Monday, April 11, 2011

The Tenth Station of the Cross--Jesus is Stripped of his Garments

"When they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among them  by casting lots."
           --Matthew 27.35

In church, shuffling with the crowd we come to the tenth station. The Priest points up and simply says, “Jesus is stripped of his garments.” Nobody says anything. The congregants just look up and ponder the embarrassment and the shame. Jesus stood naked as the day he was born. The soldiers peeled the last garment he wore—it must have been hard because the cloth stuck to his bloodstained back. Finally they jerked the material away and gambled for the last tunic Jesus ever wore.

Why would the church stop at this tenth station year after year? Why talk about the naked Jesus—why not simply move on to the nails and hammering on that hillside. I do not know why they and we stop at this place unless somehow, like the other stations, this is a word for us all.

Ever have the naked dream? Psychologists say it is prevalent in the field of dreams. In the dream we find ourselves naked. Not a stitch of clothing on. And it’s time to go to work or get the newspaper or go out and preach a sermon. Stark naked. Sometimes we argue with ourselves, “Well, if I just act cool—pretend I have clothes on—nobody will notice.” Ha. We know that is foolish. It is always a disturbing dream. Of being found out. Or standing there before the whole world in shame and indignity. Bereft of our armor of makeup, Brooks Brothers suits and Ralph Lauren shirts just disappear. We wake up, finally and slowly coming back to the real world sighing and saying, “Whew.”

Maybe the dream gives us a clue that before it is over we will all be stripped and humiliated. It happens in the hospital in those little gowns that cover almost nothing. It happens in nursing homes when the old are tossed around, diapers changed, bathed by some stranger—exposed to whomever comes in at the time.

We hear the terrible news of those countries where husbands are forced to see their wives raped, husbands castrated before their wives—children violated and executed. Whatever it is that forces us into indignity and shame is really a stripping away. But those of us from a more civilized world have our own vulnerabilities. When a man or woman loses their jobs. When breasts are whacked off, when men lose their prostates, when arms and legs are severed—leaving us less than whole—we too know something of stripping.

In the Samaritan story a man was robbed, left naked and pushed into a ditch to die. In the story of the Prodigal the boy left home, spent all his money and woke up one morning naked as a jaybird. Somebody bound up the wounds of the man in the Samaritan story and saved his life. A father, arms outstretched pulled the ragged garment filled with holes from his boy’s body—washed him whiter than show—and put on his back a robe...a soft, soft robe. And Paul maybe remembering one of his many stints in prison wrote: “Nothing shall separate us from the love of God...not hardship...not distress...not peril...not sword...and not even nakedness.” And if that were not enough he said it a second time: No thing shall separate us from the love of God.”

And so, looking up at the naked Jesus—maybe the church kept this embarrassing station on the journey as a holy reminder. That all those things that dehumanize and strip away our personhood can separate us from the father. Even when we bring them on ourselves. Why this tenth station? Once upon a time the Lord Jesus was stripped for us all. No wonder John would write there at the end in the book of Revelation: “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” And John, tears streaming down his face must have written with crooked fingers, “These are they that have come out of the great tribulation...they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” Naked no more. But clothed and loved and kept by One whose son was stripped long ago.

Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53.4-5)

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