Friday, March 30, 2012

The Tenth Station--Jesus Speaks to the Thief

"Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him...One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, 'Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!' But the other rebuked him, saying, 'Do you not fear God , since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.' Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' He replied, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'"     --Luke 23. 32, 39-43

Most Stations of the Cross do not deal with particular event. Jesus spoke to the two thieves who died alongside him on their crosses. One translation calls them insurgents. Another translation identifies them as robbers or bandits. Whatever we might call them Jesus once again found himself in the company of sinners. It was always that way. From the beginning of his ministry he told his critics he came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. More than once his enemies whispered: “he has eaten with… sinners.” Another time his critics said, “He is a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” It was always that way. The woman at the well Jesus spoke to in the middle of the day. It just wasn’t done. The sobbing woman they threw at Jesus’ feet charging her with adultery. He refused to do what the law required. Zaccheus the shabby tax collector and the boy who strayed from into a far country—Jesus talked about both with enormous affection. And so it was altogether fitting that, at the end,  as they crucified him on both sides were two thieves.

Try as we might to domesticate Jesus--how much we need the perspective of this tenth station. Even if Trayvon had been a thief I think the Lord would have wept at this story. And, I think too, with the man that shot him. Jesus was always comfortable with the dispossessed.

All four Gospel accounts mention the two thieves. But Luke alone points out that one thief asked for mercy from Jesus while the other died with a curse on his lips. Our artist,  Cecile Martin comments on this particular Station: "Consider the good thief and the bad thief as one. He, they, represent the two aspects of our nature."We are all a mixture of good and bad, sinners and sometimes would be saints.  Jesus’ stretched-out arms reached out to both these two dying men. And all of us with our mixed motives and dark sides can find comfort here.  For Jesus was always drawn to the incorrigibles and the difficult and those that wold not recognize themselves here.

One of the scandals of today’s church is that we have mostly ignored the radical implications of this tenth station. Many of the folk he kept company with would be most uncomfortable in our nice, middle-class sanctuaries. And many middle or upper class rogues stay away from the church in droves. They say they are not good enough. But if they really ever heard this story--they would find comfort in this Jesus.

Jesus whispered forgiveness to the thief that called out “remember me.” Those outstretched arms still reach out to the dispossessed—which includes all of us. This is a mighty kingdom where Christ longs to be friends even with us. Especially with us.

The old hymn goes:
“In Christ there is no east or west,
 In Him no north or south,
 But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide world.”

Reckon that would include all of us who have a dark side? Would it include even insurgents and that very large company of people who rail out at Jesus, as did that one angry thief on the cross? Hmmm.

(The contemporary renderings of the Stations are done by artist Cecile L.K. Martin of Seneca South Carolina. If you are interested in her work you can contact her at

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Ninth Station--Nailed

"With him they crucified two insurgents, one on the right and one at his left."
--Mark 15.27

 I like this particular interpretation of Jesus' crucifixion because it brings this Station home to us in a striking way. This is not only an 33 AD crucifixion--this is a 2012 crucifixion. As long as the Gospel account stays back there it is safe and manageable. But when it comes down our street and knocks on our door we cannot escape the power or demand of Calvary's hill.

We've done much in our time to trivialize the nails and the cross. W.E. Sangster understood this when he told of a celebration he once attended in Gloucester where many dignitaries had gathered. On the platform there was a clergyman, most impressive not only because of his size but of his red and black velvet robe and a striking golden cross which was around his neck. As the designated speaker droned on and on this portly clergyman laboriously bored,  took the cross from his chain and was cleaning his fingernails with a corner of it.*

We've all make the terrible mistake of  mis-using the Cross of Jesus for decoration, not to speak of  the sign of the cross we make from anything to touchdowns to gratitude that car didn't hit us. We've mis-used our faith as one preacher has said, "by sending faith on petty errands trying to harness its eternal claims to cure our headache or give us more poise or a two-for-a-nickle sedative packaged for peace of mind." We know about irreverence--don't we?

