Thursday, March 28, 2013

It's Easter!

"The strife is o'er;
  the battle done;
The victory of life
   is won;
The song of triumph
   has begun:
Alleluia! Alleluia!"
--Latin Hymn, tr. Francis
Pott (1832-1909)

Every Easter the memory comes back. I had a chance to see the Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany several years ago. The play opened with Jesus riding into Jerusalem for the last time. The play ended with the Resurrection. For almost six hours the audience followed the story of Jesus’ last days on earth.

 I was not prepared for the Resurrection scene. The crucifixion had been particularly graphic and disturbing. After Jesus’ body was carefully taken down from the cross the stage went dark.  Suddenly a dim light came on which illuminated a small cluster of weeping women. They stood before huge doors that represented the locked tomb. They knocked on the door. Nothing happened. Frantically they tried to pry the doors open. The doors did not budge. Suddenly an angel came on stage and without saying a word began to unroll a white aisle cloth from the closed door down the steps toward the audience. As the women looked on, the door creaked open and dazzling light slowly filled the stage and finally the whole room. Through that open door Jesus came. He walked down the steps. And from left and right laughing children came running forward, hugging Jesus’ legs. In the background a Choir sang.

I can’t improve on that Easter scene. It was as close to the wonder of the Resurrection as anything I know. Who can put this special day into words? Surely not the merchants hawking their Easter wares. Surely not the bunnies, the Easter lilies, the corsages, or those wonderful multi-colored eggs. Surely this day is more than the coming of spring and the end of winter.

Easter is light, hope, new beginnings, love and laughter. Somehow our old nine to five calendar pages are disturbed once again. The predictability of our days is thrown off kilter. And whether it is worry about money or retirement or health or children or just the troubled world-- most of us find ourselves pausing on Easter morning.

People who never darken the door of a church put on our finery and slip into some sanctuary. This is not the time for any preacher to chide those who only come on Easter morning. It hardly matters if they are dragged along by some wife or child. We all need something to shatter life’s flatness. A bad lab report. That funeral last week. Afghanistan, endless Afghanistan.   A disappointment so heavy that we wonder if we can make it. Like those women in the play we all know something about locked doors and sealed-up tombs.

And Easter comes. Saying that despite the darkness which is very real and the trouble we all carry, there is another word. There is light, so blinding it hurts our eyes. There is wonder so strong that we may find it hard to hold back the tears. There is joy and laughter at the heart of life despite its rawness and its difficulty.

What changed those petty, cowardly disciples and turned them inside out? There is no explanation except that Easter brought with it light, hope and new life for them and for their world. They wrote the story over and over until we have four gospels. They founded a church, which has endured despite its all-too-human members and preachers. That little group of first believers passed the torch until the greatest story ever told could be our story, too. Wishful thinking? Some say so. I choose to remember large open doors and a blinding light and at the center Jesus come back from the dead. But what I remember most after all these years is the laughter of all those children.

The 14th Station--Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

In the novel, The Living, by Annie Dillard, is a funeral scene where one of the characters, Norval, reads  pompously from Scripture, "O death, where is thy sting?" To which Hugh, sitting in the pews, thinks, "Just about everywhere, since you ask."

What do we say when we stand by the grave? Not much. The Preacher offers some word she hopes will comfort. But we don’t hear them. We don’t even see our surroundings. The flowers. The casket. The bright, sunshiny day. We sit there like we’re in a fog. We hardly remember the service at the church. Our loved one is dead and we don’t know what to do.

We’re like those two trudging, slowly trudging as if in slow motion to Emmaus. They had heard the Easter news—but they hadn’t really heard it. “We had hoped,” they told the stranger, “that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Are there sadder words in the Bible than these? We had hoped. But that hope had been shattered by Calvary and that awful death that Jesus should not have had to endured.

