Friday, 30 March 2018

Reflections in Holy Week 2018 (6),
Good Friday, Askeaton (Part 2)

Jesus Falls ... one of the images in Peter Walker’s new exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral, ‘Imagining the Crucifixion,’ which provided the idea for this series of Lenten meditations (Photograph: Jonathan Oates, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Good Friday, 30 March 2018,

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton,

Three Hours at the Stations of the Cross

1 p.m. to 2 p.m., Part 2, Stations 6 to 10:

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 standard set of 14 Stations from the 17th to 20th centuries has 14 images. In this second hour this afternoon we are reflecting on the scenes in the sixth to the tenth stations:

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

In my meditations for these three hours this Good Friday, from 12 noon to 3 p.m., I am drawing 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 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

‘Veronica’ … Station 6 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Station 6 illustrates a story that is not told in any of the four Gospel accounts of Christ’s journey to Calvary, although there are some parallels with the story of the woman who was healed miraculously by touching the hem Christ’s garment (Luke 8: 43-48).

In popular illustrations of this station, Veronica is often seen on her knees, offering her veil with both hands. Christ stretches out to receive the veil, while Simon of Cyrene continues to prop up the Cross.

According to tradition, Veronica is moved with sympathy when she sees Christ carrying his cross and gives him her veil to wipe his forehead. When he hands back the veil, it is marked with the image of his face.

In the Middle Ages, there was a mistaken idea that the name Veronica was derived from the Latin vera (true) and Greek eikon (image). But, in fact, Veronica is a Latin transliteration of the Greek name Berenice (Βερενίκη). This, in turn, was the Macedonian form of the Athenian Φερενίκη (Phereníkē) or Φερονίκη (Pheroníkē), meaning ‘she who brings victory.’ It became popular because of its use by the Ptolemies, the Seleucids and other dynasties in the east Mediterranean.

The first record of the Veil of Veronica being displayed in Rome only dates from 1199, when two pilgrims, Giraldus Cambrensis, the early historian of Ireland, and Gervase of Tilbury, make direct references to the existence of the Veil of Veronica.

A few years later, in 1207, the cloth was publicly paraded for the first time and displayed by Pope Innocent III. This procession, between Saint Peter’s and the Santo Spirito Hospital, became an annual event and the procession inspired Pope Boniface VIII to proclaim the first Jubilee in 1300. For the next 200 years, the ‘Veronica’ was regarded as one of the most precious Christian relics.

Some accounts say the veil was stolen or destroyed after the Sack of Rome in 1527, others say it survived, but it disappears almost entirely from public view after 1629, when the Pope prohibited making reproductions.

But that association of the image of Jesus with Santo Spirito brings back memories of another image of Christ I saw on the steps of Santo Spirito in Rome last year.

The hospital was built for paupers and abandoned children by Pope Innocent III, who began this procession. Two years ago [March 2016], the Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz donated a bronze statue on the steps of the hospital showing ‘Christ the Beggar’, sitting on the steps, with the words beside him: ‘Ha avuto fame e mi avete dato da mangiare, ho avuto sete e mi avete dato da bere. I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink’ (Matthew 25: 35).

The bowl and cup in front of ‘Christ the Beggar’ could be a chalice and paten. True Communion with Christ is giving food and drink to those who hunger and thirst.

A second statue at Santo Spirito shows Christ as an impoverished patient lying on a makeshift bed on the steps of the hospital. The words beneath him read: ‘Ero malato e mi avete visitato. I was ill and you visited me’ (Matthew 25: 36).

The story of the Veil of Veronica challenges us to ask: ‘Where do I see the face of Christ.’

‘Christ the Beggar’ … a sculpture by Timothy Schmalz on the steps of Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Veronica is not a Biblical or historical figure, but her name reminds us of every woman who takes a stand for truth, even when great personal costs and risks are involved.

I was staying at Glenstal Abbey when I heard the news that the journalist Veronica Guerin had been murdered on 26 June 1996. She first wrote for the Sunday Business Post and the Sunday Tribune, and began writing about crime for the Sunday Independent on 1994. She was shot dead while she was stopped at traffic lights near Newlands Cross, on the outskirts of Dublin. She was due to speak two days later at a conference in London on ‘journalists at risk.’

Her murder caused national outrage in Ireland, and the Taoiseach John Bruton called it ‘an attack on democracy.’

