28 February 2018
Following the Stations
of the Cross in Lent 15:
Longford 13: Jesus is
taken down from the cross
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 13: Jesus is taken down from the cross
Sometimes this Station is described as ‘The Body of Jesus Is Placed in the Arms of his Mother.’
In the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke say Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council, asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, took the body, and wrapped it a clean linen cloth (Matthew 27: 28; Mark 15: 43, 46; Luke 23: 50-53); Saint John’s Gospel adds that Nicodemus helped Joseph with the preparation of the body for burial.
None of the Gospels says that the Virgin Mary held the body of her son when he was taken down from the Cross and before he was buried, but this has become a popular image in Passion scenes, from Michelangelo’s Pieta to the statues that dominate Good Friday processions in Italy, Spain and Portugal.
In Station XIII in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, one arm of the dead Christ has been released; a solider – for he is without a beard and without a halo – uses plyers to remove the nail of the second arm; the two feet are still nailed to the cross.
The Virgin Mary caresses his freed arm with her arms, her cheek rests against his arm. A bearded man holds the limp body. He is without a halo, yet this is Joseph of Arimathea.
On each arm of the Cross are the letters Alpha (Α) and Omega (Ω), the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, and a title of Christ at the beginning and the end of the Book of Revelation:
‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty (Revelation 1: 8).
Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end’ (Revelation 21: 6).
‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’ (Revelation 22: 12).
These are words of Christ that appear in the Book of Revelation, not in the Gospels. At the end of the Bible, Christ tells us he is the beginning and the end. TS Eliot opens his poem ‘East Coker,’ the second of his Four Quartets: ‘In my beginning is my end.’ And he concludes it with the words: ‘In my end is my beginning.’
A spear points at the arm marked Alpha, a ladder is propped against the arm marked Omega. The ladder is propped against the Cross to take down Christ’s body, the spear belongs to one of the soldiers. In Saint John’s Gospel, when the soldiers are checking whether those who have been crucified have died, they break their legs, but when they come to Jesus one of them instead ‘pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out’ (John 19: 32-34).
The filled cup, first seen in Station IX, is seen again here in Station XIII, and recalls either the blood and water that pour from Christ’s pierced side or the cup at both the Last Supper and at Christ’s Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
A mouse and a mousetrap at the foot of the cross are reminders of a tradition that as a carpenter Saint Joseph made mousetraps and a less benign legend in which the devil appears in disguise as a mouse.
The inscription in terracotta lettering below this panel reads: ‘Indeed This Man Was the Son of God.’ In Saint Matthew’s Gospel, when Christ breathes his last, ‘the centurion and those with him’ are terrified and say: ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ (Matthew 27: 54). In Saint Mark and Saint Luke, the centurion alone says ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ (Mark 15: 39). In Saint Luke’s Gospel, the centurion declares: ‘Certainly this man was innocent’ (Luke 23: 47).
From Stabat Mater:
Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
Let me mingle tears with thee,
Mourning Him who mourned for me,
All the days that I may live.
Mourning mother. Broken child.
A sword of grief pierces her soul.
Women surround her, but none can comfort her.
Her name is bitterness.
Crucified Saviour, you are resurrection and life and in your death and resurrection we who mourn find the peace and comfort your own mother lacked as your body came down from the cross. Help us to bring the hope of the resurrection to all who mourn. 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, how brutally you were put to death. How gently your are taken from the cross. Your suffering and pain are ended, and you are put in the lap of your mother. The dirt and blood are wiped away. You are treated with love.
Jesus, let me take a few moments now to consider your love for me. Help me thank you for your willingness to go to your death for me. Help me express my love for you!
A prayer before walking to the next station:
Holy and mighty Holy immortal one,
Have mercy on us.
Tomorrow: Station 14: Jesus is placed in the tomb.