I have just finished a Grief Support Group. We sat around in a circle for eight weeks. We told stories about Mamas and babies and Papa’s and wives and husbands. All gone. And so we told stories and shed tears and comforted one another. But grief for some was still raw and they were uncertain of this terrible unknown journey. They identify with this last dark station. Jesus lies in the tomb—sealed shut by Roman guards so his fans would not take the body away and claim he was still alive. That mausoleum, that jar of ashes that grave with the headstone—we know don’t we? We know.

We stand here and ponder this last station. It isn’t the end—but who knows that when the tomb is sealed shut and you are still in shock and the tears come at the strangest times—what it really means. It means that Jesus was in the hands of the Father—the Father whose prayer he prayed toward the end, “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

Years ago a friend lost his little girl with cancer. He was devastated and people from all over surrounded him and reached out. I wrote him a note telling him I did not know what to say but that I lifted him and his family up to the care of the father. Weeks later I received a reply, “Thank you or what you did not say.” So here, as in that little circle of mourners I just finished—there is not much to say. But this we know. He is one with us. He traveled the road we take all the way to the end. Along the way he wept for friends who should not have died. He wept over a city that did not know. And there on the cross, I think between the agony of pain--tears, more even than blood--trickled down his cheeks. So there is not much to say as we stop at this Station. Oh, we can talk about Easter and all its wonder. But not yet. This is the day to ponder our losses and our own finitude. Isaiah was right, “Surely he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows.”

(My gratitude goes to the First Baptist Church, Aiken, SC for sharing the prints of the Stations of the Cross, by the African artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya whose original work is found in Saint Paul's Church in Nigeria.)



Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Thirteenth Station--Jesus Is Taken Down From the Cross

"It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, the sun being obscured, and the veil of the temple was torn in two.
  And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into thy hands I commend My spirit.' And having said this, He breathed His last."
                --Luke 23. 44-46

This may just may be the saddest station on our journey. The weight of this death slowly falls on those who loved him. Standing by this station we see the crowds have gone. Even the soldiers have left. Only a handful are there. It is so quiet you don't even hear a bird sing. The only sounds from that hill is the sobbing of women. His mother and the others. Jesus is dead. That body which healed the blind and the crippled is empty. Those arms that stretched out to the needy again and again cannot move. That voice that spoke to troubled hearts and seas and anxious friends is silent. Jesus is dead.

And Joseph of Arimathea comes to supervise the taking down of the body. He has offered his tomb--for the Lord Jesus had nowhere to lay his head. Even in death. And Nicodemus comes back on stage . We thought we'd seen the last of him. I'm glad they put these rich men in the story. For it means that everyone--even the rich and powerful--can find a place in this story. We need to remember that Jesus reached out to everyone. And he had touched something deep inside Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, too.

Tenderly they take Jesus' broken body down from the cross. Did they wince as they pulled his hands away from the nails and the feet, too? Did they pry the nails loose? No one tells us. Leonard Boff has said of Joseph and Nicodemus "their love won out over fear." They anoint the body and wrap it in a cloth of perfumed oils. And Mary comes forward. "Bring him to me,"she said.  I remember a poem, perhaps not the best, but which touches the emotion of that moment.

"Did Mary make a birthday cake 
For Christ when he was small,
And think the while she frosted it,
How quickly boys grow tall?

Oh sometimes years are very long,
And sometimes years run fast,
And when the Christ had put away 
Small, earthly things at last,

And died upon a wooden cross
One afternoon in spring,
Did Mary find the little toy, 
And sit...remembering?"
--Helen Welshimer, "The Birthday"

As we stand here pondering the sorrow of all those who have lost someone--this Station is for them. That mother in Chicago who lost her daughter in a drive-by shooting one week after her band played for the Inauguration. All those mothers that sit with heavy grief this Easter because some son or some daughter did not make it back from the war. We could go on and on. The sorrow of mothers this Easter flows like a dark river around the world. And yet--this was not the end. Even if our Lord had not come back the memories of all the good he did and the people he blessed would still remain. But this was not the end. We know it now. 

Dostoevsky reminds us: "What keeps me going is that I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that in the world's finale something so great will come to pass that it's going to suffice for all our hearts, for all the comforting of our sorrows, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity. And I want to be there when suddenly everyone understands what it has all been for."

