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

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

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

Good Friday:
‘I was hungry and
you gave me food’

On Good Friday, the face of Christ may be found in the faces of the homeless, the hungry, the impoverished, the refugees, the victims of misogyny, homophobia and racism… and perhaps even in the pub. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

For the first time in almost a century, publicans in Ireland can open their doors today and legally sell drinks to customers on Good Friday. No longer will men need to dress in overalls and boiler suits to pretend they are on the premises as plasterers and carpenters, carrying out much-needed repairs on an otherwise quiet day.

Surprisingly little is likely to change today: some publicans are still going to close their doors and welcome the rare opportunity to have a day off or to spruce up their pub. Wise publicans know that more than an extra day’s business is needed to save rural Irish pubs from fading from the scene.

In other ways, though, much has changed in Ireland. For many, visiting a pub today is less about the novelty factor or breaking down old shibboleths and more about beginning a long holiday weekend and looking forward to the promises and hopes of summer after a harsh winter and spring.

And yet, people in every parish and town will mark Good Friday in a traditional way, attending the “Three Hours” of prayers or following the Stations of the Cross.

The sixth traditional Station of the Cross shows Veronica wiping the face of Christ as he carries his cross to his crucifixion. Moved with compassion, she offers her veil to wipe his forehead. When he returns her veil, it is marked with the image of his face.

Veronica is neither a Biblical nor a historical figure, and this encounter is not recorded in any of the four Gospels. But in the Middle Ages, the “Veil of Veronica” was publicly processed in Rome between Saint Peter’s and the Santo Spirito Hospital. The hospital was built for paupers and abandoned children by Pope Innocent III who began this procession. Two years ago, the Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz donated two bronze statues on the steps of the hospital. One shows “Christ the Beggar,” with words from Saint Matthew’s Gospel, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink”. His second statue depicts Christ as homeless, on a makeshift bed, with the words, “I was ill and you visited me”.

The story of the Veil of Veronica challenges Christians to ask: “Where do I see the face of Christ?” Earlier this month, Mary McAleese said she feared the Church’s “hierarchy has reduced Christ to this rather unattractive politician who is just misogynistic and homophobic and anti-abortion. I think that is to do a remarkable disservice to Christ, a huge disservice to the church.”

On Good Friday, the face of Christ may be found in the face of the homeless, the hungry, the impoverished, the refugees, the victims of misogyny, homophobia and racism, and in the ordinary.

This editorial is published in The Irish Times today, Good Friday, 30 March 2018

Following the Stations
of the Cross in Lent 45:
Lichfield 13: Taken Down

‘Taken Down’ … Station 13 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Jesus dies on the Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Good Friday and we have come to the climax of Lent. Later today, at Noon, I am beginning to lead three hours of prayers cross in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick (12 noon to 3 p.m.), on the theme of following Christ to the foot of the Cross at Calvary.

Throughout Lent, my meditations each morning are guided by three sets of Stations of the Cross that I have found either inspiring or unusual. These 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.

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 until the end of Lent.

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.

Lichfield 13: ‘Taken Down’

For these final two weeks in Lent, I am looking at the 14 Stations of the Cross in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield. Since I was a 19-year-old, I have regarded this chapel as my spiritual home.

Station XIII in the Stations of the Cross traditionally description such as ‘Jesus is taken down from the cross.’ But at Station XIII in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, instead of a traditional full description, there two simple words in plain capital letters: ‘Taken Down.’

In this chapel, close to the Stations of the Cross, a small plaque worked in painted stucco on wood, shows the Virgin Mary kneeling in prayer before the Christ Child, who looks up into her face, his hands lifted up in a child’s loving gesture to his attentive mother.

Above, there are four angels crowning the inner garland, on each side are assorted painted flowers, and within the frame are two lilies, symbols of Easter and the Resurrection.

Below are the winged faces of two golden putti or cherubim, each on a cloud, perhaps symbolic of the two angels who later appear at the empty tomb announcing the Resurrection.

The inscription below the platform, in an inset on the outer frame, consists of two simple words, ‘Ave Maria’.

Now, in Station XII, 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 clutching his shoulder and 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’?

But this is not the end.

‘Ave Maria’ … a sculpture beside the Stations of the Cross in the Chapel in Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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!

Gaudí’s Crucifixion on the façade of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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.

A prayer before walking to the next station:

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

Tomorrow: Station 14: Jesus is laid in the tomb.

Yesterday’s reflection

Tomorrow: ‘Entombed’ … Station 14 in the Chapel at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, Jesus is placed in the tomb.

Yesterday’s reflection

The Crucifixion … the east window in Graiguecullen Church, Carlow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)