Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Thirteenth Station: Jesus is taken down from the Cross

"Near the cross of Jesus
there stood his mother,
his mother's sister,
Mary the wife of Clopas,
and Mary Magdalene."
--John 19.25

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"Where the lamb died
a bird sings.
Where a soul perishes
what music? The cross
is an old-fashioned
weapon, but its bow
is drawn unerringly
against the human heart."
--Sure, by R.S. Thomas

So we move now to the thirteenth station. Our little group that has followed the Priest all the way through this journey just stands looking. No one says a word--even the Priest is silent. We cannot miss the tenderness of this station. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus both secret disciples are secret no more. At great risk they take down from the cross the broken, bloody body of the dead Jesus. Legend says that Mary came forward with her arms open and they place the heavy body of her son into her lap. Is there are sadder picture anywhere?

In his early twenties the unknown artist Michelangelo was commissioned to sculpt this scene of the Virgin and her dead son. There have been many paintings and sculptures of the Pieta but this rendering became the most famous. It is housed in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Why are we so drawn to this life-sized sculpture? Unless the scene touches something in our hearts. Maybe we are reminded that no parent should survive his or her children. Maybe it reminds us of someone we have lost along the way.

Rembrandt painted scene after scene of the whole crucifixion experience. John Fort Newton tells what he saw in one of the artist’s last renderings of Jesus dead on the cross. He describes how, in the painting at first you see only the utter collapse of Jesus. The hours of suffering have done their work. Jesus is now dead. But Newton said if you look more closely and your eyes get used to the dimness of the painting you see something that is easy to miss. Two strong, gentle hands support the figure of Jesus. These were the hands of God. Newton went on to say that as he continued to look at the whole scene the shape of a great face begins to emerge. It is the face of God whose face is seamed with sorrow and whose eyes show an enormous sadness.

The little cluster that have followed the Priest look up. Those two hands hold the dead Jesus and all of our loved ones who gone on—and those same hands hold us too. Is it any wonder, even after all these years that we come back to this thirteenth station of the cross?

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