The Fifteenth Station – Jesus rises from the dead

The traditional pattern of the Stations of the Cross end at the tomb, as Jesus is laid to rest. The pilgrims following the Via Dolorosa disperse. Like the women and the disciples, like Joseph and Nicodemus, they leave Jesus in the tomb and get on with other things. The entrance is sealed by a stone and the dead body of Jesus is there, in the dark, buried, alone.

If you are in Jerusalem and you have been following the Stations of the Cross as a group then in fact at this point you will probably join the queue to get into the Sepulchre. The line normally snakes around what appears quite a bizarre structure beneath a small rotunda. It appears strange when you consider that the tomb in which Jesus was laid was probably fashioned out of a cave, in a garden. There is no hint of cave, no hint of mountain, obviously no hint of garden. You can walk all round the Sepulchre, as you often do, looking for the end of the queue and you cannot imagine – or at least I can’t – that this is the place referred to in the Gospels. So it’s no wonder that many pilgrims visit the Garden Tomb, not far away but outside the modern city walls, near the bus station in East Jerusalem. They go there, I suspect, not because they imagine that this is the ancient site of Jesus’ burial (though some suggest it might be) but because it looks as we imagine it to look, a cave, the deep groove in front of the entrance for a rolling stone, a garden and a wine press. It is very beautiful and very evocative.

The Holy Sepulchre

The Holy Sepulchre

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built under the orders of Emperor Constantine in 325/326 after his mother St Helena had found the True Cross on the site. At first it consisted of two connected basilicas instead of the one church we now see. One basilica contained Golgotha, the other the site of the tomb and was called the Anastasis (Resurrection in Greek). But since the church became one, in the western church we have called the whole place ‘The Holy Sepulchre’ whilst Orthodox Christians still call it the ‘Anastasis’. I think that it is so much better to call it the latter, just as it is good to add a fifteenth Station to the traditional fourteen. After all, the cross only makes sense in the light of the resurrection and we cannot allow ourselves to be trapped in Good Friday and not released into the new life of Easter Day.

To be honest I find it a lot easier to preach a sermon on Good Friday than on Easter Day. I suppose it’s because I feel that I have experienced some of what the cross means – pain, suffering, a sense of failure, abandonment – and if I haven’t then I know people who have. The cross feels like familiar territory to me; in a strange way it feels ‘comfortable’. But what do I know of resurrection?

Resurrection is beyond my experience and beyond the experience I see around me. It feels more divine than human; joy seems more evasive than sorrow; new life a challenge to my understanding locked, as I so often feel, into this life. But at the same time I know that the Church is the ‘community of the resurrection’, that as St Augustine of Hippo so famously described it

We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song.

As Christians it is in Easter that we find our true identity even though the cross may be the symbol by which we are best known. So I look around for metaphors to enable my understanding and that is what we all do at Easter. Hence the cards in the shops! Bunnies, chicks, lambs, daffodils, they all frolic or wave to one another through our Easter greetings as though they in some way help to describe what we mean when we all stand up together and say in both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds

On the third day he rose again.

But the images and the metaphors are pathetic alongside what it is that we are talking about and that must be about the complete and ultimate victory of God over sin, death and the Devil – and it is as big as that. And that is precisely what makes it so challenging for us to get our heads around. A bunny is easier to deal with, an egg or a daffodil familiar – but where do you put a victory like this, where do you put a God who can achieve this and what really does it mean for my life now?

For Mary Magdalene it becomes personal.

She had seen where Jesus had been buried but she couldn’t leave it at that, she had to go back to the garden and the tomb as soon as she was able. Some of the men went with her and they found that the tomb was empty (John 20.1-10). Peter and John went back to tell the others but Mary remained and her faithfulness paid off. There in the first light of the day she encountered Jesus even though at first she didn’t know who it was she was talking to. (John 20.11-18)

'Supposing him to be the gardener ...'

‘Supposing him to be the gardener …’

But the penny dropped, the moment of recognition came when the unknown person, the one she at first assumed was the gardener, called her by name – ‘Mary’. It took no more than that. She heard her name and she recognised Jesus. The fact that Jesus encountered her personally meant that she could recognise him in his risen reality.

The journey to Calvary has been long and hard. But it was worth it, all the struggles and the pain, it was all worth the travelling because Calvary and its companion, death, are behind us and in this garden we find life, our life. And Jesus died to destroy death – your death – and to restore life – your life and he gives it to you as he calls you by name as he called Mary by name. It becomes personal, as it becomes universal.

No wonder Easter is beyond my imagining! But it is not beyond my living.

He is not here, he has risen

He is not here, he has risen

John Keble wrote a poem that we often sing as a hymn and it expresses the reality of Easter that other images of what we share as Christians simply cannot do.

New every morning is the love
our wakening and uprising prove;
through sleep and darkness safely brought,
restored to life and power and thought.

As night gives way to dawn, as death gives way to life, we are constantly being made new in Christ, raised, ‘restored to life and power and thought.’ Easter is in fact a daily miracle that we do have experience of, but often simply don’t realise that we do. And the daily miracle becomes the life time miracle and life time miracle becomes the miracle of eternity as we are called by name and follow the one who calls us, following where he leads. For the risen Jesus is always ahead of us, he is always bound elsewhere, the journey never ends until it ends where it began, in life, with life, for life. That is the Easter promise, that is the Easter reality that you, and I, are already living.

Risen Lord,
my resurrection and my life,
fill me with your life,
that I may live
with Easter joy,
the gift you give today.
Amen.

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The Fourteenth Station – Jesus is laid in the tomb

I have always been amazed at just how much there is to do when someone dies. Perhaps that is a good thing. Keeping busy is sometimes just what people want, what they need, when they simply cannot bear to think about what has happened to them. There is a time for sitting and praying and letting it sink in, of course, but there is also a desire to get things done. Some people resort to cleaning the house, busying themselves in the daily chores, some will set to in the garden, others will be out all of the time. But the processes of the aftermath of a death also need to be attended to, seeing the undertaker, being visited by the vicar, registering the death, making arrangements for the funeral, contacting friends and relatives, visiting the bank and your solicitor, choosing the flowers. It all takes time, it all has to be done and often it is the most intimately affected person who has to do so much of the work.

