The Third Station – Jesus falls for the first time

I’m used to it, failing, stumbling, sinning, falling. It has been a feature of my life, not quite living up to the demands of the gospel, not being able to live as Jesus calls me to live. I always need to be put back on my feet, dusted down and sent off again. That is why I’m so grateful that every Eucharist begins with recognition that this is the state that I am in and not only me, I suspect, but all of us. We begin the Eucharist as we are to begin each Office and liturgy with a time of recollection of our sin, our failing and a chance to feel again the loving, healing, forgiving reconciling love of God.

At the heart of Cranmer’s great prayer of confession at the beginning of Morning and Evening Prayer we say this

Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders; Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults, Restore thou them that are penitent, According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord.

Restore me, put me back on my feet, set me again on the path but this time on that narrow path which leads to you, O my God.

The Third Station is one of those that does not refer to anything that is in any of the gospels but comes from tradition. We’ve already seen how exhausted Jesus is and now the cross beam is laid on him, as the wood on Isaac’s shoulders before him, and he steps from the Fortress onto the street, the buy crowded street, filled with citizens and visitors here for the Passover Festival, here for the holiday. Jostled by soldiers and the crowd alike, whipped and slapped to make him move faster, Jesus stumbles forwards and as he stumbles he loses his balance under the weight and falls.

The weight was too much to bear

The weight was too much to bear

It isn’t that he hasn’t carried wood before. For almost thirty years he worked in Joseph’s carpenters’ shop. He grew used to bringing in the wood that Joseph needed, from the storehouse and as he got older travelling to the biggest construction site in the region, Sepphoris, being built at the time and soaking up all the tradesmen and craftsmen in the area. He would have helped take heavy beams and door frames on to the building site so that work could proceed. But that was different to now; this wood bore down on him. It felt heavier, more difficult to carry, loaded.

I stumble and fall, but Jesus had never fallen as I fall. In the Letter to the Hebrews we are told that in Jesus

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. (Hebrews 4.15)

Jesus knew sin, he encountered it daily, even among his trusted, closest friends. He had been delivered to this by sin itself, by Judas, yes, but by the sin ‘which clings so closely’ (Hebrews 12.1) to humankind. He had seen sin, but he had not sinned, he could sympathise with those who fall but had not fallen himself.

But it wasn’t sin that made him fall now, on this road, carrying this cross. It wasn’t his sin which made him stumble, it was mine, it was yours. That weight, the unbelievable weight he was carrying – I had made it heavy, my burden he was carrying. As he took the cross he took my burden from me and it was all laid on his shoulders.

I would feel better if I had not sinned again, if I had learnt my lesson. But I haven’t and I have to keep going back to God and saying sorry, restore me, set me on my feet again – and the miraculous, wonderful, humbling, painful truth is that God does it. God lifts me up and sets me on my feet and I go, with every intention of not sinning again and ….

At the beginning of his poem ‘Ash Wednesday’, T S Eliot writes

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

I ‘too much explain’ my sinful behaviour, I ‘too much explain’ why I load Jesus with my sin, I ‘too much explain’ why I stumble and fall.

‘May the judgement not be too heavy upon us’ says Eliot. May it not be.

Jesus is pulled up from the street. The cross beam had fallen and the soldiers pick it up again and set it on his back and whip him so that he moves. The beam is no lighter than it was before and every step is painful. But Jesus is Calvary Bound and so are we. This has been just one stopping place, one station on the way and there are more to come.

God of forgiveness,
let these words answer
for what is done, not to be done again;
forgive me and strengthen me,
so that I may turn from my wickedness,
and live
and not sin again.

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