And so when we ignore the modern crucifixions...the death penalty which goes on in state after state around the clock...sexual slavery and the terrible abuse women must bear in so many places. We find it even in church when Pastors and their families are hounded out of their jobs. The ugly, ugly asides our President must endure every day that he serves. The callous disregard of all those who have not enough to eat, no job to keep things going, and no place to hide.

No wonder "The Death of a Salesman" is making yet another comeback on Broadway. Linda the wife, broken-hearted and devastated by the suicide of her salesman-husband stands over his grave and says: "Attention must be paid."  Because attention was not paid Willy Lowman did not have a chance. He was crushed, like so many others in  a world where they could see no hope for themselves. Willy's story can be found on Calvary's hill by the one who spoke lovingly to insurgents and to us all.

As we stand by this Station and hear the hammering of the nails--let us not only think of that "green hill far away." Let us remember those down our street who can barely get out of bed. Little children who will never have the chance of their rich neighbors two streets over. Let us ponder the pain that stretches around the world. "Surely, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." How much we need this Ninth Station--it speaks to our hearts and to the heart of this troubled age.

* I am indebted to Frederick Speakman's book, Love Is Something You Do (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming Revell Co., 1959)  p. 46) for this story.

The contemporary rendering of the Ninth Station of the Cross is by artist Cecile L.K. Martin of Seneca, South Carolina The original art work for this series can be found in her parish, St. Paul the Apostle Church, Seneca, SC.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lent--Why We Need These Days

As we continue our Lenten journey I have discovered some very fine meditations that nudge me to stop, look and listen. With all the noise around us--sometimes it is hard to keep anything important in perspective. Inward/Outward a daily meditation offered on the Internet is most helpful. I will be leaning on two of their pieces that I wanted to share with you. This ministry is part of the Church of the Savior's Ministry in Washington. I hope you find them helpful.

The Wilderness Way

"The wilderness is not just a desert through which we wandered for forty years. It is a way of being. A place that demands being open to the flow of life around you. A place that demands being honest with yourself without regard to the cost in personal anxiety. A place that demands being present with all of yourself.

In the wilderness your possessions cannot surround you. Your preconceptions cannot protect you. Your logic cannot promise you the future. Your guilt can no longer place you safely in the past. You are left alone with each day with an immediacy that astonishes, chastens and exults. You see the world as if for the first time."
                                     --Lawrence Kushner, Eyes Remade for Wonder

"I never willed
these forty days
in the wilderness,
tempted by
the demons
of accustomed scars
But no other way
leads home."
--Nancy Compton Wiliams

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fifth Sunday in Lent--When You Are New to Atlanta

A woman in Atlanta telephoned a television weather forecaster to ask the predicted overnight low reading. “26 degrees,” she was told. The woman asked him if that would be freezing. “Lady,” he patiently replied, “anything below 32 degrees is freezing.” “Oh, I didn’t know,” she said. “I’m new to Atlanta.” 

We’re all new to Atlanta. We’re living in at a time when change is happening so fast that none of the old landmarks make any sense. Two o’clock one morning you are roused from a deep sleep and a voice on the other end says: “He’s gone.” You sit uncomfortably on the edge of that white table with that stupid gown on that ties in the back—and the Doctor finally comes in and you know what he will say. The news is not good. Or one day you come to realize that this marriage you have worked so hard to keep going is over and your future looks sad and scary. You’re new to Atlanta and everything around you has shifted. 