And then someone steps forward, ‘Here, let me help you.’ ‘What can I do?’ I remember neighbours offering to arrange the reception back at home after the funeral. Jean, next door, would have the key and get the kettle on for when we got back. Brenda and Bill would make the sandwiches. Fred would clear his drive so that some people could park there. Doreen would be at the door to welcome everyone in and she’d baked a cake. ‘Let us help you.’

People ‘rallying round’ is such an important thing and I’m always saddened when I come across a person without that kind of network of support, without the good neighbours, the good friends, without family who will shoulder some of the burden and ease, in just small ways, the demands of the days between death and burial.

In our own culture, of course, that intervening time seems to get longer and longer. When I was first ordained, over 30 years ago, you could expect a funeral within a week of a death. Now I think in terms of ten days to a fortnight and that is an enormous amount of time for a bereaved person, a family to be caught in this ‘limbo’, this between time. There is only so much cleaning that a person can do and the pressure on people just waiting to do the right thing, to say the right words, for their loved one, is tremendous.

Other cultures and faith traditions with whom we share life nowadays have very different practices. Funerals seem to follow a death almost instantly and we hear the reports of the distress that is caused when they get caught up in the British bureaucracy of death and their traditions of immediate burial cannot be met.

An early photograph of the Oberammergau Passion Play

An early photograph of the Oberammergau Passion Play

Jesus’ lifeless body had been taken down from the cross. An unknown ‘friend’ had intervened. Joseph of Arimathea, a Pharisee, had gone to Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus and when Pilate had assured himself by asking the Centurion who had been on duty at the foot of the cross whether Jesus was dead, he gave permission. Mary took Jesus in her arms and, in that desperately cruel place, with the cross looming over her, she loved him. Some of the disciples but principally the women stood around her and let her have her time of grief, her private moment with her child. There was nothing that they could say.

But the evening was fast approaching and that meant the Sabbath was fast approaching. So they couldn’t linger too long, Jesus had to be laid in a tomb.

Joseph was, we imagine, a wealthy, well organised man. He had already made arrangements for his own funeral. A tomb had been carved in a cave not far from where they were, in a garden. He would give his own tomb to Jesus. He was the ‘unknown’ friend and yet made this generous response. We have to remember that as far as everyone else was concerned Jesus was now a dead criminal, a curse in many ways, and yet that was not how Joseph saw him, and he was a trusted, respected leader of the community.

At the Second Station on this journey ‘Calvary Bound’ we remembered the Passiontide hymn by Samuel Crossman, ‘My song if love unknown’. the verse I quoted from briefly then says it all now

In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death, no friendly tomb,
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb
Wherein He lay.

And Joseph was not alone. I remember seeing the great Passion Play in Oberammergau for the first time. What struck me then was how the divided nature of the Pharisees was so powerfully brought to the fore. We often see them – like we can see many groups in society, even in the church – as monochrome, all in opposition, all in favour. But truth is far more complex and nuanced.

In the Passion Play we saw a group of Pharisees arguing for Jesus with those who were opposed to him and his teaching. And there were three of them – Joseph of Arimathea who we meet at this Fourteenth Station; Nicodemus, who St John tells us came to Jesus ‘by night’ (John 3.2), so secretly, stealthily; and Gamaliel (Acts 5.34) who speaks for Jesus in the ongoing debates that we hear about in Acts.

These men were friends and as darkness began to fall, they appeared. ‘Let us help… What can we do?… What can I do?’

There is a wonderful tradition in parts of France of building monuments that commemorate this part of the story. They are known as ‘Mise au tombeau’ and they show Jesus being laid in the tomb, with his mother Mary, John and the women looking on, but the actual burial is being performed by Joseph and Nicodemus. They stand at either end of the tomb and are depicted as lowering Jesus into it. It is a very moving depiction. Mary had friends; the disciples had friends; they were not alone, even though they thought that they were. These men had come out of the wings, out of the shadows and had done the right thing. So much had happened that was so wrong and as we have made this journey with Jesus we have seen that all the way along.

Mise-au-tombeau

Mise-au-tombeau

But in the darkness there have been sparks of light – Simon, Mary, the women, and now these men who could have been thought of as the enemy but in fact they were true friends.

When Jesus had been sought out by Nicodemus almost at the very beginning of St John’s Gospel there was an amazing exchange. And he, this leader, this teacher of Israel, had said to Jesus

‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ (John 3.4)

Now, with Joseph, he places Jesus again in the womb, but not his mother’s womb, the womb of the earth and he will finally learn, as we will finally learn, what Jesus meant as he said to him those words which are at the very heart of our faith

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ (John 3.16)

But we must wait in the silence of this day for that to be fulfilled and as we do thank God for those who step from the sidelines onto the stage of our life and support us and pray that we may be an ‘unknown’ friend to others.

Lord,
make me generous in giving
and generous in receiving
even to
even from
the unknown friend.
Amen.

The Thirteenth Station – Jesus is taken from the cross and given to his Mother

‘It is finished.’

‘I had never thought I would hear those words. I knew that as a young mother I would see my son grow into manhood, marry, I hoped, and have children that in my old age I could sit on my lap and so enjoy motherhood again. He had been everything to me. Neighbours spoke to me about how their baby was a blessing, a miracle, a gift from God, but I said nothing, because my baby really was. I remember it as though it was not so much yesterday but an instant ago. I seemed to have been touched by the breath of angel, stroked by angels wings as I felt a stirring deep inside me and I knew, as plainly as if words had been spoken, that I was pregnant and that this baby would be special.