Her name and those of 38 other international journalists who died in the line of duty in 1996 were added to the Freedom Forum Journalists Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, in 1997. In 2000, she was named as one of the International Press Institute's 50 World Press Freedom Heroes of the past 50 years. The Veronica Guerin Memorial Scholarship at Dublin City University offers a bursary for a student following the MA in Journalism who wishes to specialise in investigative journalism.

Her husband Graham Turley has said: ‘Veronica stood for freedom to write. She stood as light, and wrote of life in Ireland today, and told the truth. Veronica was not a judge, nor was she a juror, but she paid the ultimate price with the sacrifice of her life.’

From Stabat Mater:

Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that Mother’s pain untold?

Meditation:

Cloth. Sweat. Blood. Icon.
Legend tells of a woman wiping Jesus’ face and
gaining an image of Christ painted in his blood on her cloth.
In relieving the suffering of others we, too, find the face of Jesus.

Prayers:

Immanuel, God with us, you came as the image of God made flesh and we scorned you. May we seek not to do great things in your name, but to honour you with small acts of mercy done with great love. 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, suddenly a woman comes out of the crowd. Her name is Veronica. You can see how she cares for you as she takes a cloth and begins to wipe the blood and sweat from your face. She cannot do much, but she offers what little help she can.

A prayer before the next station:

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

Station 7: Jesus falls for the second time

‘Second Fall’ … Station 7 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Jesus falls the second time (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Station 7 also illustrates a story that is not told any of the four Gospel accounts of Christ’s journey to Calvary, although the popular numbering of three falls may have a Trinitarian intention.

In this station, Christ falls to his knees beneath the weight of his cross. As children, we used to say: ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names shall never hurt me.’ Do those who force Christ to carry his cross beat him as he falls with sticks and stones? Do they berate him verbally and call him names?

The Prophet Isaiah says: ‘But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed’ (Isaiah 53: 5). Saint Peter, in his first epistle, writes: ‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed’ (I Peter 2: 24).

We are reached the half-way point as we follow the Stations of the Cross this afternoon. But there is no light touch or easy way out.

The Greek writer, historian and theologian Dimitrios Vernardakis (1833-1907), who was twice nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, once wrote that his father’s name was the profitless burden which he was condemned by irrevocable ill-fortune to bear on his shoulders throughout his life. What are the burdens you are forced to bear on your shoulders throughout life, perhaps even since childhood, that you feel are a burden you cannot shake off? Who can you share this with in life?

This writer’s father, Nikolaos Vernardakis, was a poet from Crete. Another writer from Crete, Nikos Kazantzakis, prefaces his autobiographical novel Report to Greco with a prayer:

Three kinds of souls, three kinds of prayers: 1, I am a bow in your hands, Lord, draw me lest I rot. 2, Do not overdraw me, Lord, I shall break. 3, Overdraw me, Lord, and who cares if I break!’

His tomb in Iraklion is marked only by a simple wooden cross framed by a flowering hedge and an undecorated gravestone with the pithy epitaph:

Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα.
Δε φοβούμαι τίποτα.
Είμαι λέφτερος
.

– Νίκος Καζαντζάκης

I fear nothing,
I hope for nothing,
I am free
.
.
– Nikos Kazantzakis

The grave of Nikos Kazantzakis on the walls of Iraklion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the past, at times, the Church had an appalling record for how it treated people regarded as ‘fallen.’ Instead of helping many women in distress, it condemned them to the Magdalene laundries, and often conspired in the inhumane treatment of their children.

But the Church has also responded with both hands to people who have fallen to the bottom of the system because of economic and social policies. I pray this afternoon for people from the churches who are working together on the streets of Athens and on the Greek islands with refugees and asylum seekers.

From Stabat Mater:

Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled,
She beheld her tender child,
All with bloody scourges rent.

Meditation:

Oppressed. Afflicted. Silently suffering.
Simon carries the cross, yet Jesus cannot continue.
He bears our infirmities and carries our sorrows.
Crushed under their weight, Jesus falls once more.

Prayers:

Compassionate Christ, all we like sheep have gone astray, turning each of us to our own way. Grant that when we fall into sin, we may return from going our own way to following in yours. 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.

This is the second time you have fallen on the road. As the cross grows heavier and heavier, it becomes more difficult to get up. But you continue to struggle and try until you are up and walking again. You do not give up.