Jeremiah also faced a changing world. The Temple—which was the great symbol of their faith--had been destroyed in 587.  Everything he and this people cherished had been torn apart by that cursed word: exile.  Even as Jeremiah spoke he knew that many years would pass before his people could leave cursed Babylon and turn toward home. Jeremiah and the Israelites lived in that awkward in-between time where destruction lay behind them and good days, if there were any good days, were yet a long way off.  This was exile, which meant dislocation, failure, misery, change, disruption and the end of everything that was familiar. They were new to Atlanta and all the unfinished business of their lives just bubbled back to the surface. Out of the depths of their uncertainty they began to ask questions that sound familiar. Where is God? If the Almighty is so good and faithful why doesn’t he do something? Things were out of control and they saw no hope whatsoever. Being new to a place like Atlanta can be scary. In-between times always are.

Loren Eiseley was one of the great writers of the twentieth century. He suffered a serious setback in the middle of his teaching career. And in his autobiography he told of those moments when “the kaleidoscope through which we peer at lift shifts suddenly and everything is reordered.” And he added: “Every now and then there comes an experience so shaking that the kaleidoscope never quite shifts back to where it was. We must simply deny the experience or adjust our vision.”  Now the false prophets would have denied their experiences or at least would paint the present tense as not being so bad after all. What did Jeremiah do? He called his people to adjust their vision. And we find that adjustment in these wonderful words in Jeremiah 31:

"The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”(Jer. 31.31-34) 

This is what the prophet had to say to himself and his suffering people. His words were nothing that they expected. Not conventional wisdom that one always expects from the Reverend. Jeremiah challenged them to adjust their visions. 

Something About God           

Let me tell you about this God, he said. God has not forgotten about us because we are in this hard place. God is not powerless before the hard things in life. Remember Egypt. Remember Red Sea. Remember the wilderness. Jeremiah says: God continues to take the initiative. “I will make a new covenant.” “I will put my law within them.” “I will write it on their hearts.” “And I will forgive their sins and remember them no more.” This is a God who acts. And so what we have here is really a foreshadowing of Easter. None of the hard things in life can block God’s power or stop his love. God’s activity is not confined to the good old Bible days. He just did not act back there in the good old Bible days.  God is the God of the future as well as the past.

What about that woman in Atlanta? Or that little girl left with three children and so scared—is this not a word for her? Or for that person sitting on that cold examining table in that little quiet room—is this not a word for them? And for all those who have lost or been forced to face the unknown, Jeremiah says God is the god of the future.

Something About Us

And then Jeremiah said: Let me tell you something about us. The exiles were scared and depressed. They muttered that they had no future—just disappointment and heartbreak. And what Jeremiah said was that this is a personal word. “I will put within them…I will write it on their hearts…I will be…They shall be…From the least to the greatest--they shall all have a common access to God.” There was no superiority or elitism. The word was all. All shared fully. All knew the old, old story. All were accepted under the sovereignty of God.

Scattered throughout our world and our churches are people who say they aren’t very religious. I don’t know much about prayer, they confess. I started trying to read the Bible through and got stuck somewhere between Leviticus and Deuteronomy. The begats just tripped me up. We all get stuck in Leviticus. The begats trip all of us up. And so Jeremiah told his people that there were two covenants—old and new. And the old covenant was written on the old weathered scrolls. You could hold it in your hand—and everything was nailed down and predictable. But Jeremiah talked about a New Covenant. This New Covenant was an inner thing. It would be written on their hearts. And if this were true perhaps it takes in troublesome things like inequity and racism and capital punishment and sexism and liberty and justice for all—not just the privileged. Note the heart of Jeremiah’s New Covenant. All. They shall all know me—from the least to the greatest. 

Conventional wisdom said: Well, some might find help in faith. Some. The religiously inclined. The spiritually minded. The left brained ones among us. The saints, whoever they are. But Jeremiah shook his head. No, this word of the Lord is for everybody. Deep down inside, nestled in your own heart—you can discover for yourself. All those times when we are unsure of what the freezing temperature really is. 