It took me so much courage to speak to my parents. They loved me, they were pious members of the community and I knew that my words to them would be like a sword in their heart, that I was pregnant and unmarried. It was going to be such a scandal. Joseph was there in the wings of course, our marriage had been arranged but this could put an end to it all; after all, what are plans in the face of something like this?

But that first miracle was followed by many others as though the path had been set for me, the way smoothed by a divine hand, as though, well, as though it was meant to be. Joseph was a good man, I knew that, but I never realised just how good. He said that he understood, as though he’d been told himself. And my parents, they said that they trusted me and when they said that all I could do was fall into their arms and weep.

We all knew that the rest of the community wouldn’t be as easy to convince. There was a lot of talk around the well, a lot of talk in the shops. We were known by everyone and everyone knew Joseph and used his carpentry skills in so many ways. We couldn’t afford for his business to be affected by this, for his customers to go elsewhere. So, as it began to show, a plan was made. My mother’s relative lived in a village near Jerusalem. No one knew me there and my mother had been amazed to hear that she was pregnant. Everyone thought that she was too old, but this seems to be the age of miracles.

So I left Nazareth and went to stay with Elizabeth and her priest husband, Zechariah. He was not well when I got there. For some reason he was unable to speak but as soon as I met Elizabeth she was like an older sister to me. Our hearts leapt when I saw her, even the baby in my womb seem to leap with joy at her voice. We talked and laughed and sang together as we wove the clothes for my baby and I helped her with her final preparations, and Zechariah, silent, looked on.

The day came for me to go back. Just over the hill in Jerusalem there were rumours that the Romans were up to something. There was talk of a census being planned and by the time I got back to Nazareth it turned out to be true. In the town square, by the well we used, a message was read out that everyone had to return to their home town to be registered and, as I was betrothed to Joseph it meant I was on the move again. I said a hasty farewell to my beloved parents and left. I would never see them again.

Joseph was descended from King David – he had blue blood! So we had to go to Bethlehem – the House of Bread – what a lovely name for a town. I remembered hearing about Ruth gleaning in the barley fields there and I longed to see the place for myself. But we arrived late and it was very busy and I knew my baby was on the way. The only place we could find was to lodge in the space where the animals were, beneath an innkeeper’s house. But Joseph, as practical as ever, put fresh hay in the animal’s trough and, when the baby was born, we laid him there. Jesus.

A mother's love

A mother’s love

I held him then, my baby, my child, my boy, my man; I hold him now.

All of that was thirty-three years ago. He never married; there were no grandchildren to bring me pleasure when Joseph died. I had no one when Jesus upped and left home and gathered a bunch of friends round him. I had no one, so I locked the door and travelled as well. I watched and listened and worried. I can’t say I always understood what was going on. I admit there were times I tried to stop him, to persuade him to come back with me. We still had the carpenters shop in Nazareth and he was good with his hands, good with the wood, good with the nails. But he couldn’t be persuaded and what could I do? Abandon him? Could a mother abandon the child of her womb? So I stayed and followed.

And now I am here’.

‘It is finished.’

‘I had never thought I would hear those words. They keep ringing in my ears. They took the ladder, the friends who had stayed with me, John especially, and they removed the nails that held his hands and feet to the wood and gently, carefully, as though they might break him again, they brought his body, his dead, broken body down. I held out my arms ‘Give him to me’ and they placed him in my arms. And I loved him, just as I had loved him as a baby, just as I had loved him as a man.

I had imagined so many things about my life and about his and everything he had done as a child I had treasured in my heart and I’ve often just spent time pondering, remembering. But, you know, in all the things I imagined, I never imagined this. Why would I? Does any mother imagine that they might hold the dead body of their child?

A mother's love

A mother’s love

But it happens and I had seen it before and heard of it before. Words came back to me that I had heard in the Synagogue, words about Rachel weeping for her children and words about a time, not so long ago, when another nation was oppressing us. And there was a mother ….

The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honourable memory. Although she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their ancestors. Filled with a noble spirit, she reinforced her woman’s reasoning with a man’s courage, and said to them, ‘I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of humankind and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again’. (2 Maccabees 7.20-23a)

‘Those words she spoke in her grief, I will speak in mine. For we are both mother’s and have both lost what we love

‘The Creator of the world will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again’

‘I hold him and I weep and pray and in my heart I know that, despite his words, it is not finished’.

Hail Mary, full of grace.
Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.

The Twelfth Station – Jesus dies on the cross

We were following a group of pilgrims who had begun the Stations of the Cross from the First Station on the Via Dolorosa, close to where the Antonia Fortress stood. They had taken a cross and, between them, carried the cross between the Stations. As they arrived at each one they stopped, gathered in as close as they could and someone, perhaps the priest who was with them, led them in prayer and reflection.

We noticed how busy and noisy the streets were, how many distractions there are around, the people buying and selling in the souk, people going about their normal business, children playing, a young boy delivering sweet mint tea or strong coffee to some elderly men sitting, talking as they played cards.

But the group of pilgrims try to shut all of this out, as best they can, and respond as at each Station the priest says

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
and they answer
Because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

But after the Eighth Station things change. The group has left the market behind and climbed up some flights of steps onto the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The noises are different up here, the busy world at a distance, below them. A few Coptic monks move between their churches and lodgings built onto the roof and there is the sound of people worshipping as they move through the final Stations and then descend from the bright light outside into the comparative gloom of the Church beneath.

To get to the Eleventh and Twelfth Stations involves patience and persistence. From inside the church, in which candles burn and every sense is assaulted at once by the sights and sounds and sensations of the place, you climb again, an internal staircase onto what appears to be a large balcony on which are located these two Stations. You jostle for position with other pilgrims. British sensibilities about forming an orderly queue are quickly overcome as you decide that you either do as others do or you have no chance of seeing what you came to see.

