would show us short, poorly produced introductory films and then we’d snake through a museum and wind up in a gift shop. Many on my trip appreciated the ease with which Americans could tour. Wasn’t it wonderful to see so many Christians visiting the Holy Land?
I found it all a little bit uncomfortable. I realized I had two separate notions of Israel, two different images that I had never aligned. One was of the modern “Middle East” — the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the suicide bombings, the walls being built, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip. “Israel” made me think of all these buzz words we hear on CNN, and the horror we see in images, and the solidarity I feel with my New Yorker friends who have family living in these fraught territories. And the other image, the one I had never overlaid this one, was of Jesus in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. I have heard the stories in church my whole life, and I have pictured the sandy streets of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” people in robes, the three crosses at Golgotha, an empty tomb. I wasn’t sure which to look for as we made our way through this land that was both places, all at once.
After nearly a week in Israel, the group finally made it to Jerusalem. As a city-dweller, I felt more comfortable there, in a vibrant, living city. Amidst the chaos of today’s politics, it might be surprising to know that there is what seems like a church on every corner, built over the holiest sights. These are the places mostly that Helena, Constantine’s mother, indicated as holy, based on 4th century research. With this historical scholarship, another dichotomy arises, between the holy spots that are recognized and the spots where the actual events took place. It is unclear whether the two are ever one and the same, and it is unlikely that we will ever know “the truth.”
There are two separate spots marked as “the tomb” in Jerusalem. One is Helena’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Orthodox and Roman Catholic pilgrims come to climb the stairs to venerate the cross at “Golgotha,” then descend to pray over the slab where Jesus’ body was prepared, and then wait in an (often very long) line to enter “the tomb” (or spot where the tomb is believed to have once been.) Across town, there is the Garden Tomb, the place most Protestants prefer to visit. Just outside the gates of the Garden Tomb there is a rock formation that looks like a skull (“Golgotha” means “place of the skull”). Inside, there is a carefully manicured garden and a cave-like tomb, empty and somber. It’s unlikely that this is “the spot” — but it could be, and it certainly “feels” more like “the spot” to those of us interested in seeing things “as they really were.” (That’s a lot of “scare quotes” in one sentence, approximately the same number as found in the brochure at the Garden Tomb.)
The difference between the two places, and what they signify for a pilgrim visiting them, struck me as a symbol for the larger dual nature of the Holy Land, the same one that made me uncomfortable upon first landing. In Jerusalem, as in any historic city, there is the old and there is the new and there is the intersection of the two. Things happened there and then life continued. It just so happens that in Jerusalem, the old is very old, and the things that happened there were very important to many people. Is it possible for us, as pilgrims, to come just to see the old, and not pay attention to what’s happening now? Is it okay for that to be the purpose of our journey, as I think it may be for many Christian pilgrims today?
Each evening, we would pray compline together and spend some time reflecting on what the day had meant for us. Many on the trip had spiritual stirrings in these various holy spots, places where they felt connected to Jesus. I was resistant to this at first — wary of being duped by tourist traps, upset about the contemporary realities of the land. If I really owned up to this as a pilgrimage, would I be aligning myself with the bitter struggle over the Holy Land — everyone from the warring Orthodox deacons at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher who fight over censing the altar every day to the Crusaders who attempted to eviscerate the Muslims so many years ago? I wanted to travel to Israel to see a new place, but I have never felt that one must see Jerusalem to understand Christianity. The universality of the stories of Jesus, I feel, is crucial; one must be able never to go to the Holy Land and still be able to understand what happened there. It was not important where these exact spots were to me, and that made me act more like a detached observer than a pilgrim.
There was, however, a moment when the two Jerusalems — and, by extension, the two tombs — came together. When we first entered Jerusalem, we stopped atop the Mount of Olives, just above the Garden of Gethsemane. It’s a place Jesus goes in the bible to pray and to look out over Jerusalem; there remains today a stunning view of the Old City, across the Kidron Valley. You can distinctly make out the Eastern wall (built in the 16th century) and the golden Dome of the Rock (7th century) atop the Temple Mount (where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac, possibly as early as 7th century BCE), images that mean “Jerusalem” to us today. On our last day in the city, we went underground through the tunnels along the Western Wall (a portion of which is known as the Wailing Wall.) As we walked through the claustrophobic space, hearing about how the city looked at different historical points, our tour guide mentioned that the stones we stepped on were put there by Herod. Jesus had walked on this street.
I had, in that moment, a cinematic flash back to our first look at Jerusalem, seeing the landscape of the city today built over the landscape of yesterday. It did not matter if the original tomb had been in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or in the Garden Tomb or somewhere else, rather that it had been at all. The tomb as a symbol came into focus. Jesus’ body was laid there, and then was resurrected — “the tomb” is, like Jerusalem, both old and new. It is an image of death, but its emptiness is a symbol of life. Not knowing where it was exactly means that life has continued in Jerusalem and beyond; to this pilgrim, it means that the tomb is universal.
– Julia Macy Stroud
Images: The Church of the Holy Sepulcher and The Garden Tomb from Julia Macy Stroud.