April 2, 2015 § 1 Comment
There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. (John 19:18)
Nailed, between them. How often have I felt precisely that – nailed, between them? What does it mean for you to be “nailed”? For me, I imagine it as that inescapable suffering or fear or preoccupation that pins me down with no hope of escape. It’s not like death, it is death.
And what is this experience for you of being nailed, between them? In John, Jesus in nailed between two thieves, one in despair and one in hope. For me, my experience of fear, loneliness, suffering – death experiences – often feels like I am being nailed between despair and hope.
It’s easy to want to alleviate the pain, which seems so all consuming, reducing me to what feels like nothingness. There is the old familiar struggle. I feel pain, so I despair, thinking nothing will ever be good again. But how I miss what was good, so I look to find hope, a way out. Hope is elusive, at least the nostalgic hope or the false hope I want desperately, and so I despair in its emptiness. So then I need to get rid of the pain, and I seek out ways to give me temporary false hope again, maybe even a little hit of cheap grace dispensed by comfortable, old ways.
Pema Chödrön has used the image of a child with scabies who feels the itch to scratch, but the more the child scratches the more the child bleeds, spreading the scabies disease. She identifies three ways we try to scratch our itch – numbing, fighting, and craving. It gives us temporary relief, she points out, but the itch comes back and eventually we scratch ourselves bloody. C.S. Lewis puts it in his way in A Grief Observed: “The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just that time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.”
We are all accustomed to try to rid ourselves of the pain, grief, loneliness, and all the death experiences we encounter. Frank Sinatra once famously was quoted as saying, “I’m for whatever gets you through the night.” I think we all seem resonate with doing whatever it takes to get us through these dark nights. And yet, I think the hard lesson that Jesus is modeling is that instead of pushing away death and coming down from the cross is that we need to exactly stay with death. It’s exactly in staying present to death that we open ourselves for the space of God to break through out of death. We want to hurry on to the resurrection bits, but Jesus reminds us that we need to stay present in the death experiences first.
Thomas Merton’s poem, “The Night of Destiny” puts this beautifully:
My love is darkness!
Only in the Void
Are all ways one:
Only in the night
Are all the lost
In my ending is my meaning.
I think we want to get past the ending anyway we can to get through the night to find our meaning, but Merton is rightfully pointing out that in the ending – the death – is the meaning. That is not to say that death has the last word or that death itself is the meaning, but rather that the staying present to experiences of death is the meaning of resurrection we seek, because in those wounds God breaks through to us. We begin to lose that false hope and all those false selves that lie to us to keep us small. Instead of struggling to rid ourselves of the pain, we exactly lean into the pain so that the pain and death no longer has some sort of power over us.
Maybe it looks like for you what it looks like for me when God breaks through by leaning into death. For me, the shame voices start to shed themselves, the ones that might say, “You aren’t good enough. You kind of suck. Why are you so stupid?” We all have some variant of those voices that keep us small. And yet, if I stay present to what is causing me suffering and lean in, I find myself being gentler with myself and with my wounds. I start to realize that God is breaking through in and through my wounds.
As we enter into this sacred Triduum, I invite you to acknowledge your wounds and to stay with them. Let yourself be nailed. Lean into the death. Stay with it along with Jesus so that we might give the space to let the light of the resurrection break free in our wonderfully created beings.
– Nicole Hanley
March 26, 2015 Comments Off on The Sixth Station: Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross
The year is approximately 665. Wandering the English countryside outside the Abbey of Whitby, we find the Anglo Saxon poet, Caedmon. Although at this time, he is not yet a poet. Caedmon is an iterant and illiterate herdsman. He has been hired by the local abbey to take care of the animals. As he curls up in the hay to sleep one evening, Caedmon has the most remarkable dream. A dream in which God calls him to leave his flocks and praise God by composing Christian verses. He has a vision of the Holy Cross of Christ and writes the first ever hymns and poems in the Old English.
The Dream of the Rood, as it is known, recalls that vision and poignantly captures the moment of our 6th Station of the Cross, Jesus is nailed to the Cross. In section one of the poem, the narrator has a vision of the mighty Cross. When the narrator first encounters the Cross, he noticed that it is covered with gold and precious stones. He laments his sinful state and says that he is unworthy to stand in the presence of the tree. However, as he studies the Cross more closely, he notices that amid the beautiful stones and jewels, it is stained with blood.