The Twelfth Station in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The Twelfth Station in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

It is so busy that the church authorities don’t allow you to worship in this space. So you are on your own as you approach the Twelfth Station. For those who have been to the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem there is something very familiar about the place.

As you descend the steps into the grotto beneath the High Altar of that church in Bethlehem you find an altar under which has been placed a star on the spot where the new born Jesus was laid. Pilgrims line up one by one. Then, defying creaking knees and arthritic backs, they get down and touch or kiss the star, the place. They have a moment to pray before they crawl back, being helped not to bang their heads as they do so on the mensa, the top, of the altar – and make their way out.

It is a similar arrangement at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as you might expect as both churches were built under the orders of St Helena. There under the elaborate altar is the hole in which the cross stood. Pilgrims kneel and kiss the place and put their hand into the hole, as close as they can possibly get to where Jesus, our Saviour, our Lord and our God, died.

Despite the noise and the crowds and over officious monks and the sharp elbowed nuns and the tourists and the bustle and heavy iconography and the gold and the silver and the kitsch and the smell, it is amazing. It is a touching place with heaven. And as I kneel there I know that whilst I can’t get a cast iron guarantee that this is the exact spot where the cross stood, millions of Christians have knelt where I kneel and have validated the place with their prayers and their tears and their hopes and their belief and their doubts and who they are and what they have brought.

Of course my thoughts turn to one of T S Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’, ‘Little Gidding’ where he writes

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.

The place has been validated by prayer, our prayer as Christians, desiring to be in the place where Jesus died.

The way in which this journey has taken place has brought us to this Station the day before we remember this event. Today is Maundy Thursday and the beginning of the Triduum, the great Three Days which will take us to Easter Day and the realisation that the tomb is empty. But that doesn’t matter. Pilgrims arrive at the Twelfth Station every day, every day of the year. It is not the day that matters, even the place doesn’t matter, it’s the journey that is all important and what we bring to the journey.

I have a ‘Holding Cross’. I bought it on one of the pilgrimages I have made to the Holy Land. It’s simple, made of olive wood; it fits neatly in my hand and in my pocket. And I can hold the cross and remember what Jesus has done for me and done for you and done for every person. To be honest I’m still not entirely certain what happened on the cross, how atonement was achieved, how my redemption was won. All I know is that God loved me this much that he was willing to die for me so that I might live for him. And I hold my cross and I am brought to my knees in love and adoration.

My 'holding cross'

My ‘holding cross’

The final verse of that most well loved him ‘Abide with me’ comes to my mind as in my mind I am there, at Calvary, where I, with so many pilgrims and with you, have been bound.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you
because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.
Amen.

The Eleventh Station – Jesus is nailed to the cross

The blacksmith takes the iron ore and smelts it. The iron he takes and placing it on the anvil hammers it into shape. Three times he works on pieces of the iron, three times he hammers until the work is completed. Three nails. He stands back and looks at his handiwork.

The craftsman takes the hide that has been cured. It has been a hard and stinking job, taking the skin of an animal and turning it into leather, strong and supple, it has life in it, new life. He cuts strips from the hide and then weaves them together but only so far. He leaves nine long strands, to make it more effective. A whip. He stands back and looks at his handiwork.

The instruments ...

The instruments …

The carpenter takes the wood and works it with saw and plane. It must be strong, this wood, no cracks that will cause the wood to give way. He works hard, length is important, accuracy is required. Some rope is taken to give strength to the joints. It needs to last a while. A ladder. He stands back and looks at his handiwork.

The diver enters the water. Down down she swims, like a mermaid, a child of the water. She has learnt to hold her breath and open her eyes and see through the often murky water when the sea bed has been disturbed. The fish ignore her as she glides through them, down, down. She knows what she is looking for. And then she sees it, the valued prize, the harvest of the sea, her quest, worth a good price in the market which will ensure her family eats a good meal. She grasps and pulls and rises to the surface clutching the prize. A sponge. She stands back and looks at her handiwork.

.... of the Passion

…. of the Passion

Nails, a whip, a ladder, a sponge. All so ordinary, all so harmless, the work of our hands, the fruits of our labour, our skill as a diver, as a carpenter, as a craftsman, as a blacksmith. The nails could hold together a manger in which the fodder for the cattle could be placed, or even a baby laid. The whip could be used by a shepherd protecting his flock of sheep from the prowling lion, the good shepherd. The ladder could be set against a tree, a fig tree, and the ripe figs gathered, a tree under which a person might sit. The sponge could be used by a person attempting to wash the grim of the day away, or by a woman endeavouring to wash her hands clean.

We are so industrious, so practical. We can turn our hand to almost anything, invent almost anything, make discoveries every day and increase knowledge and skill exponentially. We are so clever, we are almost like God.

The book Genesis tells the tale of the people of the earth who begin to build a tower.

Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves’. (Genesis 11.4)

The sin wasn’t in the building of the tower; the sin came in the pervasion of the purpose to which it was put. God saw their purpose was to make themselves equal to God. God saw that all that he had made was good, but humankind has a way of seeing in almost everything the potential for using it for ill.

Jesus stood naked before the crowds. There was no end to the humiliation, the degradation that he suffered. All that he had had been stripped from him, this was no act of self-emptying that we may talk of theologically, this was brutal treatment as even his blood stained clothes were ripped from his back. The wood he had carried, like Isaac before him, was laid on the ground. His journey, Calvary bound, was complete. The interested ones amongst the crowds, those with time on their hands, those who had been worked up to demand his death, had followed through the gate and were watching, some quite close, others from a distance.

And then with brutal force Jesus was thrust backwards and with backbreaking force fell against the wood. His arms were grabbed and held down by the soldiers whilst another took a newly forged nail and drove it with a single blow through his wrist. Like a teenager trying to impress his girlfriend at a fairground as he tries his arm with a test of his strength, the hammer descends and the scream from the victim echoes around the barren hill and bounces off the city walls. And again, the scream sounds out as the second nail is driven through.

