Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jesus Falls Third Time - Station 9

photo by eliduke / flickr
"Before reaching Calvary,
Jesus fell heavily a third time."
 --Tradition of the Jerusalem Church

“Let us continue,” our tour-guide, the priest says. Pointing upward he says, “We come to what might be the strangest Station of them all. Jesus falls a third time.” It’s funny isn’t it, the Lord Jesus, the Savior of the world, falls and falls and falls.

There was on old Gnostic heresy that is still with us. They kept saying he wasn’t really a human being like us. Flesh and blood. No, he just appeared to be like us. Flesh was sinful—God’s son could never be sinful flesh.  Maybe this was one of the reasons that there are three fallings in the journey to the Cross.

 Hebrews knew the Incarnation well.  “Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he was able to help those who are being tested.” (Hebrews 2.17-18)

If we look back on our journeys honestly we might just confess that there have been stumblings and falls and terrible wrong choices and sins galore. Three falls? Oh yes, we know about falls don’t we. So the Church helps us here with the holy reminder that sooner or later there will be a fly in our ointment.

That third fall of Jesus must have opened up his wounds and sores all over again. And when the old memories come back to haunt us—our wounds and sores break open again. We thought all this was over. Maybe we never graduate from the human race. Somebody said we are always forever in Junior High School. And most of us can remember those awkward years.

So Richard Rohr reminds us, “There must be, and if we are honest, there will be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot fix, control, explain, change, or even

So what happens? Jesus slowly picked up his cross again and staggered toward Calvary. This was not the end. And what this Station says to me is that despite whatever glitches and falls we may have—our journey is not over either. We fall down and we get up and we fall down and we get up.

We know the end of the story. Even Calvary with all its terror and gore will not be the end. So Hebrews wrote toward of his book, “...since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” The writer of Hebrews talks about our struggles next. Our weariness and the times that we lose heart. And so he summarized, beautifully, “Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that wheat is lame may not be put out of jointed, but rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12. 1-2; 12-13)

Looking up at this Station, some in our group brush away the tears. For we know deep in our hearts that this third fall and all of our fallings are not the end of the story. The one who fell on the way of the cross is with us all.

A good Benediction here just might be that wonderful poem by the African-American poet, Langston Hughes. The poem is entitled, “Mother to Son.”

“Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t be no crystal stair.
 It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
 And  boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landins’
And turning corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’ honey,
I’se still  climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”
  --from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Jesus Speaks to the Women--Station 8

photo by jimforest / flickr
"A great crowd followed him, including women who beat their breasts and lamented over him." 
                       --Luke 23.27

Our little crowd moves past the seventh station where Jesus falls a second time. The Priest says, “Jesus somehow gets back on his feet still dragging the heavy cross as best he can. So, let’s stop here by the Eighth Station.” Looking up we see the women, the friends of Jesus, lamenting as only mid-Eastern women can. They are crushed and broken-hearted as they see the terrible things that are happening to Jesus. Luke calls them “the daughters of Jerusalem.” I love that title. All the way through the book, really we find these daughters. Take these daughters from the story and it would be poorer indeed.

We Protestants probably have made too little of Mary, the Mother of our Lord. Maybe the Catholics have it right with all their statues of the Holy Mother. But she is only a representative of all those other Mothers along the way. And all those who never married or all those who never gave birth—or couldn’t.

They are all there in the crowd, really. Dear Elizabeth, John’s mother.
The Mary’s and Martha’s.
The woman at the well with a shabby reputation.
Mary Magdalene who washed his feet.
Mother of Zebedees' sons.
The woman caught in adultery.
Peter’s mother-in-law.
The wise and foolish virgin’s.
Lydia and Dorcas.
The daughters of Jerusalem. We know them well.

Those mothers whose boys and girls have been beheaded. Malala. Those little twelve year olds strapped with bombs and pushed out into the crowd. Trayvon’s mother and Michael Brown’s mother. All those over there who live in bombed-out places and who have never known anything except fear and hunger and pain and destitution. Rape victims. Those daughters eaten away with Ebola or weighing seventy pounds in some African hovel. These mothers are everywhere in Palestine as well as Israel.

