Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stations of the Cross: Jesus promises His kingdom to the repentant thief (by Brenna D'Ambrosio)



Sometimes it's not enough to know the story. Sometimes you need to read it, to write it, to hear it, to say it, to see it, to meditate on it, to walk through it physically. These last few weeks of Lent, several writer-friends and I are walking through the Stations of the Cross, a way of following the last steps of Christ's life here on Earth.

We hope you'll join us here on this journey.

Today's guide is Brenna D'Ambrosio, whose website you really should go and bookmark right now. She's kind of a big deal. Married for nine years to her best friend, Brenna is the proud mama of three beautiful little girls God richly has blessed them with.


We read the story, though we only see it in one of the Gospels. Luke is the only one who mentions the exchange. I often wonder why.

They are referred to as thieves or robbers, but the notes in my Bible tell me otherwise. They tell me that robbery was not a capital offense and more than likely they were insurgents.

Now this starts to make sense.

Here is our Jesus. Our glorious rabble rouser. The King of the Jews stuck between two common, low-life rebels. Here He is, hanging, shamed.

Did they know who Jesus was? Had they heard whispers of what He did, who He claimed to be before they were arrested, tried, and hung on their own wooden branches?

The man on the left yells out to be saved. Mocking. Angry. Abusive.

But the man on the right knows. He knows they all hang there for the same crime but that Jesus is both innocent, yet in a way that not even the disciples understand, guilty. No, not guilty of sin, but Jesus was establishing a new Kingdom. And the act of allowing Himself to hang there, bloodied, beaten, and broken was pushing the Kingdom into reality. He was in labor with the new Kingdom and that repentant “thief” saw it. He saw the way the earth was ready to shake. He recognized that while both were found guilty of insurrection, only Jesus was actually carrying out His plan. It was just in a way that no one imagined or understood.

As the sky darkened and prepared to swallow itself, maybe, just maybe, he saw somewhere the tiniest glimmer that said, “This is not the end. This is just the beginning.” The cracking in of the new Kingdom.

And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”

As Christ exhaled to speak to the man, spirit reached across the divide, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

From insurrection to resurrection.

We suffer. We know they weight of burdens. We know they weight of our sins. We resign ourselves with the belief this is just how it is, its weight, our shame, to be with us always. This is how it is going to be. But then we whisper truth often without expectation, and we are given an amazing promise. This suffering will end. There is respite. That new Kingdom is for us. We are invited in. He stops to acknowledge us. He stops to forgive us.

Everything begins to shift. He is preparing to make all things new and He stops to invite us.

“You shall be with Me in Paradise.”


For more from today's guest, Brenna D'Ambrosio, visit her website.

For more about the Stations of the Cross series, click here. Read all posts in the Stations of the Cross series, here.

Photo: Christ carrying His cross at the Gaudi church in Barcelona by Joel Miller. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Stations of the Cross: Jesus is crucified (guest post by Sarah Askins)



Sometimes it's not enough to know the story. Sometimes you need to read it, to write it, to hear it, to say it, to see it, to meditate on it, to walk through it physically. These last few weeks of Lent, several writer-friends and I are walking through the Stations of the Cross, a way of following the last steps of Christ's life here on Earth.

We hope you'll join us here on this journey.

Today's guide is Sarah Askins, a writer and poet living in Chatham County, N.C. She currently is working on a short story collection and poetry chapbook. You can read more of her poetry and musings on her blog at sarahaskins.com or follow her on Twitter at @SarahBostAskins.


I.
the Word--
     the Word who was made Flesh
          splayed open
to the humid heat of bodies mingling at the foot of the cross,
     to the tears of Mother Mary
          to the murmur of sinful syllables
spoken for the Word’s death.
II.
the Word—
     the Word who spoke
          the tree seed into existence
its roots cut open mother earth’s womb
     as limbs reached up, branches contained life and death,
          did you, the Word, the Word made flesh
watch as Your cross grew?

III.
the Word—
     the Word who watched
          night roll out in midday like a shroud hiding you from your Father,
the sponge and hyssop and the women wailing, wailing, wailing
          then silence
as Your Father, Your Father turned to face depths of the cosmos
     avoiding Your gaze.

IV.
the Word---
     the Word who turned to hear
          thieves cursing in their death, the law and the crowd
until one thief watched as death climbed up the cross begged, You, the Word
     forgive, forgive and remember
          remember him to Your Father in paradise—
and You did.

V. 
the Word—
     the Word who gasped
          out Your life and into the hands of Your Father
whose death rumbled through the holy of holies
     like a mighty wind singing the victory song
          that Mother Mary and the women couldn’t hear
for Sunday had not come.




For more from today's guest, Sarah Askins, visit her website.

For more about the Stations of the Cross series, click here. Read all posts in the Stations of the Cross series, here.

