"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: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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.