Walking (and reading) the Stations

Last year this blog went through an extended new-post drought. While I wasn’t posting here, I was still writing and posting (at least occasionally) for my church site blog. Those posts felt specific to that audience, so I didn’t put them here even though I always use this site to write them (the WordPress process is so much more user-friendly than the church site one). Perhaps I thought those posts weren’t worthy of a wider audience?

I’m in awe of my friend Rocky Supinger’s ability to post five to seven times per week. His post this week, Something is Better Than Nothing, inspired me to decide I’m just going to share in this space at least a version of what I put on the church site. Perhaps I’ll even manage to empty out that Drafts folder in the coming days and weeks. Thanks, Rocky!

Anyway, here’s a response to our Good Friday worship experience at Woodridge UMC….

After our Good Friday experience of dining together and walking the Stations of the Cross, one participant asked if we could print the pictures used for each station instead of just having them on the screen. Another participant asked if we could offer the text from each station here on the website. So, here we go…

I was surprised by the number of people who weren’t familiar with walking the Stations of the Cross. I guess I thought the practice was more widespread, but that seems not to be the case, at least among our congregation. “I thought that was just a Catholic thing,” I heard a few times. Please note: not once was this said in the “that’s too Catholic for us” old critique kind of way. Each time it was said from a place of curiosity and wonder.

We started out by sharing that walking the Stations of the Cross is a form of prayer that’s been used since at least the Middle Ages, with some references of it going all the way back to St. Jerome, circa 325-420 CE. Christians have engaged in the practice for a long time.

Since we don’t have permanent Stations, we had to place our readings throughout the sanctuary and sort of hunt for them. At each station one person sounded a chime, another person read the station’s title and it’s description. Then the chime was sounded again to mark the end of that station. Plus, each station featured an aforementioned visual image projected on the screen.

You’ll have to imagine the chime and visual, but here then are the titles and readings we used for each station. They are adapted from a resource found at preachingpeace.org.

Station 1 — Jesus is condemned to die.

Pilate found no fault with Jesus, but when the crowd grew loud, he grew silent. “I wash my hands. You deal with it.” Pilate had the knowledge and the power to stand and say “No!” to the world as it sought to crush the Lord of Life, but he chose not to act on his knowledge nor use his power.

 

Station 2 — Jesus takes up his cross.

This cross has now been thousands of years in the making. Its weight still grows greater each time I look for someone to blame for the pain in my world. Each time I insist that sin must be punished, I add an ounce to the burden Jesus carries for me. This is the cross Jesus carries; it is the cross of blame, of vengeance.

 

Station 3 — Jesus falls the first time.

Jesus, they watched you fall, and nervously laughed together. The laughter transformed them from individuals to a collective, and gave them a sense of belonging. Their laughter reduced you to a joke, to something less than a man. They became a mob, and relinquished their individual sense of right and wrong.

 

Station 4 — Jesus meets his mother.

Jesus, they wanted to make you an object of laughter to isolate you completely, but your mother’s loving presence got in the way. She withstood the blows of taunt and sorrow to be present for you along the way. She alone remained to give you courage, to remind us that you are someone’s child, just like we are.

 

Station 5 — Simon helps Jesus carry the Cross.

They needed you to die, Jesus, but their rage had gone too far. You were beaten so severely, not able to go on, so they looked for a solution that wouldn’t involve them too closely or have them touch the cross themselves. The answer – find a stranger who had no idea who you were to carry the cross. Simon knew nothing of your innocence.

 

Station 6 — Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

Jesus, you had been beaten so badly that you were “marred beyond human semblance.” As you walked along, you were almost unrecognizable. It was so much easier to hate you, to jeer you, to wish you dead when they couldn’t see your face. Veronica did not permit that luxury. She stepped forward and wiped away the blood and sweat, revealing your human face to all the onlookers.

 

Station 7 — Jesus falls the second time.

The first time you fell, Jesus, the onlookers laughed. Your fall made their hatred well up even more powerfully. Even though Simon was forced to help you, you fell again and showed weakness, so the mob screamed all the louder, “Get up! Get up!” desperate to find an outlet for their rage. They recognized that life was not the way they wanted it to be and someone had to be blamed, and so they taunted you. “Get up, Jesus! Hurry up!”

 

Station 8 — Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.

Jesus, you told them, “Weep not for me, but for yourselves and for your children.” The women of Jerusalem, standing at a distance, wanted to weep for you as though your fate were unrelated to theirs, as though the violence you suffered did not affect them as well. You turned their sympathy back on to them; to remind them that your fate was their fate, too.

