Friday, 23 February 2018

Following the Stations
of the Cross in Lent 10:
Longford 8: Jesus meets
the women of Jerusalem

Station 8 in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford … Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Each morning in Lent, as part of my meditations and reflections for Lent this year, I am being guided by the Stations of the Cross from three locations.

The idea for this series of morning Lenten meditations came from reading about Peter Walker’s new exhibition, ‘Imagining the Crucifixion,’ inspired by the Stations of the Cross, which opened in Lichfield Cathedral last week and continues throughout Lent.

Throughout Lent, my meditations each morning are inspired by three sets of Stations of the Cross that I have found either inspiring or unusual. They are the stations in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, at Saint John’s Well on a mountainside near Millstreet, Co Cork, and in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield.

In my meditations, I am drawing on portions of the Stabat Mater, the 12th century hymn of the Crucifixion (‘At the cross her station keeping’) attributed to the Franciscan poet Jacopone da Todi. Some prayers are traditional, some are from the Book of Common Prayer, and other meditations and prayers are by Canon Frank Logue and the Revd Victoria Logue of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.

For two weeks, I am looking at the 14 Stations of the Cross in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, sculpted by Ken Thompson in Bath stone with chisel and mallet, with lettering inspired by the work of Eric Gill and haloes picked out in gold leaf.

He uses blue to give a background dimension that works almost like a shadow in itself, providing the foreground figures with greater relief. The bright gold leaf haloes establish the central image of Christ as well as his mother and disciples or saints.

Rather than using the traditional title for each station, the text at the foot of each panel is allusive. He has chosen two lines of scripture for each panel, cut them in lettering inspired by Eric Gill, and highlighted them in terracotta.

Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

Later this evening [23 February 2018], I am speaking at a meeting of the Methodist Women of Ireland in the Methodist Church in Adare, Co Limerick. They have asked me to speak about my journey in life to ordained ministry.

In the journey along the Via Dolorosa to Calvary, we have arrived this morning at Station VIII, where Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. Saint Luke is alone among the Gospel writers to tell the story recalled in this station:

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: 26-35).

The ‘Daughters of Jerusalem’ are mentioned several times in the Song of Solomon (see 1: 5, 2: 7, 3: 10-11, 5: 8, 5: 16). For example: ‘O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, tell him this: I am faint with love’ (Song of Solomon 5: 8).
As the muse of the Beloved, the Daughters of Jerusalem help her choose rightly between the flashy wealth of the king and the ardent true love of the Shepherd. So we should expect the Daughters of Jerusalem in this scene to be filled with the love of God, to realise they have met their shepherd and their king.

In his response to these women, Jesus alludes to three Biblical passages. There may be an echo of Jeremiah 16: 1-4, where the prophet cited Israel’s devastation to explain why he had no wife or children. He quotes an expression of despair in Hosea 10: 8: ‘They shall say to the mountains, Cover us, and to the hills, Fall on us.’ This portrays people desperately crying for mountains and hills to provide shelter. And he refers to Ezekiel 20: 47: ‘Thus says the Lord God, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree; the blazing flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from south to north shall be scorched by it.’

In this station in Longford, the Daughters of Jerusalem are represented by three women. One is clutching her child fretfully, the second is heavily pregnant, holding one hand against the chid in her womb and holding her daughter by the other, while the third woman has fallen to her knees in the path before Christ. In the background, six green shoots reflect Christ’s reference to the time ‘when the wood is green.’

The inscription in terracotta capital letters below the panel reads: ‘He Will Wipe Away Tears From All Eyes.’ This is a reference to both Isaiah and the Book of Revelation: ‘he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth’ (Isaiah 25: 8); ‘he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away’ (Revelation 21: 4).

From Stabat Mater:

Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
For the sins of His own nation
Saw Him hang in desolation
Till His Spirit forth He sent.

Meditation:

Tears. Wailing. Daughters. Mothers. Grief.
Women beat their breasts and mourn openly,
for the Son of Man, but his concern is for them and their children
in the days of woe yet to come.

Prayers:

Son of Man, you told the women of Jerusalem to weep not for you but for themselves and their children. Give us the gift of tears for our own sins, that we may mourn the ways in which we fall short of the glory of God that we may truly repent and return to you. This we pray in the name of Jesus, our crucified Lord, the King of Glory, the King of Peace. Amen.

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.
Because by your holy cross You have redeemed the world.

Jesus, as you carry your cross, you see a group of women along the road. As you pass by, you see they are sad. You stop to spend a moment with them, to offer them some encouragement. Although you have been abandoned by your friends and are in pain, you stop and try to help them.

A prayer before walking to the next station:

Holy God,
Holy and mighty Holy immortal one,
Have mercy on us.

Tomorrow: Station 9: Jesus falls a third time.

Yesterday’s reflection

A painting of Jerusalem once seen in Little Jerusalem in Rathmines, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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