Something About Faith

Jeremiah continued: Let me tell you something about faith. And of all the words that run the other way from conventional wisdom, this may be the greatest word. The last word of faith is not judgment—it is forgiveness. Far from home, conscious of all the foolish things they had done—they learned something about this new covenant that would be written on their hearts. The last word of faith is never judgment—it is always forgiveness. The reason they could hope and begin again was because God wiped the slate clean when he forgave their every sin. Some of us don’t know that. God is not yet a God of grace or glory. God is stern and harsh and a punisher. Not here—Jeremiah said—not here. God doesn’t sweep away their iniquity—but God forgave them. And with the weight of their sins removed they could march into the unknown future unencumbered by all the burdens of their past.

Jeremiah’s faith was hopeful—not hopeless. It had social and political ramifications. Israel would be restored. If that isn’t political I don’t know what is. Exile would end—if that is not social I don’t know what it is. A new day was coming. This terrible present tense of their lives was only an interim experience.

William Barclay wrote that one of the low points of his life was when his daughter and son in law went out sailing one day and did not return. He prayed for their recovery.  There was no word for three long weeks until Barbara’s body was recovered. Barclay said: “It was a dark time and if I didn’t keep on working I would have never worked again.” The father had the terrible job of identifying his daughter’s body and making final arrangements for its transportation back to Scotland. After the service Barclay sent out 600 thank you notes for those who had expressed condolences. The card read: 

Reverend William and Mrs. Barclay

Thank you most sincerely for your
kind messages of sympathy.

And then Barclay typed these personal words to his friends: “There is a comfort in coming to the end of the chapter, although we are very sure it is not the end of the book…it is not easy to pick up threads and go on; but if we who are messengers of the gospel cannot go on, who can?”

Faith is not created out of the old—but emerges from the death of the old. This new comes when we least expect it. Joan Chittister understands Jeremiah’s promise when she writes, “Never think the darkness is the end of anything. It is simply the call to a new beginning.”The parameters of our lives sometimes make us think that we live in a closed house with all the windows nailed shut. Not so. What we see around us is not the last word. Exile is only an interim-in-between-time. There is more yet to come. More than we ever, ever dreamed.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Eighth Station--Jesus is Stripped

"My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me,
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots."
--Psalm 22. 16b-18

The Eighth Station of the Cross is the embarrassing station. Few renderings show the adult Jesus naked. Yet—here he is stripped and left defenseless. He has no covering. On this rocky road called the way of sorrows there is no place to hide. Here all the supports—custom, family, friends, and status—fall away. Here he is one with that poor sobbing woman the religious officials threw at Jesus’ feet. They hissed: she has been found in the act of adultery. Surrounded by a crowd of angry, pious men—she could only cover herself with her hands and feel ashamed. Here Jesus is one with the man left bloody and naked in a ditch beside the Jericho Road. But a Samaritan—the unlikely one—a half-breed, despised himself, stopped and covered the man’s nakedness and led him to a safe, healing place. Over and over the story was repeated in the life of Jesus. We remember that boy with more rags than clothes that stumbled home head down and ashamed, saying over and over: “Father, Father I am so sorry...” 

 But that was then. This is now. We are a long way from Rome and its crucifixions. And yet sometimes we wonder if we have made much progress at all. Forget our I Pads and our other technological toys.  For this is a world of torture and Abu Gharaib’s. Who can forget that sad picture of that little man in Afghanistan who has lost almost all his family, his little children at the hands of an American soldier? So this Station of the Cross is a strong word for all those from whom something basic has been taken away. Abuse, harassment, rape, sexual slavery, ethnic cleaning, murder. 