 

Station 9 — Jesus falls the third time.

Jesus, you did all you could do. You were utterly beaten, defeated, with not an ounce of strength left, so the remainder of what was to happen was left to the mob. They were not finished watching, taunting, hating. Like the potter’s clay, they fashioned you into what they needed you to be.

 

Station 10 — Jesus is stripped before the crowd.

Physical humiliation wasn’t enough. Spitting wasn’t enough. Whipping wasn’t enough. Crucifixion wasn’t enough. The mob needed to shame Jesus, to strip away from him any shred of human dignity. They were blind to the dignity in which his heavenly Father, our heavenly Father clothed Jesus. Unable to see his deeper dignity, they took sadistic pleasure in the shame they poured out on him.

 

Station 11 — Jesus is nailed to the Cross.

Hanging on the cross was not cruel enough, Jesus. Watching you suffocate would not satisfy the rage of the mob. So instead of using the traditional ropes, they needed to use nails to cut through your human flesh, to help the rage bleed away.

 

Station 12 — Jesus dies on the Cross.

The mob stood in stunned silence as they surveyed the result of their sin. The Lord of Life, Jesus, hung dead on the cross. The peace they pursued as they chased him up the hill refused to come. As they gazed upon Jesus, their victim, the realization dawned – violence would never bring peace. They were terrified and alone even as they stood with one another.

 

Station 13 — Jesus is taken down from the Cross.

Once the spectacle ended, the mob felt compelled to leave. There had been something both horrible and fascinating about Jesus as he hung there, and it was frightening to them. The task of dealing with his lifeless body, of touching Jesus, was left to those who were already unclean, so the mob had all departed by the time the guards permitted those who loved Jesus to bring him down from the cross.

 

Station 14 — Jesus is laid in the tomb.

Those who did not abandon Jesus, those who refused to join the mob, laid his body to rest with great tenderness into the empty tomb donated by a rich man. At that moment, they saw nothing divine in the torn flesh, nothing holy in the bloodied brow. They knew only sorrow, deeper than the greatest trenches of the oceans. Deep sorrow.

Moving from “Good” Friday to a holy Saturday

Today is known as “Good Friday.” Well, it’s actually only known as such among English- and Dutch-speaking people. Other names for this day include, according to UMC Discipleship Ministries, “‘Holy Friday’ among the Latin nations, “Great Friday” among the Slavic peoples, “Friday of Mourning” in Germany, “Long Friday” in Norway, and “Holy Friday” (Viernes Santo) among Hispanic peoples.”

We can only call this day “good” or “great” looking backwards from the perspective of Easter, of Resurrection. But it seems to me that we can better, more fully, enter into the story of Jesus by suspending whatever knowledge we have of Sunday and fully live into the despair of his death today. That’s what we’ll attempt to do with a three-part worship experience tonight at Woodridge United Methodist.

At 5:45 tonight, we gather around a table to share a simple meal, perhaps similar to the meal Jesus ate with his friends that final night. As this is a gathering for all ages, we’ll also have kid-friendly options. This is an interactive time as we consider together and enact the odd-to-us way dinners were served in Jesus’ time.

At 6:30, we continue to experience the story of Jesus’ final hours as we move from table fellowship to walking Stations of the Cross in our Narthex and Sanctuary. This ancient form of prayer invites us to hear 14 moments along Jesus’ journey to the cross.

Then at 7:00pm, a more traditional Good Friday worship time begins, making use of candles, songs, shadow, readings, and reflections.

We exit this service in silence, mirroring the silence of the grave. Jesus, our Lord, our teacher, our friend is dead.

Our challenge in this time is to be honest about this. Our challenge is to keep Saturday Holy. We know Sunday is coming. We can’t wait for the color and sound explosion that is Resurrection Day. But that’s a day away. We can’t yet know that relief. As Slacktivist, Fred Clark, so eloquently writes,

This day, the Saturday that can’t know if there will ever be a Sunday, is the day we live in, you and I, today and every day for the whole of our lives. This is all we are given to know…

Here, in time, there’s just this day, this dreadful Saturday of not knowing.

There are some things we can know on this Saturday. Jesus is dead, to begin with, dead and buried. He said the world was upside-down and needed a revolution to turn it right-way-round and so he was executed for disturbing the peace. He came and said love was greater than power, and so power killed him…

Seriously, just look around. Does it look like the meek are inheriting the earth? Does it look like those who hunger and thirst for justice are being filled? Does it look like the merciful are being shown mercy?

