26 March 2023

Praying at the Stations of the Cross in
Lent 2023: 26 March 2023 (Station 1)

‘Jesus is condemned to death’ … Station 1 in the Stations of the Cross in Saint Dunstan and All Saints’ Church, Stepney (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Summer time begins today, which is the Fifth Sunday in Lent (26 March 2023). In the past, this Sunday in Lent was also known as Passion Sunday.

I plan to take part in the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Old Wolverton, later this morning, and later in the afternoon I hope to find somewhere to watch the Gemini Boat Race. But, before this day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

During Lent this year, in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, I have been reflecting on words from Samuel Johnson, the Lichfield-born lexicographer and compiler of the first standard Dictionary of the English language. But, in these two weeks of Passiontide, Passion Week and Holy Week, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on the Stations of the Cross, illustrated by images in Saint Dunstan’s and All Saints’ Church, the Church of England parish church in Stepney, in the East End of London, and the Roman Catholic Church of Saint Francis de Sales in Wolverton, which I visited for the first time last month;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the lectionary adapted in the Church of England;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Station 1, Jesus is condemned to death:

The Stations of the Cross begin with Christ’s condemnation before Pontius Pilate.

In the First Station in Stepney, Christ has a crown of thorns on his head and is bound with a rope around his wrists as he is led away from Pilate, who remains seated on his throne.

A Roman soldier and two other men, one bearded the other clean-shaven, figurative perhaps of Jew and Gentile, stand at the gate of the courtyard, perhaps a reminder of Christ’s words: ‘I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture … I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’ (see John 10: 9-11).

Pilate is seated on a throne, his hands dipped in a bowl balanced precariously above his lap, perhaps a reminder for all of us that our futures and our lives are balanced precariously too.

The words below read: ‘Jesus is Condemned to Death’.

In the First Station in Wolverton, Christ is bound with a rope that is tied around his chest and his arms, and his head has already been crowned with a wreath of thorns. Pilate is seated on a throne, rinsing his dripping hands above in a bowl held by a servant boy, seeking to wash himself of any responsibility for his role in the imminent death of Christ.

Behind the figure of Christ, a Roman soldier holds aloft a cross-shaped banner with the initials SPQR, a contrast with the initials INRI of the lettering to be placed above the Cross, and a contrast between the Cross and the World, between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world.

Below all four figures, the words read: ‘Condemned to Death.’

‘Condemned to death’ … Station 1 in the Stations of the Cross in Saint Francis de Sales Church, Wolverton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John 11: 1-45 (NRSVA):

1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ 4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ 5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

7 Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ 8 The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ 9 Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ 11 After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ 12 The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ 23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ 27 She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37 But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40 Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Lazarus is raised from the Dead … a fresco in the Analpsi Church in Georgioupoli on the Greek island of Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘Good Neighbours: A View from Sri Lanka’

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Good Neighbours: A View from Sri Lanka.’ This theme is introduced this morning with an adaptation from Father Rasika Abeysinghe’s contribution to USPG’s Lent Course ‘Who is our neighbour,’ which I have edited for USPG.

Father Rasika Abeysinghe is a priest in the Diocese of Kurunagala in the Church of Ceylon. He writes:

‘The history of the Church in Sri Lanka has seen a long and enriching journey, continuously and critically asking this question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’

‘In asking this question, we are striving to break down the worldly constructs of class and creed. In Sri Lanka, class and creed have become the most mixed elements and present a variety of categories of communities.

‘We have found much traction in our endeavour in the midst of the worst economic crisis in the history of Sri Lanka. The work of the Church in this area transcends the Christian and non-Christian divide, providing food, aid and pastoral care for anyone who has been pushed to the brink of poverty and vulnerability. The work transcends the many classes of communities as each grapples with its own struggles.

‘In all these examples, as we strive for change on behalf of others, we have found they have changed us even more. We find ourselves overcoming our own pre-existing thoughts and prejudices. It would be our failure not to be aware that as we grow up, we have been accepting and nurturing human constructs.

‘And so, we must take care to break down these barriers within ourselves in the first place and then this will be visible in our actions.’

To read more from Father Rasika Abeysinghe see USPG’s Lent Course ‘Who is our neighbour?’

Today’s Prayer:

The prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (Sunday 26 March 2023, Lent V, Passion Sunday) invites us to pray:

O God in whom there is no beginning or end
no hierarchy or division,
show us our prejudices,
heal our divisions and hurts,
and make us one in Christ.

The Collect:

Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us
that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters
we do also for you:
give us the will to be the servant of others
as you were the servant of all,
and gave up your life and died for us,
but are alive and reign, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Who is Our Neighbour?’, a six-week study course for Lent 2023 produced by the Anglican mission agency USPG

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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