Richard Lischer has written: “In a church that is filled with people who are being reduced in a hundred different ways—by illness, death, grief, betrayal, depression and economic reversal, whose insurance has lapsed and whose dreams have been foreclosed—Holy Week teaches us all a lesson in losing.”*

Joan Didion knows this losing well. In a space of three months she lost her husband and only daughter. She tears a page out of her own grief and nakedness: " People who have recently lost someone have a certain look, recognizable maybe only to those who have seen that look in their own faces. I have noticed it on my face and I notice it now on others. The look is one of extreme vulnerability, nakedness, openness. It is the look of someone who walks from the ophthalmologist’s office into the bright daylight with dilated eyes, of someone who wear glasses and is suddenly made to take them off. These people who have lost someone look naked because they think they are invisible.” **

And so Station Eight cannot stay in Jerusalem on that day he was crucified. This is a 2012 station. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows...” The naked sobbing woman at Jesus feet was covered that terrible day with a grace that changed her life. That lone traveler on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was the recipient of love and care without which he may not have lived. And that prodigal did not find his father’s door shut tight. No. The Father said bring a royal robe and place it on his naked back and kept whispering over and over, “My son! My son!” David H.C.Read called the Father’s response: the dignity of faith.

Dignity--a covering that keeps us warm and makes us human and sends us back into the fight. In the indignity of this Eighth Station we find our somebodiness. If we have lived long enough we know we are vulnerable and fragile creatures. Yet here we are on holy ground. For as we keep looking at the stripped and naked Jesus we may see again, as if for the first time, that we really are never alone. 

* Richard Lischer, "Stripped Bare," The Christian Century, March 21, 2012 , p.11
**Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking ,New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005 , p.74-75

(The artist, Cecile L. K. Martin has generously allowed me to use her contemporary renderings of the Stations of the Cross. The original work can be found in her parish, St. Paul the Apostle Church, Seneca, South Carolina. The picture at the top is her work. If you are interested in her work she can be reached at:

The sculptured piece, "The Prodigal Son" is by the artist George Grey Banard and can be seen at the Speed Museum, University of Louisville,  Louisville, Ky.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Seventh Station--The Women

"And there followed him a great multitude of the people,
 and of women who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turned to them and said, 'Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep
 for yourselves and for your children.'"
--Luke 23. 27-28 (NRSV)

Only one Gospel tells the story. It would have to be Luke whose compassion flows like a river from those first pages until the end of his story. As Jesus stumbled up the hill—blood-streaked and cross-eyed with pain—along the road—always along the road—he saw the women. Fitting, really. They had always been there. Mary, the Mother. Elizabeth, the mother of John. Old wrinkled Anna who saw in his tiny face what no one else saw. His Mother at the wedding feast. Mary and Martha filling his heart with gladness. But all the other Mary’s along the road. Magdalene, the mother of the sons of Zebedee. The mother of James and John. The Mary that washed his feet with her hair. The other Mary.But there were others—oh, so many others along the road. The poor widow searching in desperation for a lost coin. The woman, naked and ashamed found in adultery. The Canaanite woman. The woman with an issue of blood. The woman who left her waterpot changed forever.

That Cross-day he called them: the daughters of Jerusalem. So how could his church ignore and push to the sidelines these daughters that always pepper the roads. How can we rage about birth control, abortion—even to save the life of a woman? Even to force a fourteen year old to have her father’s child. Do these daughters of Jerusalem have no rights? Or shall we simply consign them to burkas and tiny churches where no man will serve and lesser roles like housewife or spouse. These daughters of Jerusalem have come so far. But at every step there has been a wall or a barrier or a resounding: “No!”

Not paid near enough as the men. Genital mutilation at the hands of some man. Rape. Ethnic cleaning. Slut. Bitch. Whore. Sexual trafficking. Abuse. Abuse. Abuse. Rage over food stamps for some old woman in a wheelchair. Passing laws to send them back—forgetting we would have no one to clean our toilets, mop our floors or dust our shelves.

Jesus heard their cries even in his pain. Tenderly he spoke: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children." Let us weep too. Let us remember these daughters of Jerusalem who always line the roads. And let us remember the tenderness of Jesus—and let us determine to make their plight better.