Jesus was meek and merciful and hungry for justice and look where that got him. They killed him. We killed him. Power won.

Our challenge is to be honest about this Saturday. Our challenge is to live with the silence of the tomb. As Taylor Burton-Edwards writes, “This is the silence of the tomb, or perhaps more accurately, the silence from the tomb. This is the silence that grabs us, if we are paying attention at all, when we contemplate the aftermath of the crucifixion.”

To help us experience this, Burton-Edwards leads a Holy Saturday service each year via Twitter. You may follow it at the hashtag #holysat16 beginning at 9:00 am (Central time) Saturday, March 26th.

Let’s keep this Saturday Holy by honestly acknowledging the limits of our knowledge and by allowing the silence of and from the tomb to wash over us. Perhaps then, when we gather Sunday morning at 9:00 and 10:30 am, our celebrations will be sweeter than ever.

Experiencing “Good” Friday and Holy Saturday

It seems to me that our words sometimes (often?) get in the way.

Here then is a fantastic video about Good Friday that uses no words. Created by SparkHouse for their line of Sunday School curriculum called Holy Moly. It is meant to be shown to and with children. But I think you’ll find it speaks powerfully to all ages. I know it moves me. (Disclosure: I’ve done some paid consulting work for other SparkHouse projects, but not Holy Moly.)

Once you’ve watched that, you may need some time in silence. That is what Holy Saturday is for: experiencing the silence of the tomb. It was real for Jesus; it is real for us. The United Methodist Worship blog offers this incredible resource for silence on Holy Saturday. Here’s a taste:

This is the silence of the tomb, or perhaps more accurately, the silence from the tomb. This is the silence that grabs us, if we are paying attention at all, when we contemplate the aftermath of the crucifixion.

This is what Holy Saturday has been about for centuries in the liturgical life of the Church. It is this silence, embodied in an assembly. It is the ultimate silence. The horror of the execution and our role in it was the day before. Facing the violence head on as we do and must on Good Friday also tends to move us into a kind of alternate reality removed from the usual patterns of our lives and thoughts. We can be tricked into thinking it was all just a horrible dream.

But on this day, on Holy Saturday, there is no question left. [read the rest]

Perhaps, like me, after you watch the video below and pray through the silence of the Holy Saturday litany, you’ll find yourself longing for more. Longing for conversation about these days leading up to Easter, ideas about Jesus’ death that do not turn God into a monster who somehow requires the death of “his” own child.

If so, I highly recommend spending some time with the conversation Tony Jones is curating at Why A Crucifixion? There you will “read what progressive Christian bloggers from around the blogosphere have to say about the meaning and significance of Jesus dying on a cross.”

It is in allowing ourselves to experience the events of Friday and Saturday that we become truly ready to know the exuberant joy of resurrection on Easter morning.

Peace be with you all.

It’s been a Good Friday

The Crucifixion
Image via Wikipedia

Since the blogosphere is overrun with people reflecting on their journey of faith in Christ (most of whom are way better at it than I), it should come as no surprise that posts on the meaning of Good Friday abound.

Here are some that I found meaningful and thought-provoking:

1. My friend Adam Ericksen  offers this video post wondering why today isn’t Tragic Friday:

2. Via Tony Jones, a terrific post by Craig Goodwin on today’s confluence of Good Friday and Earth Day.

3. Finally, Eugene Cho, the Seattle-based pastor and founder of the excellent extreme poverty-fighting non-profit, One Day’s Wages, encourages us not to skip ahead to Easter Sunday too quickly. We need to stay in the uncomfortable dark a while longer.

That’s what I wanted tonight: to stay in the uncomfortable dark a while longer.

Don’t get me wrong, worship at my church tonight was meaningful. In lieu of a musical prelude, a couple of our young people pounded on pieces of wood with hammers. It was a Tenebrae service, meaning we read the last words of Jesus and extinguished candles, causing the sanctuary to get darker and darker. Pastor Jim offered a powerful meditation on the very real suffering in the world and in our lives. We sang the hauntingly beautiful hymn “Were You There?”… and yet, I wanted more. I wanted more darkness and to sit in it longer. I wanted to consider what this day in which we remember Jesus’ death would be like if we approached it as if we didn’t yet know about the Easter Resurrection.

What would today be like for you if Resurrection weren’t just two days away, but was still an inconceivable impossibility?