Friday, 30 March 2018

Reflections in Holy Week 2018 (7),
Good Friday, Askeaton (Part 3)

The Byzantine-style crucifix by Laurence King (1907-1981) in the crypt of Saint Mary le Bow on Cheapside in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Good Friday, 30 March 2018,

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton,

Three Hours at the Stations of the Cross

2 p.m. to 3 p.m., Part 3, Stations 11 to 14:

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 third hour this afternoon we are reflecting on the final scenes in the eleventh to the fourteenth stations:

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

In our 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 11: Jesus is nailed to the cross

‘Nailed’ … Station 11 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Jesus is nailed to the cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the Eleventh Station, Christ is nailed to the cross. When I put in a search for ‘Nails’ on Google, trying any of the towns I have lived in, I get endless lists of nail bars offering glamorous treatments that I am never going to contemplate or need.

But there is nothing glamorous about the nails and hands in Station XI in the Stations of the Cross.

Two thieves will also be nailed to two more crosses on the hilltop. One will ask for mercy and forgiveness and he will receive the promise he seeks from Christ.

In a Byzantine-style crucifix by Laurence King (1907-1981) in the crypt of the Church of Saint Mary le Bow on Cheapside in London, the Cross is placed between the words: ‘Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the Sins of the World.’

At the beginning of the Fourth Gospel, Saint John the Baptist proclaims the arrival of Christ with the proclamation: ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1: 29). In the closing narrative of this Gospel, when Christ is before Pilate on trial, the people cry out: ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!’ (John 19: 15).

Now that Christ has been taken away, he is being crucified, and is taking away the sin of the world.

From Stabat Mater:

Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
Holy Mother, pierce me through!
In my heart, each wound renew
Of my Saviour crucified.

Meditation:

Cold steel. Warm flesh
Nails rip through tendon and muscle.
Blood soaks into splintered wood.
Jesus responds:
‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’

Prayers:

Merciful Redeemer, you declared your forgiveness from the cross, showing love to those who killed you and to the thief dying alongside you. Help us to know and count the cost of our forgiveness, bought at so great a price. 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.

You are stretched out on the cross you have carried so far. The soldiers take big nails and drive them into your hands and feet. You feel abandoned by the people you loved so much. People seem to have gone mad. You have done nothing but good, yet they drive nails through your hands and feet.

A prayer before the next station:

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

Station 12: Jesus dies on the cross

‘Dies’ … Station 12 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Jesus dies on the Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In Station XII, the Crucified Christ dies between the two thieves on either side. At the top of the Cross are the words written by Pilate, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.’

In Saint Luke’s Gospel alone, the Penitent Thief cries out: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’ (Luke 23: 42).

When Christ dies on the Cross in Station XII, the group at the foot of the Cross are mainly women. The Gospel writers say many women were there (Matthew 27: 55; Luke 23: 55), and they name his mother Mary (John 19: 25-27), her sister Mary, the wife of Clopas (John 19: 25), Mary Magdalene (Matthew 27: 56; Mark 15: 40, 47; John 19: 25), Mary the mother of James and Joseph (Matthew 27: 56; Mark 15: 40, 47), Mary the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matthew 27: 56), and Salome (Mark 15: 40).

The only man at the Cross on Good Friday, apart from those who condemned Christ and the two thieves, is Saint John the Beloved Disciple (John 19: 26).

Is Christ alone and abandoned on the Cross?

Five years ago, the Cuban artist Erik Ravelo stirred controversy with a work he called as The untouchables. He used six photographs of children crucified, each for a different reason and a clear message,as he sought to reaffirm the right of children to be protected and the need to report abuse they suffer, especially in countries such as Brazil, Syria, Thailand, the US and Japan.

The first image refers to paedophilia in the Vatican, the second to child sexual abuse in tourism in Thailand, the third to the war in Syria, the fourth to the trafficking of organs on the black market, the fifth linking the free availability of weapons in the US to school shooting, and the sixth image linking obesity to the multinational fast food companies. Another version has a panel linking children’s deaths to nuclear disasters.

His work caused controversy, and has been taken down by Facebook from his own page and deleted from several repostings.

But why were people more offended by Erik Ravelo’s work than by the causes of child abuse and child deaths that he pointed to?

Where do you see the innocent Christ being crucified by the sins of others in today’s world?

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.

As Jesus hung on the cross, he forgave the soldiers who had crucified him, and prayed for his mother and friends. Jesus wanted all of us to be able to live forever with God, so he gave all he had for us.