(The contemporary picture of Jesus and the women was done by artist, Cecile L.K. Martin, Seneca, South Carolina. If you are interested in her work she can be reached at

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Sixth Station--Simon Carries Jesus' Cross

"As they led him away, they seized a man,
Simon of Cyrene,
who was coming from the country,
 and they laid the cross on him
and made him carry it behind Jesus."
--Luke 23.26 (NRSV)

For years I thought that Simon stepped forward and offered to carry Jesus’ cross. Not so. Simon was simply a face in the crowd watching Jesus struggle and then fall. A Roman soldier pointed to him and yelled, “You. You carry his cross.” And the soldier pushed Simon forward. So three gospels record the story of how he found his way into the Passion narrative. Every list of the Stations of the Cross shows Simon carrying Jesus’ cross. 

Scholars think that this Simon was simply a passerby in Jerusalem who had come to celebrate Passover. And yet the church kept the story of this bit player who took Jesus’ cross and carried it up the hill. Why would Simon of Cyrene figure so prominently in the memory of the early church? He was no hero as many of our sermons have preached. This was a man compelled to carry a heavy load that belonged to someone else. Perhaps this may be one of the reasons we find this man as the central character in Jesus’ mid-point journey. He speaks to all those who carry the burden of someone weary and heavy laden. Of all the players in the Passion drama I think I would rather have been Simon of Cyrene who, against his will, picked up Jesus’ heavy crossbeam when the Lord fell underneath his heavy load.  

We all remember some Simon who simply did what life thrust upon them. Those who have shouldered our burdens and made our lives far better than they would have been. I think of my mother who worked in a textile mill from age sixteen until she retired in her sixties. She had two boys and she never complained about the hard work or the responsibility of rearing two children with very little money. There was black Nancy who worked for us and when I found myself depressed she would say, over and over, “Roger—it’s gonna be all right.” There was my High School Spanish teacher that listened and nudged me toward college. On graduation night she drove across town to pick up a friend and me and took us to a fine restaurant to celebrate the occasion. But my list goes on and on. That seminary teacher that encouraged me to write. The wise man in my first church that listened to my fears and encouraged me. My wife who kept saying you can do it when I wondered. I have been surrounded by a great multitude of Simons that helped make my burdens bearable. 

These Simons are all around us. The man who cares for his wife patiently even though she cannot remember his name.  Those battalions of parents who tend their special need children who will never graduate or leave home. The Doctor that kept his Down syndrome baby when everyone suggested adoption or an institution. All those unnamed ones who despite their own problems, can be found at a Habitat project, serving Meals on Wheels, working in a downtown mission. 

Simon’s life was never the same because of that crossbeam that was forced upon his shoulders. His two sons became leaders in the early church. I wonder if in carrying Jesus’ cross his life was changed and his children noted the difference. I cannot imagine my own journey without those who helped carry my load and cheer me on. In that doing—they have opened my eyes to those that need along the way. No wonder this is my favorite Station of the Cross. 

We all begin as passer-bys. Against our wills we are called to pick up someone else’s burden and do what we can. So looking at this Sixth Station let us remember our own Simons. Let us look and listen to all those who bear heavy loads. Perhaps lending a hand may just do for us what surely happened to Simon years ago.
The nurse in a hospital room may have never heard of Simon of Cyrene. Yet she goes about her very hard job. As she did the dirty messy job of changing a man’s bedclothes, cleaning up his soiled bed, washing and meeting his needs—the old man in the bed rose up and said, “I wouldn’t do what you do for all the money in the world.” And the nurse continued her work and replied, “Neither would I.”

