March 23, 2017 Comments Off on The Seventh Station: Jesus Falls A Second Time
How very human it is for the Son of God to fall—not just once, but twice. Twice, Jesus falls, brought down by the weight of His cross, His pain and suffering.
And if Jesus can be brought so literally low, if God can allow Godself in the person of Jesus to be brought down, to suffer, then perhaps we ought to reexamine our own views on suffering, pain, and hardship.
Christianity writ large has a bad habit of trying to justify suffering. Women suffer in childbirth and from patriarchal inequality because of Original Sin, from domestic violence because of poor interpretation of Ephesians 5. People with disabilities suffer because they haven’t been healed by God yet—and obviously are doing something wrong, or are sinful in some way. The poor are poor by their own fault—or are meant to learn something from the experience of being “the least of these.”
“But I would never think that way—about others or myself!” you may be thinking. It’s an insidious practice of self-hatred; our entire theology of redemption through the Christ event is centered on the need for a humanity that deserved to suffer because of its actions and, essentially, got lucky that the God of Israel happened to like humans and wanted some company and felt like grace was a good idea. So even when we don’t think we think like this, we do—about something. And justify it with religion more often than not.
I for one don’t think suffering is good or bad. I think trying to assign a moral weight to suffering and pain is destined for disaster. Call it good and you glorify the suffering of people who do not deserve it, abandoning them to their suffering without trying to do our Christian duty of spreading agape love in the world in the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. Naming suffering an outright bad is just as dicey; condemning suffering leads to heresy almost any way you slice it. And on the more human level, condemning suffering as a moral evil leaves us unprepared to handle the trials and travails of human life.
Instead, I meditate on the suffering of Jesus and try to cultivate compassion rather than trying to theologically justify it or glorifying it. I mediate on Jesus falling twice—showing Himself to be so very human and so far from perfect and God-like—and find peace within myself as I navigate my own sufferings and hardships as I live a very human life, graced with the Holy Spirit and love of God, given hope through the life of Christ.
– Madeline Pantalena
March 20, 2017 Comments Off on Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
What I love about this Veronica, apart from the fact that she was painted by a young person, is that she herself looks young and approachable. It is also notable that the artist chose to depict Veronica in the manner of many Greek Orthodox icons of Veronica, after she had already wiped the face of Jesus and, I’m sure unexpectedly for her, gotten her reward in the imprint of Jesus’s face on the cloth she used. Since she looks so approachable, I can imagine asking her “Were you frightened, Veronica, when you stepped out from the protective anonymity of the crowd to perform an act of such compassion?” How might she answer? In my imagination, she is modest and matter-of–fact, replying that she did nothing special, only what needed to be done. Moved by the blood and sweat of a very human Jesus, Veronica recognized that he might appreciate having his face wiped and did it. She wasn’t expecting any lasting result. What she got was proof that Jesus was not only man, but also God, as the image of his face remained on her cloth. In traditional Western depictions of this station, we see Veronica doing the wiping of the human face of Jesus; in this one we see the divinity of Jesus. It’s worth noting that Veronica is not named in Scripture and nothing is known about her life and death. Her existence is preserved in sacred tradition.
What is the message of Veronica for twenty-first century Christians today? Consider this: Perhaps the message is that sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and do what needs to be done, if you even remotely think whatever needs doing is in your power to do. Think about what the implications might be, well beyond what you may at first imagine. Does the legend of Veronica challenge you? How might you respond to the challenge? These are some of the questions that praying before this station raised for me. What questions occur to you as you look at the image? The answers will be as varied as the people looking at Veronica as she is seen here. That’s one of the wonderful things about art; it affects each person differently and individually. May you each find your own message as you pray the Stations of the Cross this Lent.
– Julia Alberino
March 16, 2017 Comments Off on Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry the Cross
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” These famous words from Matthew 16:24-25 have become a kind of summary in the gospel. Jesus utters them in the gospel of John to a wide audience of followers, before the reality of Jesus’ own crucifixion has become clear to them.
It seems natural to think of this verse in connection to the fifth station of the cross: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross. Yet there a few important differences. First, this is not a matter of everyone taking up the cross; the burden in this scene is Simon’s to carry alone. Second, Simon is not carrying his own cross. He is carrying the cross of Jesus, which begs the question of whether Simon agreed to do this in the first place. Was this an act of charity? Of compulsion? The narratives in the synoptic gospels don’t give us these specifics.
There is a huge difference between taking up your own cross and taking on the cross of another. This is a central concern in the work of womanist theologian Delores Williams. In her book Sisters in the Wilderness, Williams highlights the dangerous implications embedded in our beliefs about the crucifixion of Jesus. If Jesus’ salvation operates through his suffering on the cross, what does that say about suffering? Do we run the risk of glorifying suffering when we celebrate the death of Jesus? And most importantly, what does this mean when certain people are made to bear sufferings in society more than others? For Williams, the weight of this burden falls most heavily on women of color, the perpetual surrogate mothers of American history.