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 the next station:

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

Station 13: Jesus is taken down from the cross

‘Taken Down’ … Station 13 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Jesus is taken down from the cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sometimes, the Thirteenth Station is described as ‘The Body of Jesus Is Placed in the Arms of his Mother.’

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).

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).

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 today in Italy, Spain and Portugal.

The Mother who once cradled the Infant Child on her lap, now holds her dead son on her lap. The hands once raised in adoration and in love, are now raised in horror and in anguish. Had she known that this was the end, would she have said yes to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation when he greeted her with those words, ‘Ave Maria, Hail Mary’?

Does she remember now how she once cradled the Christ Child on her lap?

Are the grave clothes he is to be wrapped in as he is laid in the grave a reminder to her of the swaddling clothes she wrapped him in as she laid him down to sleep in his crib in Bethlehem?

‘The Body of Jesus Is Placed in the Arms of his Mother’ … a float in the Good Friday procession in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

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.

Meditation:

Mourning mother. Broken child.
A sword of grief pierces her soul.
Women surround her, but none can comfort her.
Her name is bitterness.

Prayers:

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 the next station:

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

Station 14: Jesus is placed in the tomb

‘Entombed’ … Station 14 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Jesus is placed in the tomb (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When Christ is laid in the tomb at the Fourteenth Station, the Virgin Mary, hands crossed as if she is about to approach the Altar at the Eucharist to receive the Body of Christ, watches as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus gently lay Christ’s body in the grave.

The simplicity of this station often found in northern Europe is in contrast to the elaborate tableaux of this scene found in cathedrals and churches throughout Continental Europe.

The Deposition of Christ by Vincenzo Onofri, dating from the early 16th century, is in a niche in the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna. There are seven terracotta figures in this work. The group gathered around Christ in the tomb includes Nicodemus and Saint John the Beloved Disciple on one side, and the Virgin Mary and the three other Marys who are witnesses to the Crucifixion in the centre and to the left, with an expression of horror on the face of Saint Mary Magdalene.

A very different, though equally elaborate, sculpted terracotta tableau from the early 16th century by Alfonso Lombardi (1497-1537) is in the Cathedral of San Pietro in Bologna.

Here, in the Compianto su Cristo morto (‘Lament over the Dead Christ’), completed in 1522-1526, the Virgin Mary is held up by two of the other Marys as she faints with grief, while Mary Magdalene stretches out her arms in horror.

Saint John the Evangelist stands to the left, while Nicodemus kneels with his arms crossed. He has asked for the Body of Christ, now he kneels as though he has just received the Body of Christ in the Holy Communion.

Nicodemus who came to see Christ under the cover of darkness, now prepares to bury his body before darkness falls.

Nicodemus who had questions and doubts, now holds the Body of Christ in his hands.

Nicodemus has become a full communicant member of the Church.

In death he knows what is meant by new birth.

‘The Body of Christ given for you.’

‘Amen.’

But this is not the end.

There are seven days of creation. God’s work is complete and God rests on the seventh day; now Christ is to rest in the grave on the seventh day, his work is complete.

Early on Sunday morning, before dawn on the first day of the week, the women come to the tomb with spices they have prepared. But they find the stone has been rolled away from the tomb, there is no body, and two men in dazzling clothes ask them ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen’ (Luke 24: 5). There is a similar greeting in the other two Synoptic Gospels: ‘He is not here; for he has been raised’ (Matthew 28: 6); ‘He has been raised; he is not here’ (Mark 16: 6).

The Cross is empty. The Grave is empty. We have Good News to proclaim.

From Stabat Mater:

Jesus Christ, crucified, have mercy on us!
By the cross with thee to stay,
There with thee to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of thee to give.

Meditation:

Cold stone. A shroud. Darkness.
Sabbath rest at last.
The disciples gather in fear.
A grain of wheat waits for spring.

Prayers:

Alpha and Omega, you are beginning and end. In death you conquered death so that even at the grave we praise your name. Help us to find you as the way, the truth and the life and to lead others out of darkness and into your light. 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 body is prepared for burial. Joseph gave you his own tomb. He laid your body there and rolled a large stone in front of it, then went home. What a sad day it has been for so many people.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honour of your Name. Amen.

A prayer before leaving this station:

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

The Cross on the Nave Altar in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Concluding Prayers:

The Collect of the Day (Good Friday):

Almighty Father,
Look with mercy on this your family
for which our Lord Jesus Christ
was content to be betrayed
and given up into the hands of sinners
and to suffer death upon the cross;
who is alive and glorified with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father…

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

Stations 1-5

Stations 6-10

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