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 11, 2015 § 1 Comment
“Christ-follower.” “Student.” “Husband.” “Listener.” “Auntie-Mother-Father-Sister-Brother-Spiritual Advisor-Friend.” “Congregant.” “Worshiper.” “Pray-er.” “Caretaker.” “Encourager.” “Baker and Short-Order Cook.” “Housewife.” “Gleaner.” “Secretary.” “Commuter.” “Reader.” “Social Media Whore.” “Information seeker.”
We play so many roles in one lifetime; these are just a few of mine. So many different hats, so many different scripts, so many different expectations placed on us, so many different guises, rules, games, presumptions, postures, behaviours…so many roles.
Sometimes we try on new habits, new uniforms: “Gym rat.” “Vegan.” “Knitter.” to see if we’re comfortable playing those parts. Sometimes we can incorporate those new clothes into our old wardrobe, but sometimes the fit is too tight, or the colors don’t quite go together, and we have to put the newness aside.
Sometimes we’re cast in roles, with or without our permission, and forced to inform the casting director that we’re either uncomfortable with the part as written, or we’re withdrawing from the production altogether because the script is not playing out as well as we had hoped. Sometimes we don’t re-evaluate our participation, either, and we end up feeling used and carelessly treated. I know that throughout my life, I’ve often been cast in the role of “Confidante” by murmurers who believe I will participate in dialogue as they rail and bitch and moan and gossip, and I’ve lost more than a few acquaintances by informing them that I just don’t play those kinds of scenes.
There are also roles we’re born in to, like “Son.” “Daughter.” “Sibling.” … some of the scripts for these scenes are quite painful, as anyone who has stayed away from home purposefully and then returns for a rare festival knows. One of my besties says, “I’m going back home so all those people can push all those buttons they programmed so well and so long ago.”
The problem with being cast in a role with a long run, however, is that we can begin to perform perfunctorily, going through the motions, on automatic pilot. Not being truly awake while we’re alive. Reciting our lines without Being There. I mean, how many times have I TRULY not wanted to be in Church on a Sunday, white-knuckled the Prayer Book and rattled off Old 64 (“…Deliver us, when we draw near to thee, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind…”), and sat there bemoaning the fact that the first half of the service is basically a sing-along with some aerobics and a whole lot of listening until I start to perk up at the Prayers and The Magic Show. Ugh. (#LentUnEdited) I think this is one of the reasons I love Lent so much (yes, I said it, I love Lent) because it’s a spiritual re-boot, it’s a time to slow down in order to notice the blessings around us, a time to breathe deeply in appreciation of the miracles at every turn. You know, I realised Saturdayat Posey and Kristin’s Deaconate ordination when we chanted the Taizé Veni Sancte Spiritus in choir that I hadn’t truly stopped to breathe in the silence of God with a quiet mind for WEEKS ! (snow grumble shoveling grumble cross country skiing on snow then ice then snow covered ice then lake jumping, lather-rinse-repeat grumble.)
At the station where Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem, he encounters on his journey professional wailing women. If you’ve never seen Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders in skits where they play professional acting extras you’ve missed some good comedy. They never have lines in the movie they’re filming or the LIVE opera in which they’re performing, but you hear their running inner dialogue as they discuss all their subtext and motivation for moving from here to there, “I think I’d be sweeping, should I start sweeping?” “Oh yes, I’m going to go over to the fountain!” I’m afraid I’ve got some French and Saunders damage here.
I imagine the women Jesus comes across find out there is to be a crucifixion that day. Maybe they don’t want to come to work. Maybe they’re tired, or maybe they’re bored because it’s just one more crucifixion of one more poor slob who thinks he’s Messiah. Or maybe they still need to do their Sabbath shopping and they’re ticking off their grocery list while they’re going through the motions of wailing and woe-ing and crying and lamenting. Then guess what. Just like always, Jesus turns the tables on them.
I mean, think about all he’s been through by this point and he’s just gonna stop? and start giving performance notes and line readings to these women? What the What? And think what the women must be thinking ! It’s like, “Ermahgerd, why is he TALKING to us, he’s just supposed to be whipped along his way ! We don’t have lines with him in this script ! Keep walking!” And what does he say? He says, “Weep not for me, weep for yourselves !” and I think, doesn’t this happen to us on Ash Wednesday?