In section two, the Cross shares its account of Jesus’ death. The crucifixion story is told from the perspective of the Cross. It begins with an unnamed enemy coming to cut the tree down and carrying it away. The tree laments that it is going to be used for a criminal but then is joyful to learn that it is not to be the bearer of a common criminal, but instead Christ crucified. Jesus and the Cross are joined and they stand together triumphantly refusing to fall. Together they take on terrible pain for the sake of mankind. In this brutal telling, it is not just Christ, but also the personified Cross that is pierced through with nails. The cross is depicted as a loyal follower of Jesus, constant to the very end. The Cross and Christ are one in this portrayal of the passion narrative—they are both pierced with nails, scorned and tortured. Here is that moment, taken from a modern English translation.
Then saw I mankind’s Lord come with great courage when he would mount on me.
Then dared I not against the Lord’s word bend or break, when I saw earth’s fields shake.
All fiends I could have felled,
but I stood fast.
The young hero stripped himself–he,
God Almighty– strong and stout-minded.
He mounted high gallows,
bold before many,
when he would loose mankind.
I shook when that Man clasped me.
I dared, still, not bow to earth,
fall to earth’s fields,
but had to stand fast.
Rood was I reared.
I lifted a mighty King, Lord of the heavens,
dared not to bend.
With dark nails they drove me through:
on me those sores are seen, open malice-wounds.
I dared not scathe anyone.
They mocked us both,
we two together.
All wet with blood I was,
poured out from that Man’s side,
after ghost he gave up.
Dream of the Rood
For me, the 6th Station of the Cross is always the hardest. I think it is the raw pain of the moment. There is absolutely no turning back now. What I find so touching about the Dream of the Rood, is the personified Cross’s commitment to being with Christ throughout his final ordeal. The Cross never abandons him and is there until the end. At the heart of this narrative is an important reminder that stretches beyond this moment of horrible pain. We are called to bear each other’s burdens and support each other in the unspeakably difficult moment of life. For me, this year, the 6th Station of the Cross and the Dream of the Rood, are a call to discipleship and renewed commitment to care for others in moments of hardship and trauma.
– Rev. Emily Lloyd
April 10, 2014 § 1 Comment
Jesus is nailed to the cross, and if we are living Lent faithfully we cannot look away. We must watch as soldiers pierce our Lord. How can we take in this terrible reality?
I’m reflecting on nails. Nails are the smallest part in this horrible scene.
We know Jesus must have worked with nails. He was a carpenter, just like his father. Millay’s painting Christ In The House of His Parents, helps us to see a young Jesus starting to learn his trade. In 1850’s London, the painting was called ugly. Critics like Charles Dickens did not want to see this image of Jesus: a vulnerable child in a dirty workshop, bleeding from a hand nicked on an exposed nail.
When I first read their criticism of this painting, I dismissed Dickens and the rest of these critics as old-fashioned and ridiculous. I didn’t understand their outrage. With more reflection, I’ve started to see how hard it is to have your personal vision of Jesus challenged or changed.
That’s why I’m stuck thinking about nails.
Most of us are not carpenters, but we know that nails finish things off. Nails close boxes. Nails hold the roof on tight and nails secure the doorjamb.
The nails in Jesus’ hands are different. These nails didn’t close anything. The nails don’t end the story. Instead the nails open Jesus’ arms in a loving embrace.
As Easter gets closer, the nails and Millay’s painting can remind us to re-consider how we see Jesus. Looking at the nails can lead us to his open arms.
May the wounded hands of Jesus shape us and hold us, guiding us toward the glory that will come. Amen.
– Chris Phillips
April 10, 2014 Comments Off on The Sixth Station: Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross
James Middleton’s Sixth Station shows a hammer mid-air after striking a nail through Jesus’ right wrist, blood spurting, while the left hand of the soldier is blood stained. As I reflect on contemporary ways of how we participate in nailing others to the cross, I am reminded of Countee Cullen’s Christ Recrucified:
by Countee Cullen
The South is crucifying Christ again
By all the laws of ancient rote and rule:
The ribald cries of ‘ ‘Save yourself” and “fool”
Din in his ear, the thorns grope for his brain,
And where they bite, swift springing rivers stain
His gaudy, purple robe of ridicule
With sullen red; and acid wine to cool
His thirst is thrust at him, with lurking pain.
Christ’s awful wrong is that he’s dark of hue,
The sin for which no blamelessness atones;
But lest the sameness of the cross should tire,
They kill him now with famished tongues of fire,
And while he burns, good men, and women too,
Shout, battling for black and brittle bones.
Where do we see Christ nailed to the cross today? How are our hands blood stained in cooperation?
– Nicole Hanley