Lent is a time when many Christians respond to Jesus’ exhortation to “take up your cross and follow me” with embodied action—giving up a beloved food, or taking on a practice that may seem initially like a burden. As we take on these extra burdens, I hope that we will remember those people who are carrying a heavy load this season, and not by choice. I hope we will remember the mother who stays late at work to pay for her apartment in a neighborhood where rents are steadily rising. I hope we will remember the refugees who have “given up” their homes because of the threat of violence.
For Delores Williams, the most important thing about Jesus’ life was not his death and suffering—it was his life. The same thing ought to be true for all of us as we take up our crosses during this season of Lent. Too often we fixate on stage of losing our lives and forget that the purpose of the cross is to find life. May we look for life this season, not only for ourselves but also for everyone who is carrying a heavy burden.
– Heidi Thorsen Oxford
March 13, 2017 Comments Off on The Fourth Station: Jesus Meets His Mother
The fourth station of the cross has often been called, “Jesus meets his afflicted mother.” I can’t imagine that “afflicted” does justice to what Mary’s feelings must have been. Afflicted sounds like a sore throat or a head cold. Mary was feeling something much worse. She was in the midst of a nightmare. Her son was taking his final steps. Mary knew it would only get worse as her son’s naked body would be lifted on the cross, left to burn in the sun as he slowly bled and suffocated. More than affliction, this was completely helpless gut wrenching torment and indescribable agony.
Mary had been there throughout Jesus’ life. She gave birth to him, swaddled him, cared for him, watched as he learned to smile, laugh, cry, and walk. She watched him go from being a child into a young man. She watched as he came into his own, a talented Rabbi and a worker of wonders. Mary watched as the crowds gathered around her son, just to hear him, see him, or even touch the corner of his garments. She no doubt hoped along with many of Jesus’ disciples that her son would be the one anointed to restore Israel: the Messiah, a wise and strong king.
Now it was all going wrong. While he once had a band of devoted followers, he now was almost completely abandoned. While people once gathered to hear him teach, they now gathered to mock him. She thought he was destined for glory, but instead he would die on top of a stinking rubbish heap for all to see.
I wondered what I might say to a person going through such a nightmare? What would I say to Mary? Would I tell her that “God works in mysterious ways” or that “God has a bigger plan.” Would I use dark humor to defuse the situation? Would I get nihilistic, saying something about the fact that we are all going to die? If I’m truly honest with myself, I don’t think I would have anything to say to Mary. Sometimes, there is nothing to say, because our words couldn’t possibly fix anything. Sometimes, we can only thing we can do is stand with a person while they are going through a terrible ordeal. We can pause at this station of the cross and stand with Mary. Not trying to make things better, but just to be with her. While we stand there, we ought to remember that we can’t rush the resurrection; we can only stand with the people who need it the most.
– S.J. Lloyd
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 6, 2017 Comments Off on The Second Station: Jesus Takes Up His Cross
Nobody meets the man’s eyes as he labors with faltering steps.
It’s hot as the morning wears on; most of the people are gone,
Fleeing the stench of the carcasses hanging in butchers stalls.
Each step is worse than the last, as the soldiers with swords force him on,
Bloodied and bruised and breaking, hardly recognizable,
Just another Jew the Romans have sentenced to die.
Blood and dust and sweat mixing with the smell of the meat
Give a sickening odor to the gut-wrenching spectacle.
All the bystanders hold their noses and try to look away;
Brutal execution is nothing they haven’t seen before.
But what a perverse spectacle as he collapses in front of them, and the
Maker of heaven and earth is unable to bear the weight of a tree!
© 2017 Kyle Rader. All rights reserved.
March 2, 2017 Comments Off on The First Station: Jesus Is Condemned to Death
Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” So 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, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.”
-Matthew 27: 22-24
Condemnation is a choice, an action. Yet Pilate washed his hands of his political action. Pilate had the power of his Roman position, prophecy from his wife having been warned in a dream of Jesus’ innocence, and truth in knowing the motives of the chief priests who brought Jesus to trial. However, Pilate chose political expediency over truth. Furthermore, he relieved himself of the consequences in condemning an innocent person by shifting blame to those over whom he had power. We do not need to look far to see political parallels in our own time.
In this Lent, what will we choose? We might look to Jesus as an example of how we choose to radically love. Jesus rejected the violence of the Roman state by becoming love in action event to the point of death. How might we imitate that radical love this Lent? Perhaps when it seems as though injustice, oppression, and death are winning, we might choose to speak truth to power, courage over comfort, love rather than fear so that, as Lutheran pastor Tuhina Verma Rasche writes, “in this true abiding with God, death can go to hell.” We shall overcome.
– Nicole Hanley