(The contemporary renderings of the Stations of the Cross are done by artist, Cecile L. K. Martin of Seneca, South Carolina. The original art work can be found in her home parish, St. Paul the Apostle Church in Seneca, SC.  If you are interested in Ms. Martin's work you can contact her at

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Fifth Station--Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

"He is despised and rejected ...
a man of suffering and acquainted with grief:
and we hid as it were our faces from him;
he was despised , and we esteemed him not."
--Isaiah 53.3 KJV

When I was growing up I was quite confident about how Jesus looked. Growing up in a tiny mill village in Georgia I went to church faithfully. There were certain things that I knew were just true. In the 1940’s Jesus was white. He was a Southern Baptist—not one of those Yankee Baptists. He spoke with a deep Southern accent and was a Democrat but would soon become a Republican. He looked a little like Roy Rogers or maybe Cary Grant. He was middle class, which we folk that lived in a little cotton-mill village strived for. He was an American through and through and probably would have fought in the war if his number had come up. He was just like us—no wonder we followed him.

Years later it began to dawn on me how wrong my understanding of Jesus was. Slowly like the picture in a Polaroid camera the portrait of Jesus began go look entirely different. And this new picture is what I see when I come to the Fifth Station of the Cross. Jesus had been scourged and beaten. He had been sentenced to death. All night long the guards had ridiculed him. They thrust a heavy cross on his shoulders. Our Lord carried that heavy beam as long as he could—and then stumbled and fell. Slowly, ever so slowly he staggered to his feet and the long journey continued. Standing in the crowd was a woman whom legend named Veronica. Interestingly her name meant true image. So dear Veronica became the central figure in the fifth image in these cross-stations.

Even though her story is really a legend-- the church kept her version of what happened along the via dolorora. She pushed her way through the crowd and with love and pity wiped the wounded, bloody face of Jesus. As she pulled the cloth from his face imprinted on her shawl was the face she had just wiped. The image was bloody, scarred, pain-racked and seemed utterly powerless. This was the image not only Veronica but also the church would carry in its memory.

How far this portrait is from the Jesus of my youth. Here we find that Isaiah’s understanding is true: He really was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. Even after all these years so many do not see this image of the Christ. Jesus is despised by many today. Atheists, agnostics, and a host of others around the world. Why? So many see him as the Jesus of our culture and our country. They see him as narrow and biased and uncaring as many see his church.

But we must return to the image that Veronica saw and carried home with her that day. She must have placed that precious cloth carefully away. And from time to time she must have smoothed that shawl out and pondered the mystery. So the Jesus of the Fifth Station is the suffering Lord. And he is at one with all the powerless, all the sufferers, all those who have been wronged by life—and even those who have wronged themselves.

We know them well. The ninety-year-old black woman with a thousand wrinkles who says: “Can’t vote. Don’t have one of them cards.” Or maybe that Hispanic student that is forced to go back to Mexico in the middle of her graduate degree. Or perhaps that grandmother in the ghetto that has already buried three grandchildren she raised alone. This Station of the Cross also speaks to the well heeled who carry their quiet desperation wherever they go. The Man of sorrows reaches out wherever there is pain or grief or injustice.

A little twelve-year-old boy would have understood Veronica’s story. He stood on the platform waiting for the subway after school. Some man came by, knocked him down, kicked him hard, spit on him and went running off. Dazed, the boy looked around at all his papers and books and pencils scattered everywhere. Crying and scared—on his knees—he began to put his belongings back into his backpack. A man saw him crying and shaking, and stooped down, gathered all the boy’s scattered objects and put them in the backpack and helped the boy up. As the man started away, the boy asked him, “Mister, Mister are you Jesus?”

Maybe we find the real Jesus as we reach out and touch someone in need. William Temple has said there are material images and mental images in the gospel story. Carry the picture of Veronica and her simple act of love. But in your heart carry your own picture of that wounded, scarred face.