"All those dead are to be found
in the dead Jesus.
The question of all of them rises as a cry to God:
How long, O Lord, how long?
And the Lord
who is merciful,
resurrects our hope,
transforming the question into a plea:
Thy Kingdom come...
on earth as it is in heaven!"
--Leonard Boff, Way of the Cross

(I am endebted to the African artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya for his powerful renderings of the Stations of the Cross. The beautiful sculptured piece of Mary and her Son can be found in St. Bernard Abbey, Cullman, Alabama.)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Station Twelve--Jesus Hangs on the Cross

Somethings is tearing, hearing a hole
Too wide for measuring
And something is grating, grating
As of a hinge, broken, and a door
Swinging in a deadly wind.
The lynchpin is pulled,
The ridgepole cracked.
Drown through the needle's eye
We are crushed by a weight
With no name, and pray
The world will not lie splintered
By Sunday
When all this will be explained."
  --Arlene De Bevoise, "Good Friday"

The twisting winding road stops here. Jesus is done all that he can do. And so they nail him to the cross and everything is different. The soldiers that day did not understand this. They saw dead criminals nailed up for all to see day after day. The crowds, mostly curious did not understand this. They only came to gape. Off to the side, heartbroken and scared was dear John the only one that came, and the women--always the women. And yet many have come to understand. This cross--this death has become the central symbol of our faith.

The Cross reminds of a story that A.E. Hotchner told in his book, Papa Hemingway. Gary Cooper, famous movie star, winner of a multitude of awards was a good friend of Ernest Hemingway. Cooper, despite his fame, led a notorious life of women and booze. Later in life he suffered a nervous breakdown and as he recovered he slowly began to visit the Catholic Church and became friends with the Priest. After a long time he joined the church and was baptized. Hemingway heard the news and couldn't believe it. He kidded Gary Cooper about getting religion. Cooper made a joke out of it too. They both laughed.

 Later Gary Cooper was diagnosed with lung cancer and toward the end he was very sick. Hotchner, a friend of them both, visited Cooper one day in the hospital. He was very weak and Hotchner knew his friend did not have long to live. But Cooper raised up and said, "I want you to give Hemingway a message for me." And he was hit by terrible racking cough. "Tell Ernest that day when he made fun of me for joining the church and I made light of it too, I want him to know..." And Hotchner that Cooper reached across his bedside table and found a small wooden cross. He kissed it and said, "I want Papa to know this--tell him that this was best thing I ever did." He died not long after this.

"Lamb of God that 
takes away the sins of the world
have mercy on us--one and all."

(The linoleum-cut print, as have all the others on this Journey were done by African artist,  Bruce Onobrakpeya. The original work hangs in St. Paul's Church in Nigeria.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

We Remember the Fallen

"'...Have many gone from here?' 
'Many lost?'
'Yes, a good few.
 Only two teams work on the farm this year.
One of my mates is dead. The second day
In France they killed him. It was back in March ,
The very night of the blizzard, too. Now if
He had stayed here we should have moved that tree.
And I should have sat here. Everything
Would have been different. 
For it would have been 
Another world.'"
 --Edward Thomas,"As the team's head brass"

This is the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the War in Iraq. Anniversaries are a good time to look back and remember. And so today I remember the fallen and this war that should never have been fought. The waste in human resources and money that could be spent to help this country is staggering. Let us remember.

4,500 American service persons killed
30,000 wounded
190,000 civilian casualties killed
Two million dollars spent on direct governmental expenditures
Leaving behind two broken countries
Not speak of the suicides, the broken homes and a torn up America

"After every war
someone's got to tidy up
Things won't pick
themselves up, after all.

Someone's got to shove
the rubble to the roadsides
so the carts loaded with corpses
can get by.

Someone's got to trudge
through sludge and ashes,
through the sofa springs,
the shards of glass, 
the bloody rags.

Someone's got to lug the post
to prop the wall,
someone's got to glaze the window,
set the door in its frame.