And this is why he lingered for just a moment on his journey. Looking up we remember what he told those daughters that sad day. “Do not weep for me...weep for yourselves...”
Not crocodile tears—but tears for injustice and all those daughters whose lives are hard as they stand behind some McDonald’s counter or locked in some room at fourteen to be used by all those who pay the man. And so Jesus says, “Do not weep for me.”  We are to look around us at where the tears should fall.

 Maybe this station reminds us it really isn’t about us. And our job is to give attention, as did our Lord to all those daughters in need. And in our time when compassion seems to be waning perhaps this is one of the most important stations of them all.

--Roger Lovette /

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jesus Falls A Second Time - Station 7

"...for though they fall seven times, they shall rise again."
                 --Proverbs 24. 26b

“We are mid-point in the journey,” the Priest tells us. “What do we find here?” Shuffling along with this little group that follow the stations—we look up. Jesus falls—again. Again? The priest continues, “This is the lesson of this Seventh Station.”

When the Jerusalem Church put together the Stations there were a multitude of points along the way where Jesus would fall. “So, the Priest intones, “There are three fallings in the fourteen Stations to the Cross.”

Organized religion has never been comfortable with failure or apostasy or brokenness. Years ago Karl Menninger wrote a book called, Whatever Became of Sin?

Yet, looking up it all begins to come back—the time we failed. Or lost the job we had lusted for all our lives. Or stood by the grave after 54 mostly good years. Or leaving the divorce court—tears streaming down your face. Or to be told: “It’s ALS.” We thought we were big too fail or too smart or strong or supposedly too good.

In an old novel, The Picture of Success, Phillip has lost his job and cannot seem to find another. And he says: “’There’s something wrong with all of us—you know that? I was thinking that the night of our party. We only tell each other the good things, the things that set us up a little in our own minds.’ He swallowed. ‘All the lousy stuff, the hard-luck items, we keep to our selves; we’re ashamed or something them.’ He glanced away, moodiness in his eyes. ‘You not only don’t talk about failure but you hope nobody will find out. Now why the hell is that? It’s when you lose that you need your friends, not when you’re on top. But nobody mentions losing, only winning. We all have to go round looking as if everything is great.’

Which brings me to these cross-less churches filled with smiling, well-dressed folk. “Come casual,” their ads say. And so they shuffle in wearing Birkenstocks or $185.00 Nikes or Ralph Lauren shirts—even their five year olds whose hands they hold. They are mostly young and healthy and not usually reminded that there is this Seventh station smack-dab in the middle of the journey.  But lest we mainliners get to pious we don’t often hear a sermon or even a hymn about the dark side, the shadow side. Yet—when we peer into the mirror and see our defeat, our failures, the lines in our faces or our sin—we wonder: could this be me?

This Station says that in this second falling of the Lord Jesus we are only halfway there. Strange gospel. We are not alone when we bite the dust. Here Jesus meets us all.  Richard Rohr reminds us, “If God has not learned to draw straight lines with crooked sticks, God is not going to be drawing very many lines at all.”

And looking up we know that if we follow this Jesus we follow him through all the ruts as well as the sunny places. And whatever happens, nothing will separate us from the love of God—no thing. And the old promise that runs from Genesis to Revelation: “I will be with you” may be the truest word of them all.

--Roger Lovette /

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Veronica Wipes Jesus' Face-- Station 6

Photo by Steve Snodgrass / flickr
"A pious woman wiped Jesus' 
--Tradition of the Jerusalem Church.

The Priest says, “We must move on—have a long way to go. We’ve only covered five of the Stations—we have nine more places to stop.”  And so we look up at the sixth Station. The Priest says that this is the only Station not found in the Scriptures. Only a legend, he says. “But look close.”

From out of the crowd that terrible day a woman squeezes her way through the onlookers. Women were not supposed to shove or stand in front. They were to be found always at the back of the line or the bus or even the pay scale.

Not Veronica. She sees Jesus passing by. “Bearing our grief’s,” the book says, “carrying our sorrows.” Bloody, cross-eyed with pain, almost naked—Jesus carries his cross. She did something unheard of that day. She took from her head her scarf. Her covering. Breaking all the rules—she took her head wrap and touched tenderly the wounded face of Jesus.

Jesus moved on. The guards made sure of that. And Veronica weaved her way back through the crowd. As she started to cover her head—she noticed something embedded in her cloth. Blood? Sweat? Tears? Dirt? Maybe pain itself. None of these. On her scarf she saw again the face of Jesus beaten and pain-filled as she had seen him that day.