'They have pierced my hands and my feet' Psalm 22.16

‘They have pierced my hands and my feet’ Psalm 22.16

For no purpose a whip is grabbed and he is lashed into submission again as the cross beam is hauled towards the upright wood. A ladder, newly made, is taken and set against the wood and the cross beam is raised up and the pain, the pain on Jesus’ arms and hands and chest is killing. He is stretched and is choking, gasping for air like a fish out of water.

The beam is lashed to the upright and the ladder moved to give another soldier the chance for the final wield of the hammer against the final nail, through the ankles, a harder job – but this soldier is a craftsman.

They stand back and look at their handiwork.

I can use my talents for good or evil; I can use my skill for good or evil. That nail can hold together or it can rip apart; that ladder can rescue or condemn; that leather can bind or can burn. Perhaps only the sponge is used in a compassionate way, which would please the young girl who harvested it. It is dipped in liquid and it touches his mouth, soft and, for a moment, refreshing. Perhaps it will be used later to wash his body for burial.

Lord,
I have the choice
to do for good or evil,
to use for good or evil,
to live for good or evil.
Inspire, guide
the choices I make today.
Amen.

The Tenth Station – Jesus is stripped of his clothes

“In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help;
I am restless, but with You there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience;
I do not understand Your ways,
But You know the way for me.”

This prayer was written by Dietrich Bonheoffer and is in his book, posthumously published, called ‘Letters and Papers from Prison’.  He was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian, arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis and killed on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime collapsed, just two weeks before Allied forces liberated the camp and three weeks before Hitler’s suicide.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Even though he felt that he was in darkness yet he could still say that with Jesus there was light.  So much had been taken from him but he could still say of Christ, ‘You know the way for me.’  It is humbling.  If I had my freedom taken from me, if I was shut up, denied almost everything, if I had my dignity taken could I be as faithful?  I haven’t been there; I simply don’t know.

Jesus was at the place of execution, the place of crucifixion and the process began to get him ready to be raised on the cross for all to see.  So they stripped him.

In the musical ‘Evita’ we see Eva Peron being prepared for her public.  What she wore, how she looked was all part of the artifice.  In the song ‘Rainbow High’ this is explained.

Eyes, hair, mouth, figure
Dress, voice, style, movement
Hands, magic, rings, glamour
Face, diamonds, excitement, image

I came from the people, they need to adore me
So Christian Dior me from my head to my toes
I need to be dazzling, I want to be Rainbow High
They must have excitement, and so must I.

Yet by the end of the show even Eva with all her styling is reduced to nothing as death takes its toll.  But what we see in the musical is what so many people believe.  The 1980’s, ‘Dallas’, shoulder-pads, power dressing, was all about using what we wear to establish who we are.  We use it in church to great effect.  The vestments we wear are not for glamour but to tell the story, what season, what service, what status, what role.  What we wear speaks for us, of us.

Eva - the image

Eva – the image

So they strip Jesus.  He is wearing a tunic woven from the top throughout.  We know this because St John mentions it in his gospel.

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. (John 19.23)

For a man who had lived a life of poverty it was an expensive and valuable garment.  That was why when they had stripped him of it, rather than rip it to divide it they shook the dice and gambled for it.  The Jewish first century historian Josephus writes at one stage about the robe that the High Priest wore and says this

‘This vesture was not composed of two pieces, nor was it sewed together upon the shoulders and the sides; but it was one long vestment, so woven as to have an aperture for the neck. It was also parted where the hands were to come out.’ (Josephus (Antiq., b. 3 chapter 8, Section 4))

There is something beautifully symbolic that Jesus, the true High Priest, as the Letter to the Hebrews describes him, was dressed with the tunic of the style of the High Priest. What he wears speaks to us of who he is.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4.14-15)

In the verse immediately before this, however, the writer of the Letter says something so powerful as we look at Jesus now, stripped of the robe that he wore.

Jesus is stripped of the robe he wore

Jesus is stripped of the robe he wore

Before [God] no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. (Hebrews 4.13)

We cannot hide behind the Christian Dior, behind the tunic we wear, however symbolic.  All will be stripped away and we will stand as we are.  But as Adam and Eve discovered that is uncomfortable.  Eating of the tree of which they were forbidden to eat they realise they are naked and so make for themselves aprons of ‘fig leaves’.  And they hide from God as he walks in the garden and when God finds them he asks how they knew they were naked and why they were ashamed.

They had begun to hide behind the carapace that we can so easily develop, the hard shell that we imagine protects us, even separates us from God, and then, brutally, cruelly, it can all be stripped away and we feel that we lose our sense of identity, our sense of dignity.  We lie in our hospital bed and someone else chooses what we will wear. In one of his second series of ‘Talking Heads’ called ‘Waiting for the Telegram’ Alan Bennett describes Violet, played by the late Dame Thora Hird, an elderly resident in an old people’s home.  Speaking to the carer she says

‘This frock isn’t mine. Tangerine doesn’t suit me. Where’s that green little frock?’ She said ‘’Hilda kept wetting herself in it and its gone funny.”

Her dignity as well as her clothes had been taken from her.  And what does my dignity rely on?  What I wear, how I’m addressed, where I live, who I know?  And you, what defines, describes, protects who you are?  And if, as for Jesus, it was all taken away and someone threw the dice over it, what of you would be left?

Lord Jesus,
they stripped you of everything,
yet you kept your dignity.
When my dignity is taken,
shield me
and clothe me in your love.
Amen.

The Ninth Station – Jesus falls for the third time

We have been here before, in fact twice already. This is no strange experience of déjà vu, no trick of the memory. Jesus falls for the third time and this time it is different. The last stage of the race, the last part of the journey, the last stretch before the end, the pain barrier that has to be crossed, the final push, it is a hard part and the demands are too much. Jesus collapses into the dust and the dirt and he cannot get back up. All the beating and the kicks, the lashes, the vile words, nothing can get him out of the dirt and onto his feet again. He lies there, battered, bruised, bleeding.