One of the very few times the Book of Common Prayer addresses us directly, in the name of the Church, is right there after the sermon in the Proper Liturgy for Ash Wednesday: “Dear People of God…” Ermahgerd, is she talking to us? And then the priest invites us “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”
This is basically the same moment as our station, right? Whether we’re attending the Ash Wednesday service and truly participating, or whether we’ve rushed to it from work to try to squeeze the service in (#MyAshIsInChurch), we’ve come in, done some aerobics, we’ve heard some readings, and then the priest stands there and directly confronts us with, “Weep for yourselves!” Examine yourselves! Check yourselves! Turn from ways which are harmful to you, harmful to others. Pray on these things. Read about these things. Meditate on these things. (#LetsMeetInThePrayerBook) Fast from things so that you may know the painful lack others experience daily. Remove from your life excess, maybe not for always, maybe just for this season. But all these practices, always anattempt to simplify, to make us more aerodynamic … Lent … #LessIsMore …
In this season, Jesus stops what he’s doing, turns to us, faces us full on and says just for right now…just for this appointed time…please. stop. rejuvenate, gather strength. because the time will come, and soon, when we will need all our strength to pray for others boldly and effectively, to serve one another with power, and to bring witness to the ends of the earth of the Risen Christ … until then, “we must put our whole trust and confidence in God’s mercy, and evermore serve God in holiness and pureness of living, to God’s honor and glory.”
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
February 26, 2015 Comments Off on The Second Station: Jesus Takes Up His Cross
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
This station, rather than simply being one more way-station on the road to Golgotha, seems to me to be significant in terms of our practice discipleship. Jesus is not simply suffering something that is his own to bear. Rather, he is doing something, that in its obedience and self-denial, he holds up as a model for everyone who is drawn to follow in his footsteps.
Jesus’ crucifixion seems to many observers to be a terrible tragedy, the fate of someone trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I think this robs Jesus of his crucial agency in the sublime and terrible working out of salvation that took place on the cross. In every moment, Jesus chose to meet his fate, however cruel, with open eyes and an open heart. When he takes up his cross, he provides us an example of meeting the violence and hatred that prophetic actions can provoke with sober dignity, conscious choice, and forbearing love.
It is the vocation of his followers to meet hatred with love, to bear undeserved suffering with grace, with the hope that God is still working out the Divine Purpose, even when nothing makes sense.
– The Rev. Gabriel Lamazares
March 27, 2014 Comments Off on The Fourth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28). James Middleton’s Fourth Station dramatizes this moment of encounter between Jesus and these women of Jerusalem. We see just the hands of women reaching toward Jesus in various poses, various ways of trying to encounter Jesus. We also see just the hand of Jesus in both a gesture of stop and simultaneously a gesture of reaching out. Between Jesus and the women is the cross. What might this visual interpretation be suggesting?
The scriptural basis for this station comes from Luke 23:28-31. Interpretations abound, but one is that the “daughters of Jerusalem” were professional mourners, women who went to mourn on behalf of those men who were on their way to death. These women were attempting to visibly grieve for those who may have had no one else who might mourn them, and in that way hospitality was extended to the least, to the other, as a way to please God.
In light of this interpretation, Jesus’s response is an interesting challenge. It problematizes the outward practice of professional mourning for these criminals, the outcasts of society as a religious practice . It may be tempting then to see Jesus’s response akin to what many a parent may have thought during the tantrum of their child: “I’ll give you something to cry about.” I think Jesus, however, might be calling out the problem of inauthenticity, of grieving for show, without compassion, in the name of God for those perceived as less than. Underlying this may go something like, “this could never happen to me or people like me,” or “maybe they brought on their own suffering”, and “I’m glad I’m not like those people.”
Suffering, shame, death is not just for those “other people”, those people we do not consider part of our safe circle. I once had a conversation over a very dry martini with a retired NYC school teacher who would tell her third grade students when they started to bully or gang up on the weaker kids, “We all bleed, we all cry, and we all die.” What Jesus’s response suggests to me in this interpretation is that whatever suffering or shame is going on with me is also going on with you. We all bleed, we all cry, and we all die. We are all the “other”.