A prayer before the next station:

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

Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

‘The Women’ … Station 8 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Luke is alone among the Gospel writers to tell the story recalled in the eighth station, where Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem:

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, Christ alludes to three Biblical passages. There may be an echo of Jeremiah who cites Israel’s devastation to explain why he had no wife or children (Jeremiah 16: 1-4). He quotes an expression of despair by Hosea: ‘They shall say to the mountains, Cover us, and to the hills, Fall on us’ (Hosea 10: 8). This portrays people desperately crying for mountains and hills to provide shelter. And he refers to Ezekiel ‘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’ (Ezekiel 20: 47).

But both Isaiah and the Book of Revelation also say: ‘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).

Three months ago [December 2017], Time magazine named the #MeToo movement, the Silence Breakers and the voices that launched a movement, as ‘Person of the Year.’

Who are the women who bear the suffering of the world and for you offer hope to the world today?

I can think of Rosa Parkes, the Greenham Women in the 20th century, or the suffragettes who secured the vote for women 100 years ago this year.

I think of former President McAleese, who went ahead with her speech in Rome on International Women’s Day earlier this month [8 March 2018], despite Cardinal Kevin Farrell’s efforts to stop her speaking in the Vatican because of her support for the ordination of women. It is not just the Vatican, but all sections and traditions in the Church, that need to sit up and listen to her prophetic words.

I think of the women’s protests across the US in January, worried not just about President Trump’s politics and policies, but the culture of sexism and misogyny that underpins this Trump presidency.

I think of the Women in Black, an anti-war movement around the world, including the women who have held constant silent protests in Cambridge on Saturdays since 2002.

I think of the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina, who continue to protest in the Plaza de Maya 40 years after they first protested in Buenos Aires.

Whose voices, which women, are you listening to today?

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 the next station:

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

Station 9: Jesus falls a third time

‘Third Fall’ … Station 9 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Jesus falls for the third time (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Ninth Station is another of the traditional stations that does not recall an event in any of the passion narratives in the four Gospels.

But at Station IX, I recall part of the story of the agony in the Garden as recalled by Saint Luke:

He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground (Luke 22: 39-44).

The third fall, like the other two falls, is not mentioned in the Gospel accounts of the Passion, but the incident is part of traditional Christian piety and Station IX in the Stations of the Cross.

In the early 16th century, the third fall was located at the entrance courtyard to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Today, the ninth station is not actually located on the Via Dolorosa. Instead, it is at the entrance to the Ethiopian Orthodox Monastery and the Coptic Orthodox Monastery of Saint Anthony. Together they form the roof structure of the underground Chapel of Saint Helena in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox churches split in 1959. Before that, these monastic buildings were considered a single monastery.

This Good Friday, the image of the Third Fall is a reminder to me of the divisions of the Church and our failures in ecumenism and efforts to bring about Church unity.

From Stabat Mater:

Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
O thou Mother! Fount of love,
Touch my spirit from above.
Make my heart with thine accord.

Meditation:

Brutalised. Dazed. Beyond strength.
Now nearly on Calvary’s broad summit, Jesus collapses.
Poles long set into the ground are silhouetted against gray clouds.
Impatiently, Jesus is pulled up and shoved angrily toward his death.

Prayers:

Loving Lord, you fell that we might rise and taught us that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Help us to die to ourselves so that we might live to you and bear much fruit for your Kingdom. 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, your journey has been long. You fall again, beneath your cross. You know your journey is coming to an end. You struggle and struggle. You get up and keep going.

A prayer before the next station:

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

Station 10: Jesus is stripped of his clothes

‘Stripped’ … Station 10 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Jesus is stripped of his clothes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Tenth 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.

Yet Saint Paul reminds us, ‘we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it’ (I Timothy 6: 7). Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, naked and ashamed. Once again, Christ shows that he is just like us, he is the new Adam.

Who in the world do we strip naked today, leaving them stand alone and isolated in humility? The women who are used to illustrate tabloid newspapers or decorate advertising? The women who are forced through diet to change their body shapes because of social pressures or peer pressures? The children who are the victims of abuse through manipulation on social media?

Do I consider those people who have no choice about the clothes they wear? Because of their financial circumstances? Because of poverty? Because of family control? Because of fashion? Because of the demands of others? Because they could take no clothes with them when they became refugees, asylum seekers or migrants?

Do I grimace, or do I grin?

Or, like Mary, do I stand at the foot of the cross and weep?

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!

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 second part of reflections prepared for Good Friday, 30 March 2018, in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

Stations 1-5

Stations 11-14

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