Beaten, bruised, bleeding.

Battered, bruised, bleeding.

We might imagine, because we don’t in fact know, that the cross beam was taken off Simon for the last stage of the journey. He was pushed back into the crowd. His journey began as spectator, then it became humiliation as he was forced to take part in this parade of death and ignominy, and then it became participation as he shared with Jesus in this journey. And now, as the soldiers and the condemned man moved off towards the wall and the gate that led out of the city into the barren area where the crucifixion would take place, what did Simon feel – admiration, love, a desire to follow? It could have been any of those things. But we must be careful; we are always in danger on this journey though the Stations of the Cross, on this journey Calvary Bound, over romanticising what was going on.

Perhaps Simon simply felt relief, the ordeal for him was over and he had been able to step back into the crowd from which he had come and step back into obscurity. But we already know that that was not what happened. As he was forced to take the cross, all the way back at the Fifth Station we reflected on the fact that we knew his name and the names of his sons and that that must have been for a reason. Simon of Cyrene was a ‘known person’ a ‘named person’. He didn’t just step back into the obscurity of the crowd. Sharing the cross, bearing the weight, being with Jesus had changed him, changed his life. And as he watched, as he felt that initial sense of relief at the ordeal being over, was he then overtaken by a desire, an impulse, was he driven to follow.

There was room to make his way through the crowd and towards the wall and the gate. It would not be hard to keep up. Progress was frustratingly slow, and especially for the soldiers who wanted the job to be over so that they could get back out of the dangerous streets into the security of the fortress and their barracks. Already today it had looked as though a riot would break out when the bargain was struck about the release of the insurrectionist, Barabbas. He was free and on the streets along with many other zealots who would only be too ready to take advantage of the tension around to have ‘a bit of fun’ with the Romans and see how far they could push their desire for freedom from the oppressor. And who would be the ones to suppress this? They would be. The sooner this was over, the better.

So Simon had no problem keeping up and as the soldiers, with Jesus in their midst, passed through the gate and the upright of the cross, to which the crossbeam would be lashed, being seen for the first time, the crowd sighs and Jesus collapses. He will not rise from where he has fallen.

When I was growing up children’s parties were not as sophisticated as they seem to be nowadays. Our tastes were simple or at least modified by what was available. We might have liked to go ‘paint balling’ but it hadn’t been invented. Instead there was jelly and cake, paper hats and special serviettes, and of course games. The favourites were ‘Pass-the-Parcel’ which in practice meant wrapping a tube of ‘Smarties’ in 23 layers of heavily sellotaped newspaper; Blind-Man’s-Buff which involved a scarf and multiple bruising; ‘Oranges and Lemons’ which meant we had to sing and of course, ‘Follow-my-leader’.

Children's fun 1950's style!

Children’s fun 1950’s style!

The rules of ‘Follow-my-leader’ are simple. One child is the ‘leader’, the rest copy the actions of the leader and are eliminated from the game if they don’t (normally this involved tears at the parties I was at.) I saw on the BBC website a clip showing children playing the game as a way of helping them to understand what it means to be a Christian disciple, to be a follower of Jesus. We watch him and imitate his actions and if we do that then our lives will reflect his life, we will be ‘Christ-like.’

Simon watches Jesus, face down, kicked and beaten in the dust. Then, when the soldiers realise that he isn’t going to move on his own accord they grab him and drag him the short distance remaining, the skin of his legs being ripped apart by the sharp stones which formed the surface of the ground there.

And Simon decides ‘I want to follow him. I want to be like him. I want Jesus to be my leader’.

It seems unlikely, against all logic. Why follow a failure? How can this image of powerlessness be anything worth giving your life to? How can this be inspirational, how can this be hope, life, vision, future, love? How can this be what I want to be?

Why do you follow Jesus – if you do? Why do I follow Jesus? Surely God could have provided us with a better model of leadership, a better image of power, a more robust form of authority. Why give us a broken man, a man of dust in the dust to pin our hopes to?

John Donne in his powerful poem ‘Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward’ exposes with real honesty this problem

Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die;
What a death were it then to see God die?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes?
Could I behold that endless height, which is
Zenith to us and our antipodes,
Humbled below us ? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our soul’s, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for His apparel, ragg’d and torn?

I dare not look upon him, but he is my leader, my model, my Lord, my God. And why?

For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1.25)

Lord Jesus,
I cannot bear to look,
I cannot bear to watch,
for where you are I am,
battered by life,
bruised and sore,
dust in dust.
As you are raised
so may I be raised with you.
Amen.

The Eighth Station – Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

The scenes from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Nigeria … the list could go on, the list is almost endless – but in so many of the pictures that we see in news reports, on social media and in our papers are of women, grieving, weeping, inconsolable women. They are often pictured crying for the men, the children they have lost. It is agonizing watching these scenes, looking at the pictures, hearing the cries, the wails. These are women feeling the pain of what their community, their nation, their family is going through.

We were staggered the other day to hear a report from India that an elderly nun had been raped in her convent by men who had broken in to rob the sisters of their possessions. They robbed them of the things they owned and then they robbed her of so much of her dignity, robbed her of so much of her vocation and the life she leads as one consecrated to Christ.

We know nothing of the 200 Nigerian girls taken by Boko Haram. What is their life like now? What abuse are they suffering, what hope do they have?

We know that the abuse of women is now an all too regular part of warfare, the gang rapes, the mutilation, inflicting scars on women which will last forever. Violence against women seems to be getting worse and so much more a feature of how war is waged than before and the violence against the person, the sexual violence against the person, is only one of the consequences of war that women have to suffer.

We watch them weeping, we hear their wails and we weep and wail with them, with our sisters and with the young girls, their daughters, who they hold so close to shield them from the violence that lurks around the corner.