I like the way James has painted the cross in between Jesus and the women, the way it almost seems like Jesus is pushing, offering the cross to the women, and how it connects him to the women. The cross reminds us that we all have the human experience of suffering, of shame, of death. No human is exempt. And part of the mystery of the cross is that in authentically responding to our suffering and identifying the same suffering in others, we have an opportunity far greater than cheap pity. This opportunity of compassion, literally suffering with, brings with it redemptive grace, resilience, and resurrection.
– Nicole Hanley
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 6, 2014 § 1 Comment
Yesterday, I went to church in the afternoon. I usually love Ash
Wednesday–thinking about life and death and preparing for this holy
season–I like the order and ritual of it all. I like nodding to people on the street who are also wearing ashes. But this year, I found myself lost in the privilege of Ash Wednesday. How many are
unable to take the time to go to church in the middle of the week? How many are ill? For whom is the reminder of death all too present, too imminent? Last week, my grandmother died. Yesterday, I held the prayer book she gave me for my 11th birthday in my hands and read psalm 51. The priest had just looked into my eyes and firmly, sternly reminded me, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It made me sadder than I had expected–it ushered me into a mourning I had not anticipated.
Today, we begin our journey through the stations of the cross.
Throughout the season of Lent, this blog will offer meditations on
this series of moments at the very end of Jesus’ life as depicted in
parishioner James Middleton’s paintings. So today, I face the outset
of this journey with ashes on my forehead, with mortality at the front
of my mind, with loss present and visceral. The stations of the cross
begin with, “Jesus is condemned to death by Pilate.”
It’s a plot point with which we churchgoers are familiar; we recite it
in the Nicene Creed each week. Still, I couldn’t figure out what I was
looking at in the image–faceless bodies holding spears and a seated
body washing his hands in a stream of water–until I turned to
scripture: “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.” (Matthew 27:24) The deaths we begin with are complicated;
the mortality we remember at the beginning of this season of Lent is
not simple. Even a ritual as small and seemingly innocuous as washing
hands–what our priests do before every Eucharist–is called into
question as we start Lent.
It is a reminder that we are all called to death, and we are all
called to life. The two go hand in hand, just as the water that washes
us pours through our fingers. And in this liturgical season, the
miracle is that life comes after death. This is why we celebrate Holy
Communion after our imposition of ashes; this is why we can forge
through these 40 days with the promise of Easter on the horizon. As we
begin our journey through Jesus’ stations, may we marvel at the
incomprehensible promise of life which will come out of death.
– Julia Stroud
March 22, 2012 § 1 Comment
Every Friday night in the Taizé Community, a more or less life-sized iconic cross is removed from its stand and laid parallel to the ground upon a few cinder blocks. During the Community’s evening prayer, the brothers and any guests who are present (sometimes as many as 5000 people) gather around the cross in a shared gesture of remembrance and devotion. All are invited to approach the cross, kneel by it, and rest their forehead upon the painted wood for a moment of prayer. Unlike any Veneration of the Cross that I have experienced elsewhere, prayer around the cross in Taizé is unique in that it is inescapably communal: the iconic cross is large enough for up to eight people to gather around it at a time. To approach the cross is, quite literally, to approach others.
In the many Friday nights that I have shared in this incredible ritual, it is always the gritty, physical, human aspects of prayer around the cross that strike me most deeply. It is one thing to make a tidy genuflection before a far-away crucifix, and quite another to wait in a throng of thousands for the chance to wedge yourself, shoulder to shoulder, into a circle of eight strangers, elbowing your way forward to find a spare corner of cross upon which to lay your head. Tears flow freely, murmured prayers in dozens of different languages are audible to all; to venerate the cross in Taizé is hardly a private devotional practice. I have often been struck by the impression that the wood of the iconic cross serves as a conduit, binding together all those gathered around it, uniting them not only in physical presence, but also in an invisible bond of prayer. Although it has been four years since I was last in Taizé, the memories of those Friday nights remain burned into my consciousness. I cannot think of Good Friday without thinking of the fleeting but profound community created around that cross or the explanatory words of one of the brothers: “the closer we come to Christ, the closer we come to one another.”
