Friday, 30 March 2018

Reflections in Holy Week 2018 (5),
Good Friday, Askeaton (Part 1)

‘Imagining the Crucifixion,’ Peter Walker’s exhibition inspired by the Stations of the Cross, opened in Lichfield Cathedral on Ash Wednesday and continues until next Monday

Patrick Comerford

Good Friday, 30 March 2018,

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton,

Three Hours at the Stations of the Cross

12 noon to 1 p.m., Part 1, Stations 1 to 5:

Introduction:


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

The idea for this series of Lenten meditations came from Peter Walker’s exhibition, ‘Imagining the Crucifixion,’ inspired by the Stations of the Cross, which opened in Lichfield Cathedral on Ash Wednesday, and continues throughout Lent and until next Monday [2 April 2018].

The Stations of the Cross, the Way of the Cross, or the Via Crucis, are a series of images depicting Christ on Good Friday, with accompanying, appropriate prayers, marking Christ’s Passion and his journey to Calvary and his Crucifixion.

The Stations of the Cross grew out of imitations by pilgrims of Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, believed to be the actual path Christ walked on the first Good Friday. The stations offer a spiritual pilgrimage through contemplating the Passion of Christ.

When the Franciscans were allowed back into Jerusalem by the Muslims, Saint Francis of Assisi staged a re-enactment of the Passion of Christ. He also founded the Custody of the Holy Land in 1217. Eventually, the Franciscans were recognised as the Custodians of Holy Places by Pope Clement VI in 1342.

In the 15th and 16th centuries the Franciscans began to build a series of outdoor shrines in Europe to duplicate their counterparts in the Holy Land. The number of stations was often just seven but they could vary between seven and 30. They were often placed in small buildings along the approach to a church.

In 1686, Pope Innocent XI gave the Franciscans the right to erect stations within their churches. In 1731, Pope Clement XII extended to all churches the right to have the stations, provided a Franciscan priest erected them with the consent of the local bishop. At the same time, the number of stations was fixed at 14.

In 1857, the Roman Catholic bishops of England were allowed to erect the stations by themselves, without the intervention of a Franciscan priest, and in 1862 this right was extended to bishops throughout the church.

I first became aware of the Stations of the Cross as an expression of Franciscan spirituality while I was at school in Gormanston, Co Meath, in the 1960s.

The standard set of 14 Stations from the 17th to 20th centuries has depicted these scenes:

1, Jesus is condemned to death
2, Jesus takes up his Cross
3, Jesus falls the first time
4, Jesus meets his Mother Mary
5, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross
6, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
7, Jesus falls a second time
8, Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
9, Jesus falls a third time
10, Jesus is stripped of his garments
11, Jesus is nailed to the Cross
12, Jesus dies on the cross
13, Jesus is taken down from the Cross
14, Jesus is laid in the tomb

Although not traditionally part of the Stations, the Resurrection is sometimes included as a Station 15.

In my meditations for these three hours this Good Friday, from 12 noon to 3 p.m., I plan to draw on a portion 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 from the Book of Common Prayer, and other meditations and prayers are by Canon Frank Logue and the Revd Victoria Logue. He is Canon to the Ordinary in the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, assisting the Bishop of Georgia in overseeing the clergy and congregations across coastal and south Georgia.

The Stations of the Cross present an opportunity for all of us to bring the most difficult human experiences into dialogue with the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, according to the Dean of Lichfield, the Very Revd Adrian Dorber. They ‘help us see the depths of God’s love for the world: how Christ absorbs human hatred and evil, bearing its colossal weight, to give us a new birth in his peace and love.’

Station 1, Jesus is condemned to death

‘Condemned’ … Station 1 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Pilate condemns Jesus to die (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the First station, Christ stands alone in Pilate’s Court – perhaps by the pillar at which he has been scourged. In his hand he holds a reed or rod, a simple robe hangs on his shoulders has a crown of thorns is on his head. All are part of the ritual in which he was mocked and scorned after being brought before Pilate (Matthew 27; 28-30; Mark 16: 17; John 19: 2; cf Luke 23: 11).

This detail of Pilate washing his hands 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 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!


Pilate has written an inscription, ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews,’ in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, to put on the Cross (John 19: 19).

‘Truth Pilate Said To Jesus What is Truth’ – Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’ (John 18: 38).

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.

Meditation:

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.

Prayers:

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 the next station:

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

Station 2, Jesus accepts his Cross

‘Receives Cross’ … Station 2 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Pilate condemns Jesus to die (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At the second station, Christ takes the cross on his shoulders. Saint John’s Gospel alone says that Christ carried the cross by himself (John 19: 17); the other three Gospels say Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry the cross behind him.

As Christ received his cross, was it an awkward moment? I think of how Christ receives the Cross from a soldier who faces him. But Christ is going to have to turn around so that he can carry his cross on his shoulder and his back.

The Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia) is often translated as ‘conversion,’ or a transformative change of heart,’ especially: a spiritual conversion.’ But the Hebrew and Latin equivalents convey the sense of having to turn around.

Having received the Cross, Christ is going to turn around for his journey to Calvary. On this Good Friday, he invites us too to turn around too and to join him on his journey.

From Stabat Mater:

Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing
All His bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword has passed.

Meditation:

Splinters. Heavy, rough wood. The scent of the hill country. A single beam laid across the back of a carpenter. The crowd jeers. The procession to the place of the skull begins.

Prayers:

Obedient Lord, you asked us each to take up our cross and follow you. Then you took up your own cross and led the way not just to Calvary, but to the empty tomb and beyond. Give us the courage to follow where you lead. 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 accepted your cross, you knew you would carry it to your death on Calvary. You knew it would not be easy, but you accepted it and carried it just the same.

A prayer before the next station:

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

Station 3: Jesus falls for the first time

‘First Fall’ … Station 3 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Pilate condemns Jesus to die (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At the third station, Christ falls beneath the weight of his Cross. This is one of the traditional Stations of the Cross that depict Passion scenes that are not recalled in any of the Gospel accounts.

As Christ stumbles on his hands and feet, a soldier looks on, holding a spear in one hand, while a man without a uniform grips an arm of the cross as he raises a whip in his other arm to beat Christ on the ground below him.

The soldiers goading Christ as he falls, jeering his efforts to stand again; no-one looks on in horror; no-one offers to help in charity. We might think of the words of the Prophet Isaiah: ‘He was Despised A Man of Sorrows’ (Isaiah 53: 3).

As the piety around this traditional station developed, perhaps people recalled Christ’s words: ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11: 28-30).

Now his yoke is not easy, and his burden is heavy. Yet he remains gentle and humble in heart, and he is going to fall twice again.

From Stabat Mater:

Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
O, how sad and sore distressed
Was that Mother highly blessed
Of the sole-begotten One!

Meditation:

Stumble. Waver. Collapse.
Jesus’ sweat mingles with dust as he falls to the earth.
The weight of the sins of the world on his shoulders.
Barely able to stand.
He cannot carry the cross without falling.

Prayers:

Lion of Judah, you know our weaknesses, our temptations and our failings. Support us by the power of the Holy Spirit that we do not stumble so as to fall away from 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, the cross you have been carrying is very heavy.
You are becoming weak and almost ready to faint, and you fall down.
Nobody seems to want to help you.
The soldiers are interested in getting home,
so they yell at you and try to get you up and moving again.

A prayer before the next station:

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

Station 4: Jesus meets his mother Mary

‘Mother’ … Station 4 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Jesus meets his mother Mary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At the fourth station, Christ meets his Mother Mary. Perhaps he drops his Cross forgetfully as he rushes towards her and she rushes towards him. She stretches out both hands as if she is about to embrace him; he has one arm around her neck, his right hand clutching her left shoulder. But his other arm is being pulled back by the arm of another, a soldier, an official, someone who has also been brutalised.

Perhaps Mary recalls the words once spoken to her in the Temple 40 days after Christ’s birth at the Presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple, words in the Canticle Nunc Dimittis, ‘And a sword will pierce your own heart’.

When Simeon blessed mother and child, he said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too’ (Luke 2: 34-35).

It is a silent moment of love and pathos. They gaze into each other’s eyes, but say nothing. It is a lonely scene, with no-one around to support them, to comfort them, to console them.

From Stabat Mater:

Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
Christ above in torment hangs,
She beneath beholds the pangs,
Of her dying, glorious Son.

Meditation:

Mother and child. Madonna.
Joseph has died. There is no angelic choir.
No shepherds. No wise men.
Gone are the gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Mary sees her battered son through a veil of tears.

Prayers:

Son of God, son of Mary, the crowd heaps scorn and turns the blade that pierces your mother’s own soul. Grant us the grace to see those in needless suffering and to reach out to them showing the love you wanted to show to your mother Mary as you stumbled toward Calvary. 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 feel so alone with all those people yelling and screaming at you. You do not like the words they are saying about you, and you look for a friendly face in the crowd. You see your mother. She cannot make the hurting stop, but it helps to see that she is on your side, that she is suffering with you. She does understand and care.

A prayer before the next station:

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

Station 5: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross

‘Simon’ … Station 5 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At the Fifth Station, we meet Simon of Cyrene, who is compelled to carry Christ’s Cross, according to all three Synoptic Gospels (see Matthew 27: 32; Mark 15: 21-22; Luke 23-26).

Simon the Cyrene is neither a lawyer nor a Samaritan, but shows himself to be a neighbour to the man who is beaten up on his journey in Jerusalem.

Cyrene was a Greek settlement in the province of Cyrenaica in east Libya in north Africa. it had a Jewish community where 100,000 Judean Jews had been forced to settle during the reign of Ptolemy Soter (323-285 BC) and later it was an early centre of Christianity. The Cyrenian Jews had a synagogue in Jerusalem, where many went for annual feasts.