Women pay a heavy price in our societies and have to bear so much of the pain.

One of the most terrible episodes in the gospels is the slaughter of the innocents. It took place, according to St Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 2.16-18) as a consequence of the visit of the Wise Men to the infant Christ in Bethlehem. Herod, the king, feeling that his power was under threat from this pretender to his crown, goes out of his way to get rid of the potential challenge. The order goes out and as it says in the gospel

He sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. (Matthew 2.16)

St Matthew, throughout his gospel, always seeks to show how the events in the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus are the fulfilment of prophecies made to the people that we find in the Old Testament. As he tells this story of the slaughter of all these babies he quotes from the Prophet Jeremiah

Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.
(Jeremiah 31-15)

Rachel, refusing to be consoled. Why should she stop weeping – for our convenience, because it discomforts us? ‘Do stop crying’ we say, trying to make it better, trying to make it stop. Someone crying in front of us can be very difficult and especially for men. We want it to stop, we feel that we have to stop it. What good will the tears do? Better to face up, clear sighted, to reality than let what we see be obscured by our tears. ‘Do stop crying.’

Alongside what we now know as the Via Dolorosa were a group of women, weeping and wailing. St Luke in his gospel makes mention of this as part of what happened and here it is as one of the Stations on the journey that we are making to Calvary with Jesus. We don’t know who these women were. Were they always here, in this spot, on execution day? Did they do this professionally, like the mutes who used to follow in Victorian funeral processions?

A funeral procession in Victorian Ireland

A funeral procession in Victorian Ireland

Or were they there specifically for Jesus? Had they been part of that crowd which had welcomed Jesus into the city on Palm Sunday, had cheered and sung as he entered? Had they then been in the square before the Judgement Seat with those who were demanding Jesus’ blood? Were the cries ‘Crucify him, crucify him’ still ringing in their ears? Had they cried out with the crowd, or had they remained silent then? Whoever they are, now they weep and Jesus stops and speaks to them.

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 23.27-31)

‘Weep for yourselves and for your children’ he says to them. It transforms this scene. They may cry for Jesus but Jesus directs them to cry for their children, for their sisters, now, today, as much as at every period of history in which women have carried the burden of the implications of hate and cruelty and inhumanity.

No one is quite sure what the final verse means, the green wood, the dry wood. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that women represent that green fruitful, hopeful part of humanity, the source from which new life springs, the fruitfulness of wombs, the new possibility as life emerges. And these women, green with possibility, weep at the dryness that they see as life itself is being dragged off to be killed. When life is dead what then will happen?

Aida, a Syrian mother, weeps in the horror of her situation.

Aida, a Syrian mother, weeps in the horror of her situation.

But for me, now, at this time in history, these weeping women represent all the women, the world over, young and old, who weep at the brutality of life. ‘Weep for yourselves and for your children’ says Jesus to them and those of us who are men must hear the cry of women, and stop, as Jesus did, and hear and weep.

The poet Phineas Fletcher (1580-1650) wrote ‘A Litany’ which we offer as a prayer as with the women of the world we stand.

DROP, drop, slow tears,
And bathe those beauteous feet
Which brought from Heaven
The news and Prince of Peace:
Cease not, wet eyes,
His mercy to entreat;
To cry for vengeance
Sin doth never cease.
In your deep floods
Drown all my faults and fears;
Nor let His eye
See sin, but through my tears.

The Seventh Station – Jesus falls the second time

To be honest I’m not very good about getting regular checkups in my diary. I know that I should go to the dentist twice a year; I know that I should go regularly to get my eyes tested; I know that I should have my blood pressure and cholesterol level checked, and of course, if I’m summoned by the doctor I go, but those things are not high on my agenda. So I suddenly realised that my reading glasses were less effective and scratched! So I went to the optician. It turned out I hadn’t been for five years! To cut a long story short I came out with glasses which I have to wear all the time. In those five years my sight had deteriorated so much that that was thought to be necessary.

I put the glasses on and – wow! – I could see things I hadn’t seen for ages. But I hadn’t really noticed that the distance was no longer in sharp focus. I had got used to how things were.

And what about my soul? What about the state of that? I fortunately have a good Spiritual Director whom if I haven’t seen him for a while will call me – ‘Shouldn’t we meet?’ Of course we should – I just hadn’t made that check-up a priority either. So I go along and we chat about what has been going on in my life and in my prayer and seek to refocus both. And the truth is that without that refocusing, without that realisation that not all in the garden of my soul is blossoming, I could lose the focus of my life altogether – and not notice it. The conversation and making my confession are as important as any other health check that I may receive, its another and vital dimension of the whole me.

There is always some confusion about sacramental confession in the Church of England. Mention it and often people will say something like ‘I thought that’s what Catholics did?’ or ‘Can we do that in the Church of England?’ But the simple answer is, we have never lost it from the church. Archbishop Cranmer located it, or hid it, depending on how you see it, in ‘The Visitation of the Sick’ in the Book of Common Prayer, so you have to hunt it out but there it is and those powerful words, words which we all, from time to time need to hear

OUR Lord Jesus Christ, who hath left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive thee thine offences: And by his authority committed to me, I absolve thee from all thy sins, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Yes, I know that in my own prayer I can repent and know the power of God’s forgiveness; yes, I know that in the Eucharist I can recall my sins and hear the words of forgiveness but sometimes, sometimes, to hear these direct words, to me, from a priest, is an assurance that I am reconciled to God; words and assurance like no other.

There is a great and simple statement about sacramental confession and Anglicans

‘All may, none must, some should.’

Even Homer Simpson needs to confess!

Even Homer Simpson needs to confess!

The big question for us is how we know if we are part of that third group, the ‘some’ who should. All I know is that there are some things that I need to talk through with another priest, there are some things that I cannot quieten my conscience about, there are some things that I need to say out loud and out loud hear those words of forgiveness, just as those who came to Jesus heard those words of forgiveness.