No sound bites, no photo opportunities
and it takes years.
All the cameras have gone
to other wars.

Te bridges need to be rebuilt,
the railroad stations, too. 
  Shirt sleeves will be rolled 
to shreds.

Someone, broom in hand, still remembers how it was.
Someone else listens, nodding
his unshattered head.
But others are bound to be bustling nearby
who'll find all that
a little boring."
--Wislawa Symborska,
"The End and the Beginning" (partial poem)
(translated from Polish)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Station Eleven--Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

"And when they came to the place  called The Skull, there they crucified him and the criminals, one on the right and other on the left. But Jesus was saying, 'Father forgive them; for they know not what they are doing.'"                
                       --luke 22. 33-34    

We have almost come to the end of the line, we pilgrims. We’ve followed Jesus from a rigged trial and awful scourging until they pushed the cross beam on his shoulders. We watched him fall and fall and fall and remembered those other falling so close to us. Too close. There was a lump in our throats as he saw see him peer from blood-streaked sad eyes at his mother who stood close by. Could one smile carrying a cross—I think he almost did when he saw the dear, dear daughters of Jerusalem standing near and open-mouthed and stricken with grief--but with eyes of love. He smiled because not many who said they loved them came—but they were there. We tried to avert our eyes as they stripped every garment from his bruised, wounded body. But our eyes kept coming back hoping this Lamb of God who we understand can take away the sins of the world will have mercy on us too. We need it, don’t we?

 So stopping at this eleventh Station we see he has climbed his last hill—broken his last bread—put his arms around the last of the children he laughed with. This is almost the end—but not quite. And so here they hammer and hammer and hammer the nails into his hands and feet. God, how it must have hurt. The crowd was used to crucifixions it was the Roman way of keeping them in line. And it worked.  But somehow this cross, this nailing was different. For from that hill has come a great river of hope for every sin and every sorrow. Those out-stretched, nailed-down hands have touched us all.

This Station reminds me of my own nail story. I was asked to speak at a Good Friday service at the Hospital. I took along some carpenter nails and passed them out and talked about nails. Christ’s and our own. All those nailed-down things in our lives. The dead end streets. The unfulfilled dreams. The constrictions that life places upon all of us. Months later our church took a wrong turn. I was having a hard time as Pastor there. My wife kept saying, “Get out! Get out—this thing is going to kill you. I can’t stand to watch what is happening to you anymore. Do anything but don’t do this.” And I wondered how long I could stay.

With so much going on I was visiting the hospital one day and a nurse aide, a black woman got on the elevator. As the door closed she asked, “Aren’t you Dr. Lovette?” I nodded. She said, “Didn’t you preach down here on a Good Friday last year?" I said, “Yes.” She said, “I remember. I still got my nail. I think about it all the time.” The door opened and she was gone. She didn’t know what she had done for me. I had given her a nail. And she gave it back to me. Looking back now I know that moment in that elevator was one of the graces that kept me going.

Look up at this Station. Ponder the nails. God knows, we’ve all got more than our share. Who knows—those special nails may keep you going, too.

(I am indebted to African artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya for his 14 linoleum-cut prints I have followed on our Lenten journey this year.)   

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Tenth Station--Jesus is Stripped Bare

"Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet--I can count all my bones--they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots."
                     --Psalm 22. 16-18

 People do not linger long at this tenth station—now closer to the end than the beginning. No wonder we turn away. God—or God’s son is as weak and vulnerable as he will ever be. Years before Isaiah captured this truth: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." We hide our faces too at this stopping off place. This is no PG or even R-rated Station—this is an X-rated scene. The soldiers stripped every last garment from his wounded bloody body. And he stands, reeling before God and everybody naked as the day he was born.

No wonder we turn away. We want our God to be clothed perhaps like Pope Benedict with his Prada shoes, golden cloaks and bejeweled scepter. Pope Francis puzzles us.We want God’s cross to be decoration—perhaps set with a single diamond. We want our God to be the powerful one who fills TV churches and football stadiums to hear some football player or beauty queen talk about Jesus in glowing terms. We want our God to be covered in lilies and alleluias and Easter splendor.