This Station has been called: vera ikon.  True nature. True image. I think the Church kept this Station to remind us of who God truly is: “A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” 
But more—I think also the Church must have known that in reaching out and touching Jesus’ face—Veronica herself was changed. God—this God—was human and real and as close as the faces in that crowd.

Somewhere Buechner tells of a short story where a man did terrible, abusive things to his wife. She left him finally—broken and scarred. The man moved away to another place. He assumed a different identity.  He wore a mask that covered who he truly was. Those in the new place loved him. They found him to be kind and generous. Years later the ex-wife saw him. All the old pain surged again. She confronted him in a crowd. “They don’t know who you are. Take off that mask and let them see your real face!”  Slowly the man peeled away his facade. The woman was dumbfounded. This was not the same man. He had worn the mask so long that he had become what he wore. Looking up at this Station, I remembered this story too.

Veronica and her scarf bore the suffering face of Jesus. I think that moment changed her forever. And us? If we, too, move close and see who he truly is—will we ever be the same again? No wonder the Church took a legend and gave us a parable.

--Roger Lovette /

Monday, March 16, 2015

Fred Craddock - A Tribute

photo by Joe Weaks / flickr
This afternoon in a tiny place called Blue Ridge, Georgia Fred Caddock's funeral will be held. I wish I could be there. Dr.Craddock was a Preacher. Some people call a famous preacher "the Preacher's Preacher." Well, Fred Craddock was a whole lot more than that. He was everybody's preacher--for his stories and his life was always down to earth though he was a scholar and teacher and writer.

Like zillions of other preachers he challenged me to work hard on the craft of preaching. The stories he told remind me still of the parables of Jesus.

There are only a handful of preachers that, when I heard them, made me want to go and do something. Fred Craddock had that effect on me. And churches all over are not the same place as they were before Fred Craddock began teaching and helping us preachers. His stories, repeated (and stolen) week after week have helped bring the Gospel alive for so many people.

I don't know how to express what I feel about his living and passing. But since basketball is in the air everywhere these days I remembered a wonder story about the late Jim Valvano who was the  revered Coach at North Carolina State. Before his team won the National Championship he yelled at his team one night on March 9, 1987, "It comes from the heart!" In that very close game with North Carolina (which N.C State won 68-67) Jim Valvano was quiet for the first five minutes in the locker room. He was drawing X's and O's on the blackboard, talking about what they ought to do in that game. Then, one of the players said, "He threw down the chalk and started screaming, "It comes from the heart! It comes from the heart! It comes from the heart! Don't leave anything out there on the court!" Another one of his players was heard to say, "He had me ready to run through a wall."

Fred Craddock's personality was opposite of he tempestuous Valvano. Dr. Craddock was quiet--almost never raised his voice when he preached--but those of us on his team could never stand in the pulpit and preach exactly as we had before he came along, Not only did he remind us that preaching comes from the heart but also from the head and the stuff of everyday life.

In one sermon I remember him asking someone: "Have you brought Doxology?" Dr. Craddock brought Doxology. Thanks be to God.

You might be interested in the Youtube video that was replayed on CNN this week-end about this wonderful man.

                                            --Roger Lovette /

Simon Carries Jesus' Cross - Station 5

This photograph was taken from an art work in a church in Bolivia.
photo by PJ Furlong06  / flickr

"As they led him away, they laid hold of one Simon the Cyrenean who was coming in from the fields. They put a crossbeam on Simon's shoulder for him to carry along behind Jesus."
       --Luke 23.26

We move on, we pilgrims. Station Five,” someone whispers. We know that Jesus fell under the weight of the cross. He met his mother in the hardest place she or he had ever  been. The Priest stops. “Look up,” he says. “Simon helps Jesus carry his cross.”

Anybody helped you carry your cross?
Maybe a Mother.
Maybe a friend.
Maybe a partner in marriage.
Maybe even a child.
But somebody or several some bodies came forward
  and helped you lift whatever it was.