Cyrene was supposedly the destination of many Sicari or rebels who fled the Roman legions at the time of the Jewish Revolt.

Some commentators suggest Simon was chosen because he may have shown sympathy for Jesus. Others point out that the text says nothing, that Simon had no choice, and that there is no basis to consider carrying the cross an act of sympathetic generosity.

Saint Mark identifies Simon as ‘the father of Alexander and Rufus’ (Mark 15: 21). Tradition says they became missionaries, and identifies Rufus with the Rufus named by Saint Paul (see Romans 16: 13). Some traditions also link Simon with the ‘men of Cyrene’ who preached the Gospel to the Greeks (see Acts 11: 20).

Simon holds the cross with two hands, balances the weight and the length of the cross that has been crushing Christ’s shoulders and back as he begins to continue his journey.

Was Simon of Cyrene a black African? Or was he like so many others in his city who were of Greek, Roman or Jewish descent?

Whether Simon was a Jew or a Gentile is perhaps irrelevant. His action reminds me of the ‘Righteous Among the Nations,’ an honour used to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis. The term originates with the concept of righteous gentiles, a term used in rabbinic literature to describe non-Jews (ger toshav) who abide by the Seven Laws of Noah.

The Righteous are defined as non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Only a Jewish party can make a nomination. Helping a family member or a Jew convert to Christianity is not a criterion for recognition. Assistance has to be repeated and substantial, and it has to be given without any expected financial gain.

The largest number of Righteous is from Poland (6,706). Mary Elizabeth Elmes (1908-2002) from Cork was the first Irish person to be honoured among the Righteous by Yad Vashem. She saved at least 200 Jewish children under the age of 12 by smuggling them over the border between France and Spain in the boot of her car. There is also an application for another Irish person, Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, who rescued 6,500 Prisoners of War and Jews in Rome.

When I think of Simon of Cyrene at the Fifth Station, I think too of Simon Gewurtz (1887-1944) from Bratislava, who was Limerick’s last rabbi, and I wonder how much he must have grieved during his time in Limerick about the sufferings of the Jews of Bratislava.

I first heard these stories in 1999 when I visited Kahal Shalom, the oldest surviving synagogue in Greece, and the last remaining synagogue in ‘La Judeira,’ the old Jewish quarter in Rhodes.

There have been Jews in Rhodes since at least the time of Herod the Great. When the Jewish community in Rhodes was at its height in the 1920s, there were 4,000 or more Jews living on the island. A plaque in the courtyard lists the names of 100 Jewish families from Rhodes who were wiped out in the Holocaust.

By the end of the 1930s, there were still 2,000 or more Jews on Rhodes, struggling to maintain their religious and cultural life. A boatload of 600 Jews from Bratislava and Prague fleeing the Nazis reached Rhodes in 1939. There they were fed and quartered by the local community, and provided with fresh water for their onward journey to Palestine. But as the boat sailed out it caught fire, and the refugees were eventually washed up on the island of Samos. They returned to Rhodes, where the local Jews helped them to buy another old boat, and this time they made their way safely to Palestine.

The refugees from Bratislava and Prague survived, but the Jews of Rhodes who helped them escape were to perish a few years later. On 23 July 1944, 1,673 members of the Jewish community were rounded up in Rhodes, shipped to Piraeus and sent on by train to Auschwitz. The community that had survived the Crusades and the Inquisition and prospered under both Ottomans and Italians was decimated: only 151 survived.

The city square where the Nazis rounded up the Jews of Rhodes has been renamed Πλατεία Μαρτύρων Εβραιων (Plateia Martyron Evreon), the Square of the Hebrew Martyrs, and the Sea Horse Fountain in square was erected in memory of the Jews of Rhodes who died in Auschwitz.

From Stabat Mater:

Jesus Christ, crucified, have mercy on us!
Is there one who would not weep
Whelmed in miseries so deep
Christ’s dear Mother to Behold?

Meditation:

Stranger. Neighbour. Friend.
Simon takes up your cross. In so doing takes up his own.
Another innocent man joins the procession to Calvary.

Prayers:

Suffering Servant, beaten beyond human semblance, through the Good Samaritan you taught us that everyone in need is our neighbour. Help us to follow in your way of love that we do not need be compelled to take up the cross of another when they cannot bear their burdens alone. 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, the soldiers are becoming impatient. This is taking longer than they wanted it to. They are afraid you will not make it to the hill where you will be crucified. As you grow weaker, they grab a man out of the crowd and make him help you carry your cross. He was just watching what was happening, but all of a sudden he is helping you carry your cross.

A prayer before the next station:

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

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This is the first part of reflections prepared for Good Friday, 30 March 2018, in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.


Stations 6-10

Stations 11-14

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