Death, as horrific as it can be, has extraordinary power to bring people together. It is by no means inevitable that the tragic rupture of death creates and builds up community, but the opportunity is always there, even if it is not always lived out. We can see it, perhaps, in our own encounters with death, in the gatherings of family, friends, and sometimes strangers around sickbeds and at memorial services. We can see it, too in the story of Christ’s Passion, where the birthing of community happens even at the foot of the cross:
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” (John 19:26-27)
As we move closer and closer to Holy Week, may we find ourselves swept up – together – in the great mystery of life and death. May we be given hearts wide enough and imaginations broad enough to fathom the community into which we are being called as we approach the Cross, and may we strive to welcome each other with delight and with awe.
– Kristin Saylor
March 15, 2012 Comments Off on The Fifth Station: Jesus Is Stripped of His Clothes
At the climax of Julie Delpy’s Two Days in Paris Jack (Adam Goldberg) strips naked before his girlfriend, Marion (Julie Delpy) as they confront one another about the status of their relationship. He drops his pants, and everything else, in an aggressive manner denoting that he wanted Marion to really know who he was. While nakedness was familiar to Marion and Jack’s relationship, Jack used nakedness, in this instance, to remove any barriers that prevented Marion from perceiving Jack as he really was.
Like Adam and Eve, feeling shame toward our naked bodies is a learned posture. Watch any screaming naked newborn baby as it enters our world, and it is clear that being naked is the least of the baby’s concerns. Yet somehow we, as babies, children, teenagers, and adults, learn to invest great time, thought, and money into how we cover our nakedness. This is especially true for those living in New York City. Even so, it is worth considering how our routine concern for covering impacts our relationship with God and with others. Perhaps it is no mistake that Jesus was naked on his painful journey to his ultimate confrontation with God and the people who persecuted him. Perhaps it was the only way for him to be fully present on the journey of ultimate sacrifice and for his humanity to be truly perceived both by those who loved and hated him.
Humiliation and pain make hiding highly desirable. In those moments we want to run to the nearest dark space, cover our heads with a blanket, and just disappear from everyone and from God. A challenge in the fifth station of the cross is to become truly present, truly vulnerable, and truly naked in our confrontations with God and with others when we’re experiencing humiliation, pain, and the inclination to run far far away. Such metaphorical nudity might mean exchanging our masks of superficial pleasantries with bare honest conversations. It might also mean being naked, literally, before God and/or before others we trust. Because it is especially in that moment that we can no longer hide our condition of being utterly human.
– Michelle R. Jackson
Michelle is Assistant Program Director, Stewardship Services at the Episcopal Church Foundation.
March 8, 2012 § 3 Comments
The hands painted in James Middleton’s 4th Station of the Cross are telling us two interconnected stories: one is the story about how Jesus related to women and the other one is about the intensity of the destitution within which women lived in Jesus’ time.
Jesus talked to women, prayed for them and was moved to tears when He saw their great suffering. He accepted the signs of hospitality that women offered him, healed those who had sinned and brought back to life the men who could protect them. Jesus even engaged in theological discussions with women. In fact, the Samaritan woman was Jesus’ first disciple in her land. He did not really care whether women were Jews or Samaritans and women were among the seventy He sent out to preach the Good News. The word “apostoloi” means “those who are sent” or “messengers.” There were many female apostles in the 70; moreover, Mary Magdalene and the two Mary’s are the first people encountering the Resurrected Jesus.
These stories of inclusion and gender equality are in dramatic contrast with the realities of the cultural climate preceding and during Jesus’ times. The expression “Daughters of Jerusalem,” in Luke 23: 27-31, refers to the poor who lived in the outskirts of the walled city. The poor were the widows and the children who had no right to inheritance and were abandoned by those who held the patriarchal right of inheritance. The poor were the sick, the women and the outcasts, who were forced to live in isolation and abandonment by the complacency of the high priests, the aristocrats and the wealthy.
“Do not weep for me but weep for yourselves and your children.” Jesus was concerned for what would happen to them, since in those days there were three hate-mongers— zealots—whom Josephus called “firebrands.” Jesus contrasts his preaching to theirs as “green wood.” Jesus knew that so much hate would end in a terrible war.
For whom would Jesus be weeping today? Who are those among us weeping and wailing? Who are the hate-mongers in today’s struggles for dignity, justice and peace? How can you and I stop the efforts of the firebrands of our time?
– Anahi Galante