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
March 18, 2011 Comments Off on Second Station: Jesus Takes Up His Cross
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on His head. They put a reed in His right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put His own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
Today, the Stations of the Cross are so powerful because of their symbolism, but in Christ’s time His actions were anything but symbolic. Taking up the cross was a path to certain, and certainly painful, death. Between the First Station, when Jesus is condemned to die by Pilate, and the Second, when He takes up the cross, Jesus is subjected to unspeakable beating and torture. The Second Station documents the cruelty of the scorn and humiliations heaped upon him. The physical weight of the cross itself must have been bone crushing (to say nothing of the metaphysical ‘burden’!). Yet the Bible records not a single word of protest. He allowed himself to be captured, knowing of the pain to come.
For me, the Second Station is the crux of Christ’s Passion. The later stations seem far more poignant, but the Second Station conveys the essence of Christ’s love, His sacrifice. Jesus accepted His suffering willingly. He took up the cross—a then-universal mark of condemnation that He transformed into the symbol of salvation—willingly. He led a phalanx of His enemies, and supporters, on the path to crucifixion at Calvary. Willingly. All of Christ’s teachings and lessons on how we should live that came before, everything that follows in the Passion after, are illuminated in this moment.
I can’t think about this station without thinking about Mark 8:34: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up His cross, and follow Me.” It’s easy for me to read this passage in terms of my own struggles with surrendering, and submitting to God’s plans for me. But I think it means more than that—not just accepting our trials or sufferings without complaint, but also wholly sublimating ourselves to God, and to following Jesus’ example, at every point in our life. In fact, we pray for this each day in The Lord’s Prayer: ‘Thy will be done.’ But for me, the aspirations of that daily prayer can butt up hard against my own daily willfulness.
Some days I am more willing than others to follow Christ’s example.
On my off days, I pray just for the willingness…
– Jack Murray