(The contemporary renderings of the Stations of the Cross are the work of artist, Cecile L.K. Martin. They hang in her church, St. Paul the Apostle Church in Seneca, South Carolina. If you are interested in learning more about the artist and her work she can be contacted at:

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Fourth Station--Jesus Falls and Falls and Falls

"Though we stumble,
we shall not fall headlong,
for the Lord holds us by the hand."
--Psalm 37.24

In the traditional Stations of the  Cross--Jesus falls three times. There is no mention of Jesus falling in the Scriptures even though after the first fall--the next Station shows Simon picking up Jesus' cross after he falls. And yet--pilgrims though the years have stood by these three sad Stations, often moved to tears. Jesus fell. Jesus fell. Jesus fell. The cross was far too heavy. The burden was just too much. In his exhausted wounded station--Jesus could go no further. Jesus fell again and again.

As pilgrims look up at this Station some hold back that lump in their throats or wipe away a tear. Where do these tears come from? The old counselor used to say: "Follow the tears--they will have something important to tell you." Follow the tears.

Why did they brush away those trickles that coursed down their faces? Where did those lumps in their throats come from? Surely they were touched as Jesus fell on the broken cobblestone streets. Surely they must have heard the laughter and derision from the crowd.

But looking up at the falling Jesus--I think many of them--and us--are moved by our own fallings. God knows they hurt. I have little scars and nicks from the falls I have taken as a runner. They will be with me as long as I live. Looking up at the falling Jesus we remember those times when we stumbled and fell. Sometimes it was over a job, often over a personal failure we thought we had conquered years ago. Sometimes the tears come from our failure to reach a child we love with all our hearts. Or it could be that marriage that left us broken and wounded in the dust. Why the tears? Someone reminded us that if we live long enough we will fail--fall. Deep in our hearts we know this is true. And so we carry nicks and scars until the very end.

The artist, Cecile Martin has captured Jesus' falls in our picture. I think this rendering reminds us of our own falls and the heartbreak in our world. We nod our heads at these three separate falls because looking up--we know. Oh, we know.

These three falls are not the end--we are not even half way through the journey.  But at almost mid-point I remember the story of the medieval farmer who asked a monk one day what the holy fathers did behind the walls of the monastery. In his eyes just praying and following God must have been as close to heaven as one could get. "What do you do behind those walls?" the old farmer asked. The monk replied, "We fall down and we get up; we fall down and we get up; we fall down and we get up."

"Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father,
you have brought us in safety to this new day:
Preserve us with your mighty power,
 that we may not fall into sin,
nor be overcome by adversity;
and in all we do,
direct us to the filling of your purpose;
through Jesus  Christ our Lord. Amen. "
--The Book of Common Prayer

The contemporary portrayals of the Stations of the Cross found here are by Cecile L. K. Martin. The original pictures hang in the St. Paul the Apostle Church in Seneca, South Carolina.  Ms. Martin can be reached at:

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Third Station--Jesus Bears the Cross

"Jesus was led away, and carrying the cross by himself, went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha.    --John 19.17

His Cross

The scourging finally over.
The death sentence passed.
The crowd now silent.
His old robe covers his wounds.
The crown of thorns on his head.
Exhausted—he takes what they give.
A heavy cross.
He stares ahead.
He begins to walk.
The Church called it:
Via Dolorosa.
The way of sorrows.

My Cross

What does it mean to carry my cross?
No small thing.
No indigestion or migraine--
No worries that kept me awake last night.
No large unpaid bill or even gasoline prices.
Or who will win the election.
No small thing.

But who will I be?
What shall I give my life to?
What shall I lose and yet save?
What shall I touch and make better?
What shall I let go and leave in the dust?
What burden shall I assume
I could easily just ignore?
No small thing.

Just something heavy and splintered
and well-nigh unbearable.
Every day I must pick up my cross.
Hopefully making the world better.
Hopefully making my life more human.
No small thing.
--Roger Lovette

"Surely our griefs he himself bore, And our sorrows he carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted." --Isaiah 53.4

(We continue to use Cecile Martin's renderings of the Stations of the Cross. The originals hang in Saint Paul the Apostle Paul Catholic Church in Seneca, South Carolina. )