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 19, 2015 § 1 Comment
I wanted to spend some time tonight with this moment in Christ’s Passion. There’s an apprehensiveness and vulnerability that I wanted to understand better.
The stripping of garments has across cultures and time periods been used as a way to further humiliate a person who had been publicly shamed. At this moment in particular, as Simon has painted it, this terrible looming shadow of shame, ridicule, and humiliation is actually in movement toward Christ, where it aims to lodge and take up residence in the very center of his being. This is the moment right as it is entering him, it seems to me. In a way, Simon’s imagining here reminds me of a .gif file. A moving image, enacting a loop of narrative movement in increments of a few seconds. The face of Christ here includes the moment before, the moment of and the moment after the toxic intrusion of shame.
But enter him it must, because the fully human Christ is the Christ who has experienced every human emotion, every human pain, every human shame. But I think that, once it penetrates, but not before, he will also transform it–and here also Simon has given us a glint or glimmer of that possible future.
The entry under “shame” in the Oxford English Dictionary includes this: “The painful emotion arising from the consciousness of something dishonouring, ridiculous, or indecorous in one’s own conduct or circumstances . . .” The Italian philosopher Agamben offers the following: “What appears in shame is therefore precisely the fact of being chained to oneself, the radical impossibility of fleeing oneself to hide oneself from oneself, the intolerable presence of the self to itself. . . What shame discovers is the Being that discovers itself.”
I want to expand that a little, or add some dimension to it. In discovering the Being that discovers itself, it seems that shame as well discovers the Being that needs. We are ashamed of our weakness, our imperfections, all the ways that we are smaller than we want to be. But this somehow originary experience of shame turns out might also be an occasion for our apprehension of God. It is through our need that we recognize and make ourselves available to God’s coming into our hearts.
Imagine that God is present there with the being who is present to itself—imagine that God sees and holds that being, in its nakedness and smallness, plenitude and excess, in its supreme solitude. Imagine that God is that being who holds its plenitude and its lack, who witnesses its solitude. God as the One whose very presence transforms shame into relationship.
Even in the abject moment of being shamed, if we can conceive of the experience in this way, perhaps a strange and perfect intimacy arises. Let us remember, that if Christ underwent such horrific shaming, Christ is also our witness. Seeing Christ like this shows me that, as crippling as it can feel, it is exactly to such moments of bareness and weakness and need—in the desert of our being—that the presence of God rushes.
– Atticus Zavaletta
April 3, 2014 Comments Off on The Fifth Station: Jesus Is Stripped of His Clothes
Our flesh is soft, vulnerable. We clothe ourselves not just to adorn or beautify but in order to protect our flesh from cold and heat, from bugs and burrs, from the gaze of others. In clothing, we can tell ourselves that we are still protected, still accorded some dignity in this world. Clothing is one of our first and last possessions.
Before he is crucified, Jesus, like other criminals being taken for crucifixion, is stripped of this last of human trappings, this last protection, this last security. He is completely vulnerable to everything that comes at him, open to the instruments of his torture and execution as well as to the scorn and indifference of those who surround him.
Imagining him standing there naked, bleeding from the wounds of his lashing and the crown of thorns, weary unto death, gives a new and terrible dimension to the words Paul will later write that are of such comfort to me and many others: “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Not even his clothing. That availability, that closeness to every human heart and all who suffer is won at a great cost.
– The Rev. Gabriel Lamazares