Saturday, 3 March 2018
Following the Stations
of the Cross in Lent 18:
Millstreet 1: Jesus is
condemned to death
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 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 the next two weeks, I am looking at the 14 Stations of the Cross at Saint John’s Well in a forested area on the slopes of Mushera, outside Millstreet in north Co Cork and close to the Cork/Kerry border
Saint John’s Well is 8 or 9 km south-east of Millstreet, on the slopes of Mushera, on the Aubane side of the mountain, opposite the entrance to Millstreet Country Park. The Stations date from 1984 and were designed by Liam Cosgrave and Sons, Sculptors, of Blackpool, Cork.
Millstreet 1: Jesus is condemned to death
The first station by Liam Cosgrave in Millstreet is composed using the framework of two inner arches and two outer arches to create the image of an inner courtyard. The condemned but dignified Christ stands beneath an arch before a youthful-looking Pilate, who sits enthroned as a servant kneels before him holding a bowl in which Pilate has rinsed his fingers.
This detail is recorded in Saint Matthew’s Gospel alone:
So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’ Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ (Matthew 27: 24-25).
Pilate is invoking Hebrew symbolism, not Roman custom, when he washes his hands. In Jewish law, if a murdered person was found and no murderer can be identified, the elders of the town were to make a sacrifice and ritually wash their hands and declare: ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor were we witnesses to it. Absolve, O Lord, your people Israel whom you redeemed.’ Do not let the guilt of innocent blood remain in the midst of your people Israel’ (see Deuteronomy 21: 1-8).
Although this one incident in the Passion narrative appears in only one Gospel, the phrase ‘washing my hands’ has passed into the English language as a idiom in which someone refuses to accept responsibility for their actions.
In Shakespeare’s Richard III (Act 1 Scene 4), at the murder of the Duke of Clarence, the Second Murderer declares:
A bloody deed, and desperately dispatch’d!
How fain, like Pilate, would I wash my hands
Of this most grievous guilty murder done!
Incidentally, this Duke of Clarence, George Plantagenet (1449-1478), a brother of Edward IV and Richard III, was born in Dublin Castle on 21 October 1449. Clarence is the first character to die in the play, having been condemned to death unjustly by his own brother.
From Stabat Mater:
Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.
Betrayed. Deserted. Alone. Jesus stands before an unjust judge. Dry palm branches crackle under the feet of the crowd. Soldiers rain down punches and crown him with thorns. Jesus is condemned to die.
Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world, you knew no sin and yet were sentenced to death. Assist me by your mercy to see the beam in my own eye and to remove it before I look to the speck in the eyes of others. 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, you stand all alone before Pilate. Nobody speaks up for you. Nobody helps defend you. You devoted your entire life to helping others, listening to the smallest ones, caring for those who were ignored by others. They do not seem to remember that as they prepare to put you to death.
My Jesus, often have I signed the death warrant by my sins; save me by your death from that eternal death which I have so often deserved.
A prayer before walking to the next station:
Holy and mighty Holy immortal one,
Have mercy on us.
Tomorrow: Station 2: Jesus takes the Cross.