But not here. Not yet. It may seem like Sunday—but Friday is surely coming. We cannot turn our faces away from this ugly tenth station. The soldiers stripped him bare. And in this stopping-off place he is one with the weakest and the ugliest and the most shameful. And so we don’t linger long in that room where he/she writhes in agony until her/his gown shows everything. We don’t like to look at the sordid ugly face of pain and woe. There is no dignity here—naked and vulnerable as he is. And so whoever it is that has ever been stripped bare of all their trappings—naked and ashamed—he is one with the victims of every indignity:

welfare queen.
We cannot turn away from this naked vulnerable Jesus. For here we ponder one of the greatest of the God-mysteries. He stands with every shame and every humiliation and every injustice.  Which means, I think he is with us all—this broken naked Jesus really does have the whole world in his hands.

Not only the loss of love of self—which we all know—not only the stigmas we carry in our bodies—which we all despise...not only the snubs and slights that hurt so terribly—that have crippled us all. Whatever indignity the world pours out on any of its children—God is there. No wonder the Carmelite nun found its powerful truth even behind locked walls of a convent: “I came upon earth’s most amazing knowledge someone is hidden in this dark with me.”  We cannot ignore this tenth station—it takes us all in and that may be the wonder if it all.  

(I am indebted to the First Baptist Church, Aiken, South Carolina for sharing these beautiful renderings of the Stations. They are the work of the African artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya whose  renderings can be found in museums,galleries and private homes throughout the world. The artist was a pioneer in printmaking, elevating the technique to a level recognized as a major art form. These 14 Stations were first linoleum-cut prints. His original stations can be found in St. Paul's Church in Nigeria.

The powerful sculptured piece, entitled "The Prodigal Son" is by Sculptor, George Grey Barrard and can be found in the Speed Museum, University of Louisville, KY.)


Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Bucketful of Hope

This time of the year when the ground is crusty and the wind cuts through you even in South Carolina—I remember a poem that always lifts me up. Everybody I know needs a bucketful of hope. Carlyle Marney said one time that the problem is that too many of our buckets have holes in them. Nevermind. This poem I share with you may help plug up the hole in your bucket—and maybe nudge you down the road just a mite.

Temp Sparkman and his wife faced a terrible ordeal years ago. One afternoon in midsummer their little nine-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. Weeks later, with little preparation, she was gone. They faced the terrible task of trying to pick up the broken pieces of their lives and try to live again. Later that year this young minister wrote this poem about hope in a terribly hopeless time.

“Was the grass really ever green
Were the sounds of birds really clearly heard
And did we picnic in the park only six short
  months ago
Here in mid-winter they seem so far away
The naked trees, the leaden skies seem always
   to have been
And seem out ahead for all time
Were things really ever green
And will the spring come back again?

Yes the spring will return
The gray, dull days of cold will pass
The routine now imprisoning us will be broken up
A new excitement will be awakened by new possibilities
The despair which now engulfs us will subside
A word of hope will come to us
Our presumption that all is lost will be replaced
   by a renewed expectancy.
Future will become a possibility again
The crush of demand will not dominate us forever
Out of liberation w will learn to choose
And in our choices to be secure.

The sadness now weighing upon us will be lifted
Joy will speak her acknowledgment of grief and
   will sound her call to us
The cause of sadness will not have vanished
But joy will come in spite of it
We will laugh again
We will sing and dance
We will celebrate the life now given us.

The conflicts now engaging our energy will be
   worked through
No wind will sweep them from us
We will go through them
   and we will survive
Redemption will come of our transactions
Relationships will be rescued and restored
And where breaks are too deep to be one,
Healing will come in time, though apart
The tension tearing at our being will be resolved
We will not be destroyed.

Were things really ever green
And will the spring come back again
Yes, yes, as sure as e’re it were here
Yes, yes, as sure as winter’s here
Yes, yes, as sure as God is
The spring will return
And it will be green again.”

And if I had a benediction it would simply be: I hope this promise of spring will help us all.

