You are invited to join us on a virtual Stations of the Cross experience this Holy Week. Over the next 6 days from Monday through Saturday, we will offer images for morning and evening meditation. These images come from the artist Scott Erickson. As we face the weight of anxiety, uncertainty, and fear, especially during this season of Covid-19, I pray that we can find hope and peace through Christ our Lord, the Great Physician, who came to redeem us and heal us so that we might be restored into communion with our God.
Jesus says, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me" (Matthew 26:38). In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is compelled to desperate prayer. And Jesus is completely honest in his prayer. What is it that drives us to such desperate times of prayer? As Jesus gathers his friends around him in his time of prayer, who are the people that we gather around us to support us in our time of need? We all face the temptation to escape reality and live in some fantasy realm. But how can we be faithful to the people and places God has called us to in our real life and face the future with hope and resolve?
"The son of man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him and after three days he will rise" (Mark 9:31). Judas was willing to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. When Judas identifies Jesus in the Garden, Jesus says, "Friend, do what you came here to do" (Matthew 26:50). The son of God was betrayed by a friend, one of his own creation whom he loved. In this time we are led to consider what really matters? What is truly important to us? And where are we tempted to betray our Lord, our friends, our family, our commitments, and even ourselves for the sake of money, wealth, power, influence, and success? Is it all worth it?
"Shall I crucify your king?" Pilate asked. "We have not king but Caesar," the chief priest answered. John 19:15.
Jesus here is condemned by religious leaders. The very people who are supposed to be considered most holy are caught up in the act of judgment, hate, and condemnation. Jesus submits quietly and peacefully. What was the fear of the religious leaders? How did Jesus threaten them and how might Jesus upset the status quo. We all remember all those who are subject to hate and judgment today.
In this image, consider all of the icons represented in these hands. This is one story and one historical moment. But at the same time it is a cosmic story that affects all of us, as it is all of our stories.
“We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”--Matthew 20:18-19.
These Roman soldiers brutalized Jesus, possibly in the same way they respond to other Jewish prisoners. What brings on our mockery of others? How can human beings treat each other in this way? Who are those who are still mocked and bullied today? Where have we been tempted to join in the chorus of mocking voices?
"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life."--John 3:14-15.
There is no way to sugarcoat it. The cross was a public murder device for criminals. That was how Jesus was killed and he took of his cross willingly.
Notice the images of the bread and cup within Jesus' arms. On the cross, his body is broken for us and his blood poured out for us so that we might be saved and have new life.
"Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." John 12:24.
This station, although not found in scripture, is traditionally depicted in three stations. It symbolizes the humanity of Jesus and his ever-decreasing strength as he moves towards his public death. Imagine Jesus experiencing weakness and distress in a public setting with nowhere to hide. Image the exhaustion of his last 24 hours.
As we consider the weakness and exhaustion, especially in our current moment of the Covid-19 crisis, let us take comfort in knowing that Jesus has felt these things and Jesus is with us.
"As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus." Luke 23:26.
Imagine being pulled from the crowd and carrying this man's device of death. We don't know if Simon was forced to carry the cross or if he did so willingly. But we know that Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). How are we called to take up our cross today and to live our lives for the sake of others?
In this time when so many are suffering and vulnerable, how can we carry one another's burdens? What is it like to walk alongside Jesus in all of this, as Simon did?
"Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.--Luke 23:34.
The reality is that Romans crucified criminals naked. Jesus was stripped of all his clothes and completely exposed. Think back to Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve feel the shame of their nakedness for the first time.
We too may feel stripped and exposed, not of our clothes, but of all that we use to cover our fragility. Especially in this time of Covid-19, many of the things that we usually rely upon for comfort and distraction are stripped away and our values, priorities, and faith are laid bare. Thank you Lord for being a compassionate friend who understands the humility of being stripped. May your love translate into compassion for my own naked fragility.
"And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all humankind to myself" (John 12:32).
The long physical pain of crucifixion was excruciating. In fact, the word excruciating is derived from crucifixion. Imagine Jesus' arms stretched wide on the cross. That gesture is one of invitation and embrace. With arms open wide, Jesus is drawing you to himself.
I remember one pastor telling me that it wasn't the nails that held Jesus on the cross, but the love of Jesus that held him there. In moments where you feel forsaken, may you feel the loving embrace of Jesus.
“It is finished.” John 19:30
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46
"Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world"--John 1:29.
Jesus died. Our greatest fear is death. And He was not insulated from that fear. His physical body stopped working. His friends watched Him die. "Greater love has no one than this than to lay down one's life for one's friends."--John 15:13.
Any loss of life is extremely sad. In this moment where so many are dying due to Covid-19, we mourn and grieve for our world. Our fragility and mortality is all the more clear to us. On this Good Friday we mourn and grieve the death of our Lord. May we find comfort and hope in the Lamb of God who took up our pain and bore our suffering. As we come face to face with the reality of our mortality, may we know that by His wounds, we are healed.
"When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial."--Matthew 26:12.
His friends buried Him. Have you ever buried a loved one? Imagine doing that with the one you believed was going to change the world and bring ultimate justice and healing.
The image here is of a shovel and rose. The shovel is a tool that can be used to dig a grave, but also to plant new life in a garden. The rose is an image of something beautiful but fragile. We recall the Christmas carol, "Lo, how a rose e're blooming, from tender shoot hath sprung." Perhaps we also recall the story of Mary in the garden after Jesus is raised, mistaking Jesus for the gardener.
Holy Saturday is the day we celebrate the silence of the tomb. The silence of loss. the silence of absence. The silence of graves where our loved ones lay. May we spend time in silence today and acknowledge our sense of loss and resonate with the disciples' uncertainty over what would happen now that their Lord was in the tomb.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays his life down for his sheep.” John 10:11
“Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the son of man has been raised from the dead.” Matthew 17:9
“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” Revelation 1:17-18
George Addair is quoted as saying, "Everything you've ever wanted is on the other side of fear." Consider the other side of our greatest fear, the other side of the unknown, the other side of death. Jesus shows us that there is something beyond death. Nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love God in Christ Jesus. He was raised so that we too might experience new life.
Late in the evening on Holy Saturday, we celebrate the Easter Vigil service. This provides a space, a liturgy for us to show up in the dark, holding the absence and grief of these days, so that God might teach us again how new life can be born even here. May you wait in joyful anticipation of Easter Sunday where we say triumphantly, "He is risen, He is risen indeed. Alleluia."