Illumined by the central suns
Turning in their ancient track;
But what I saw was not His face at all--
I saw His bent figure on a windy hill,
Carrying a double load upon His back."
As we stop at the ninth station—we look up—this station looks familiar. Jesus falls. Wait—haven’t we been here already? Did not Jesus fall back there in the third station soon after they laid the heavy crossbeam on his shoulders? But that was not the only fall. When we stopped at the seventh station Jesus fell a second time. And now—staggering under a load that seems to have no end--Jesus falls a third time.
There is an old story that a farmer talked with a monk one day. On the hill there was the monastery. And the farmer wondered what went on behind those stone walls. And so one day he asked a monk who had come to the village. “Let me ask you,” he said, “what do you all do up there on the hill. Praying, singing—serving God? It must be the closest thing to heaven on this earth. What do you do behind those walls day after day?” The old monk replied, “We fall down and we get up and we fall down and we get up.”
Don’t we all fall down and we get up. Again and again. Sometimes the falls are from physical weakness or old age or exhaustion. Sometimes the black dog called depression pushes us down. But other times when we stumble and fall it is our own doing. We break the rules that govern the scaffolding of our lives. We break our own hearts in shame and disappointment. But more than these sometimes our falls are like ripples in the stream. They go on and on. They touch mates and children and friends and a great many more.
Frederick Buechner once pointed out in a sermon how close we all are to the whiskey priest in Graham Green’s novel, The Power and the Glory. The hero of the book if there is a hero is a seedy, alcoholic priest who has been on the run for months as a fugitive. He us caught and the Mexican government condemned him to death. The night before his execution he sat in his cell with a flask of brandy and thought back over the failures of his life. “Tears poured down his face. He was not at the moment afraid of damnation—even the fear of pain was in the background. He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed with nothing done at all. It seemed to him at that moment that it would have been quite easy to be a saint. It would only have needed a little self-restraint, and a little courage. He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place.”
We can identify with this sinful priest who has fallen from grace. But as we look this ninth station and Jesus’ third fall we might be moved not simply by the human Jesus stumbling under a load too heavy but something more personal. But knowing, like the old failed priest we, too have fallen from grace. Again and again. But thank God this is not the end of the story. The monk was right: We all fall down and get up and fall down and get up. Hopefully, through the years the falls are fewer and farther between as we walk our own via dolorosa. We get up and begin yet again. Not by our own power—but in the power of the one who fell long ago on a Jerusalem road.