(I first wrote these words for my Springtime blog two years ago. This is one of my favorite poems and I would like to share it with you again.) 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Ninth Station--Jesus Falls a Third Time

A missionary working with the natives taught them a chorus which became their favorite. These were the words:
"Go on, Go on, Go on, Go on;
Go on, Go on, Go on, Go on;
Go on, Go on, Go on, Go on;
Go on, Go on, Go on, Go on."

As we move slowly from Station to Station we stop at the Ninth Station, look carefully. Jesus falls—for the third time! The artist Cecile Martin has captured this Station powerfully with her rendering of falling and falling and falling.

The Church—this treasure always in an earthen vessel—intentionally, I think has placed three different fallings in our meditations. They knew—as we all know—that falling always comes with the territory. Fred Craddock has reminded us that no church’s written history tells the whole story. We leave out so much that tells of the two-steps-forward-one-step-backward of our tortured story. The scandals, the deceit, the jockeying for power the hypocrisy, the abuse—not only sexual—the wrong-headedness not to speak of all those who have been turned away from the church house door because they were black or poor or gay or different or just difficult. We leave all these chapters and more out of the church histories we write.

And yet—we have only stopped at the Ninth Station. We have miles still go before we sleep. Our journey is far from over. There are five more stations to go. This thought has hit me powerfully as I have been reading the first volume of Manchester’s biography of Winston Churchill. Little fat boy, ignored by his parents, raised by his Nanny. He had a difficult time at school thanks to the cruelty of the other kids. He was plagued all his life with deep, dark depressions. He called them “his black dog.” They always came back with a vengeance.

Yet he would be the one to lead England during that tortured time when bombs fell on his beloved London for 76 consecutive days. One million homes were destroyed. 40,000 people were killed. Churchill by his incredible words would keep his people going. Toward the end someone asked him the secret of his power and England’s. He said: “Never give up...never...never give up.”

Maybe Karl Jung was right when he said where we stumble and fall there we find pure gold. Not always. Some fallings are fatal. Bu let us remember we are only at the Ninth Station. Our journey—like our Lord’s—is not over. And so like the disciples like Peter and all the others that finally came back--and Churchill and Helen Keller and Mandela and Martin King and Barack Obama and all the nameless heroes—falling is not the end of the story. Like that great cloud of witnesses that stand in all our balconies—we remember their names and cal still see their faces— we also remember the face of Him who first stumbled—and we know we can take heart. We must never give up. 

(The rendering of the Ninth Station was done like all the others in this series by African artist Bruce Onobrakpeya whose work can be found at museums the world over. The second picture is done by South Carolina artist, Cecile Martin whose work I used last year as I meditated on the Stations Her original stations can be found in her Church, St. Paul the Apostle in Seneca, South Carolina.)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Eighth Station: The Daughters of Jerusalem Stand By

"A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, 'Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"
                                                           --Luke 23. 27-31

I love the Eighth Station of the Cross. For standing near –with all the disciples hiding and afraid—the women were there. Luke doesn’t give us their names.  But we know Jesus called them “the Daughters of Jerusalem.”

We know their names, don’t we? Could one of those standing in that company be somebody’s mother? Maybe mine. My parents were married for 13 years, but no children came. And then—surprise! My mother in her thirties was pregnant. I don’t know how long she worked in the mill as her belly swelled. Her feet must have hurt and she must have had to run to the dirty mill toilet because of the nausea. With little money except what she and my Daddy made—she worked almost to the end.

The Doctor delivered me at home. So she washed me off, held me tight and named me Roger. Will Rogers, whom she adored, had died in August before my October birthday. And so she gave me Will’s name.  Why, someone asked her? “He makes me laugh.” Hard as her life was she always made sure that the first-born and my brother who came four years later—had the best she could give. Sometimes more than she give.

She took us up the street and around the corner to what then looked like a huge church. Brick, tall white columns—so she gave me faith. She made sure we stayed in school and wore clothes that were nice. She, with her eighth grade education, surrounded us with books. She cooked, cleaned and kept things going after long hours in the mill. I’ve often wondered how she stood the tedium, the boredom, the utter sameness of her cotton-mill schedule week after week, year after year.

