Sunday, 25 February 2018

Following the Stations
of the Cross in Lent 12:
Longford 10: Jesus is
stripped of his clothes

Station 10 in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford … Jesus is stripped of his clothes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This is the Second Sunday in Lent [25 February 2018]. Later this morning, I am leading Morning Prayer in Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick at 9.30, and presiding and preaching at the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

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 earlier this month 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 10: Jesus is stripped of his clothes

This station depicts a scene described in all four Gospels:

And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him (Matthew 27: 35-36).

And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. (Mark 15: 24).

And they cast lots to divide his clothing (Luke 23: 34).

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,
‘They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots’ (John 19: 23-24).

Clothes are often used to indicate a person’s social position, their place in society. This public stripping says that Jesus is being stripped of social standing, his place in society. He has become an outcast, despised by all.

At the foot of the Cross, the soldiers draw lots to divide his few remaining possessions. All four Gospel accounts speak of Christ’s clothes being divided by casing lots, but Saint John alone refers this to a passage in Psalm 22: 18.

Saint John too is alone is saying Christ’s tunic was ‘seamless, woven in one piece from the top’ (John 19:23). This may also refer to the High Priest’s robe, which was ‘woven from a single thread,’ without stitching. The naked Christ is the true High Priest.

Being stripped naked is one more step in the process of ultimate humiliation. Imagine the embarrassment of being so exposed. But remember too how Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, naked and ashamed. Once again, Christ shows that he is just like us.

In this station by Ken Thompson in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, one solider is beating Christ with a sword, while the other is holding up his clothes, as if to check whether the tunic has any value, while turning his face away in disgust.

The two dice on either side indicate they are going to cast lots, but did you notice how they have been cast wrongly? The opposite faces of dice always add up to 7, (1/6, 2/5, 3/4); but this is impossible in both cases in this depiction. The die is cast, but everyone is a loser.

The daffodils that we have seen bursting out in previous stations as a sign of hope have now been replaced by thorns and a thistle. The artist here is drawing once again on the Prophet Hosea: ‘… the sin of Israel shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars’ (Hosea 10: 8).

The inscription in terracotta capital letters at the bottom of this Station reads: ‘He Empties Himself and Became as Men Are.’ This refers to a passage in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, where he says ‘Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2: 6-8)

From Stabat Mater:

Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
Let me share with thee His pain,
Who for all our sins was slain,
Who for me in torments died.

Meditation:

Despised. Rejected.
Eloi, Eloi, Lama sabachthani?
My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?
Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.
From top to bottom the veil in the Temple is torn in two.

Prayers:

Lamb that was slain, as you cried out to your Father from the cross we learned how deep was your suffering, how complete was your sense of abandonment. Be present with us when others betray us or forsake us that we may find ourselves in your eyes and not theirs. 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.

The soldiers notice you have something of value. They remove your cloak and throw dice for it. Your wounds are torn open once again. Some of the people in the crowd make fun of you. They tease you and challenge you to perform a miracle for them to see. They are not aware that you will perform the greatest miracle of all!

The Collect of the Day (the Second Sunday in Lent):

Almighty God,
you show to those who are in error the light of your truth
that they may return to the way of righteousness:
Grant to all those who are admitted
into the fellowship of Christ’s religion,
that they may reject those things
that are contrary to their profession,
and follow all such things
as are agreeable to the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

A prayer before walking to the next station:

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

Tomorrow: Station 11: Jesus is nailed to the cross.

Yesterday’s reflection

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