I’d preached with some success for years.
I’d stumbled but never really failed.
And then the bottom dropped out.
My poor wife reached out in desperation and
  tried to comfort.
 I wasn’t listening.
And one night there was a knock at the door.
“Can I come in?” he said.
He was friend. He was a church member.
  But he was mostly a friend.
“I know you are having a hard time
   and I want to help.”
“What do you want to do—stay or leave—
  I can help either way.”
 My wife said, “I want him to leave—
  if he stays here he will die.”
I simply nodded.
He said, “OK—if you want to leave
  You’ll need a good severance.”
And he ticked off, as good businessmen would
  a long list of needs.
“I’m going to task the church to do this
  for you.”
And then he said: “If the church won’t do this—
  I’ll pay the severance out of my pocket.”
But he wasn’t finished.
“I will do this because I believe in you...”
I needed that word of grace.
It got me through.
I think you know his name.

Looking up at Simon helping Jesus bear his cross—This is what I remembered.

photo by Suede Bicycle / flickr  

                                            --Roger Lovette

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Station 4 - Jesus Meets His Mother

photo by jimforest / flickr
"Is it nothing to you all who pass by?
Look, see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow."
                    Lamentations 1.12 

We move on, we pilgrims. So we come to this Fourth Station on the winding, twisting way that will lead to the Cross. Looking up we can’t help but be touched. The bloody, pain-filled Jesus—picks up his splintered cross and staggers toward Calvary. And in the crowd that lined the roads he picks out a face. His Mother. This must have been the hardest day of her hard life. All along she knew it would come to this. That scary time at the beginning when King Herod had vowed to kill all the baby boys and she and Joseph fled that cold night to save their child. Was this a prelude of what was to come? When we do not know what went on in that little house of Joseph and Mary and Jesus and his brothers during those silent years. When he was twelve she knew he was different when they found him in the Temple talking like an adult. His father’s business? Surely she must have whispered to Jehovah night after night, “Keep him safe.”

One day he left them—and how she missed him. Hardly a day went by that she did not wish he had stayed home and worked with Joseph in the shop. But that was not to be. And before long she would hear in the village that he had his enemies. Important people saying terrible things about her son. And when things got so bad she sent his boys to bring him home. He wouldn’t come.

photo by / flickr
And so it has come to this. Standing before Pilate. Beaten like a criminal. Tortured, God how he was tortured. And then this journey that will lead—she could not even put her mind around the word. But she was there—standing at the edge of the crowd.

Staggering along—her saw her. His mother. How can you cram a lifetime of memories into a moment? Jesus must have done that. And so did Mary.

What does it mean this Fourth station? Jesus meets his mother along the road. This faith business always is a relational word. A human word. A compassionate word.

Sceptics sneer. Bleeding hearts. Unpractical dreamers. All this helping just does not compute—or change anything. And so we are left with the Michael Browns and the Fergusons and the terrible memories of Sandy Hook. The list is endless. Injustice everywhere.  Unmarried mothers who don’t know how they will make it. Children whose lunch boxes they cannot fill for there is so little food. Those sad gaunt faces of mothers in Africa and Haiti and Iran so have so little. Those frightened undocumented mothers who do not know what the future will hold for them and theirs.

And so the Church points to this mother and child reunion. Attention must be paid. This Fourth Station is a
photo by Robert Croma / flickr
stopping off place. We cannot just pass by like all those good folk in the Samaritan story. Looking up at this scene: we know that Jesus never turned away. Doesn’t it mean that we also must stop and look and listen and then respond.

Biographers write that when Theodore Roosevelt was Police Commissioner in New York he picked up a book of photographs by Jacob Riis. The book showed picture after picture of people in the tenements. Immigrants. Terrible places where ten people lived in one room. Flats where rats ran freely. Places no human should live. The photographer called his book, How the Other Half Lives. Roosevelt was so moved that he decided to pay Mr. Riis a visit. He knocked on the man’s door. No answer. So Mr. Roosevelt took one of his calling cards and wrote: “Dear Mr. Riis, I have read your book and I have come to help.” He placed the card in the door and left.

Before we move on, look closely at this Station. Look through the eyes of Jesus. He reaches out to all the mothers from then until now. It doesn’t matter what we say or do—we believers—it comes down to this. We see like Jesus. And we must come to help.  

Photo by Eric.Parker of Good Friday Procession
in Little Italy, Toronto 2014/ flickr

--Roger Lovette /