Nobody in our family had ever been to college—but she made sure I would get there. The morning I was to leave for school I carried my heavy-foot locker out to the curb where a friend waited in his car. She had left her job at the mill and came out to say goodbye. What eighteen year old ponder the grief and the sadness of her standing on that porch and waving goodbye? She came no further—she didn’t me want to see her cry.  She let me go knowing a new unknown chapter was beginning and never again would we be the way we were.

Every week without fail fifteen crumpled dollars came in an envelope from my mother. I have a picture somewhere of her dressed in her finest, hat and all—smiling at my graduation four years later.

Years after her death, at a party we were all asked to bring a picture of how we looked when we were young. I found a framed photo of me. I must have been around four years old. I took the picture from the frame and on the back in her penciled-handwriting were the proud words: “This is Roger—he is four year old.” I had never seen those words but it made me remember all that she had given me. Where would I have gone—what would I have done without that love and stubborn belief that I was somebody.

And so as I look up with all the other pilgrims who shuffle through this line gazing at the Stations there is a lump in my throat. The Daughters of Jerusalem stood close as he staggered by. It must have helped immensely when Jesus scarred and wounded saw those faithful women with tears streaming down their faces. What were their names? I cannot give you all their names—but one of them, I do believe was named Mother.    

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Seventh Station--Jesus Falls Again

"Is it possible that he who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for the sake of us all will
not grant us all things besides?"
          Romans 8.32

 Why fall after fall? Isn’t this just too much. Overkill. We pilgrims shuffling from station to station stop now at Station Seven. We look confused. Er, we mumble, we’ve been here already. Which Station was it—number three! Jesus has already fallen.

But the church in their wisdom knew what they were doing. In having Jesus stumble and fall on his face—for God’s sake—he is one with all those who have found the burden too great. Remember what he said back there months before this terrible journey: “Come all ye who are weary and heavy laden...” He is one with all of us who at one time or another will have to bump into the limits of our lives. Leonard Boff, a fine Catholic theologian has said that Jesus is in solidarity with all those who suffer frustration and defeat. He chose to take has place beside the fallen and downtrodden.

You remember the list. It was seemingly endless as is the pain and crushedness of life itself. The Samaritan...the Publican, who collaborated with the enemy...the centurion on the wrong side...the adulteress the law said should be stoned...the Syro-Phoenician woman who was a pagan...the blind man, a paralytic...the old woman suffering from an issue of blood...not to speak of all those, the book says, “forsook him and fled” as he stumbled and fell.

Ours is a strange age. We reward Lance and the Olympic runner from Africa running on his steel legs...and Whitney Houston and Penn State—number one...number one...and that Bishop and those Cardinals and that oh-so-popular priest. And then—BAM!! They all fall down. This is not to excuse sin or wrongdoing. It is a terrible reminder that it one time or another we all fall. Carson McCullers said, “It is a sad commentary on the human race that we all have to find someone to look down on.” What would we do for news otherwise.

But before we move to pick up our stones let us remember this second fall. Leonard Boff says we meet Jesus on the ground. So the painful truth of this Seventh Station tells us, Yes, we have been here before. And the book tells us:”let he that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall...” I think a better translation might be: “Let he or she that think they stand take heed when they fall...”

Years ago at the beach one evening, tipsy on wine, one of us pulled out a guitar and began to strum: “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” And suddenly we put in our names and the names of someone who had just died...and a preacher who had fell so far down...and our troubled children...and the broke, fractured marriage of one who sang...and the President we did not like and trouble-makers in our churches and on and on we sang until, toward the end we began to wipe away the tears from our eyes at the wonder of what we prayed-wished-sang: “He got the whole world in his hands...” No wonder the church left us with this Seventh Station.

(The powerful representations of the Stations of the Cross were done  by African artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya. These 14 wood-cut prints hang in St. Paul's Church in Nigeria.)