When Jesus was confronted, in John 8.1-11, with the woman caught in the very act of adultery he won’t participate in the condemnation of her that is going on. Instead he challenges those self righteous men who are dragging her outside the walls to stone her to death with the fact and relaity of their own sinfulness.

‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ (v.7)

Of course, one by one, they leave. There was not one of them there who could honestly throw the stone. And so Jesus turns and says to the woman.

‘Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’ (v.11)

In a similar way that is what the priest says finally to the penitent at the end of confession. The words of forgiveness have been spoken, baptismal grace has been restored, it needs to be retained. So why do I keep having to go back to make my confession again?

We are following Jesus on the way of the cross and this, in terms of the Stations of the Cross, is the halfway point. Though Jesus is no longer carrying his cross – Simon is doing that – scripture doesn’t tells us that, unlike when we are carrying the cross on the Via Dolorosa we take turns, hand it back, hand it on, Jesus took the cross back from Simon – though he may have done. Nevertheless, Jesus is weak and exhausted.

Jesus falls for the second time

Jesus falls for the second time

As we walk the Way of the Cross today we notice that we are going uphill. At various points the cobbled streets are quite steep. They are stepped, to help us manage the climb. But perhaps they weren’t for Jesus; it wasn’t made easy for him. Instead, he is being dragged, pushed, beaten, jostled, abused as he makes his way along and inevitably he falls again, flat on his face, flat on the floor. He falls for the second time.

I fall continuously, I fall constantly. As Jesus said to Peter he says to me

‘The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ (Matthew 26.41)

Peter denied the Lord three times, he fell, and fell and fell. And I fall and need picking up, restoring, forgiving and set on my way again. How many times? Seven times? Jesus says

‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’ (Matthew 18.22)

Jesus gets back up and so do I. The journey continues for him and for me and for you.

Lord, forgive me.
As many times as I fail you,
forgive me.
Amen.

The Sixth Station – Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

As you follow the cross along the Via Dolorosa, with your pilgrim group, with your friends, perhaps from your church, people you know and know well, you will be passed by so many people. There will be shopkeepers and shoppers, people walking to their next appointment, women with children, men sitting drinking tea together, smoking a cigarette. At some of the junctions in the road you will find groups of soldiers, on the lookout, not for you, but for others. Children, youths, young and old women, young and old men, a Franciscan priest, an Orthodox nun, they will all pass you. And you will see their faces but you won’t know them.

Living in London I’m surrounded by people I don’t know. Sitting on a bus or the Tube, crammed into a rush-hour compartment, squeezed almost intimately against someone I have never met, and will presumably never meet again is an almost daily occurrence. And when I’ve flicked through the free paper lying on the seat, sometimes I look up and look around and see the people sitting, standing there and try to imagine who they are and what their story is. Each is a fully rounded person with a real life, not just there to add colour and context to my world. Each is as real and complex as me, with their joys and their sorrows, their anxieties, the stresses of the day, a home life, a hinterland of family and friends. And very rarely and especially in London do you get to speak to any of these strangers. There is an unwritten set of rules of behaviour on public transport in London and we abide by them.

'Mind the gap.  Move down the carriage.'

‘Mind the gap. Move down the carriage.’

I remember the agony of childhood and standing at the bus stop with my mum or my grandma. All of a sudden she would talk to the person next to her in the queue. ‘Nice weather’. ‘Have you seen the price of beef?’ ‘I was hoping to get my washing out today.’ They didn’t know each other but a conversation would develop. The unknown person wasn’t so unknown any longer and points of connection were made. ‘Oh, you must know our Fred’. ‘Yes we used to work in the factory on the High Street.’ ‘I remember; you’re Mabel’s girl aren’t you!’ ‘Yes, were you at school together?’ I listen on in amazement. What do they say? There are six degrees of separation in the human nexus. It was a theory arrived at by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy back in 1929. In most situations you only need to go six moves to find a relationship and realise that the stranger is no stranger to you and you can give them a name.

Jesus was an ‘out of town’ man and so apart from those who had arrived in Jerusalem with him he knew almost no one. He was stumbling along, being beaten by the soldiers to make progress. Simon was carrying his cross, he could see him in front, but the crowds to the side were a blur of faces, of unknown faces, watching, ignoring him. He was used to unknown faces. For three years he had been moving from place to place preaching, teaching, healing. He would enter a town and meet a crowd but quickly those who were unknown would become known to him – Zacchaeus up his tree, blind Bartimaeus, Simon the Pharisee. He could name them all, remember them all. Some had become friends – Mary, Martha and Lazarus, with whom he had been staying. But many people remained faces, unknown to him, though he was known to them. Faces, faces, people, people, nameless.

A woman steps from the crowd. He doesn’t know her. She takes a cloth she is carrying and wipes the blood and the sweat from his face, from his brow, from running into his eyes and making them sting. He looks up and their eyes meet – kind eyes she had, young eyes, clear and sweet. She continues to wipe him clean and the image of her is imprinted on his memory and the image of him is imprinted on her heart.

It was a brief encounter, a chance meeting, a hasty gesture and over as quickly as it began, and then he was moved on and the soldiers pushed her back into the crowd and she was left there holding the cloth.

Veronica's veil

Veronica’s veil

This is one of those stations that is part of tradition rather than drawn scripture. The woman had no name but the cloth was venerated by the church and still is in art and literature and she was given a name, Veronica, which perhaps means ‘true image’ because the tradition is that the face of Jesus was not just implanted in her heart but on that cloth.

And each nameless person that we see is a true image of God, and you and I are true images of God. Remembering it changes how we see people, changes how we see our self. Look around you at the unknown, unnamed faces, they bear God’s image, pray for them, perhaps they are praying for you, the unknown person to them.

Lord, you know me
and you love me.
May I love
even those I don’t know
for they bear your true image.
Amen.

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