Photo: Christ carrying His cross at the Gaudi church in Barcelona by Joel Miller. Jesus crucified from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore by VJPhotos.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Stations of the Cross: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem



Sometimes it's not enough to know the story. Sometimes you need to read it, to write it, to hear it, to say it, to see it, to meditate on it, to walk through it physically. These last few weeks of Lent, several writer-friends and I are walking through the Stations of the Cross, a way of following the last steps of Christ's life here on Earth.

We hope you'll join us here on this journey.

I wrote this piece over this past week in response to two prompt from my online writing community, the Story Sessions: one, about what I would write if blogging were an art form and not a platform (about the saints, obviously), and one, to write outside my comfort zone (which means I ended up writing sort-of historical fiction). Unrelated, I love the prayer for this station in the Scriptural Way of the Cross.


The crowd was shoving, jeering, pushing for a better vantage point.

What was it today? Veronica wondered.

She really wasn’t into these things the way everybody else seemed to be, finding amusement in other people’s pain. Sometimes she found herself talking with them about it, in the same callous tone: How many times he’d fallen. How many lashes he’d received. All the grotesque details of the crimes he’d committed that had brought him to here in the first place.

And then she’d remember suddenly this was a man’s life they were talking about – or rather his death.

This was a real person, somebody who had a mother somewhere who loved him, who had dreamed of him before he was born and what he might do and be, who never had imagined this. And she’d feel a sudden shock of guilt, a rush of compassion. What had happened to this man between now and then?

Usually she could ignore it: She was busy and didn’t have time for what passed as other people’s entertainment. But today’s busyness brought it literally across her path: the streets lined with people watching as three criminals made their way to their deaths, carrying with them they heavy crosses on which they’d be crucified.

She hadn’t realized what was happening at first. Annoyed, she had tried to duck through the crowd, a tangle of pumping fists, of sweaty limbs and dusty robes. It opened unexpectedly when she reached the street, the sudden breath of fresh air stinging her senses like a slap in the face.

And then it was just her, face to face with one of the condemned man, bent and battered and barely standing, blood and sweat matting his hair to his forehead, flowing unstaunched into his face from a crown of thorns set on his head. A second man carried his cross, his muscles straining under the weight of it, its rough wood splintering into the soft webs between his fingers.

Time stopped. She could feel all the eyes on her now, registering surprise; the soldier’s whip, frozen in mid-swing.

This was a real person. He had a mother.

And she knew.

She felt that sudden shock and rush, and she knew she was not so busy she couldn’t pause to offer compassion to the person standing in front of her. Something about him, the way he looked at her, made her brave.

She stepped closer, her feet quickening and the crowd retreating as if she were in a trance. Drawing near, she did the only thing she could think to do: she pulled the veil from her hair and pressed it to His cheek. She dabbed it gently into the deep pools under his eyes and swept it across his forehead, careful to avoid His torn flesh, pink and watery.

It was only a second or two before a hand closed around her shoulder and shoved her roughly back into the crowd, but it felt like an eternity.

And as she was absorbed into the fists and sweat and humanity, as she looked into the cloth smeared with blood and dust and spit still clutched tightly in her hands, she knew she bore His image, and she would carry it in her forever.

---

St. Veronica never is named in the Bible. In fact, her name comes not from the Bible, but from the Latin vera and Greek eikon; roughly combined, it’s translated “true image.”

That’s because, according to tradition, St. Veronica was moved by compassion when she saw Jesus on His way to His death and offered Him her veil. He accepted the gift, leaving the “true image” of His face in the fabric, which became a popular relic in medieval times and made Veronica the patron saint of both photographers and laundry workers.

With the exception of His mother Mary, none of the women of Jerusalem who followed Jesus to the foot of the cross are named in the Bible.

Here is the all we know about them from Luke 23:27-31:

“A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, “Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.” At that time, people will say to the mountains, “Fall upon us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?’”

And yet it’s their simple story, like the story of Veronica, that I come back to each time I walk the Stations of the Cross – their simple act of gentleness and compassion. As Jesus walked His last steps on Earth, they walked alongside Him.

They didn’t ignore what was happening or watch impassively.

They didn’t follow the crowd, joining the shouts calling for His crucifixion.

They didn’t offer helpful advice, like, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

They simply showed up. They wept with Him. They walked with Him through the unspeakable suffering He experienced.

And I’m challenged, as I cut through my busy day -- avoiding eye contact with those asking for help on city streets and throwing elbows at folks who block the exits on public transportation during rush hour (because seriously?) and reading the most grotesque headlines, sometimes without batting an eye -- whether I would have done the same. Whether I do take the time to notice the needs of those around me. Whether I do sit with my friends who are struggling rather than pushing them toward a quick resolution. Whether I do recognize the humanity in the names that appear below the headlines.

Because this is what it looks like to bear the image of God, to recognize that we all are image-bearers in that mysterious way Genesis describes.

“For He has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
He has not hidden His face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.” (Psalm 22:24)





For more about the Stations of the Cross series, click here. Read all posts in the Stations of the Cross series, here.

Photo: Christ carrying His cross at the Gaudi church in Barcelona by Joel Miller. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus at the Shrine of Christ's Passion by Emily McFarlan Miller.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Stations of the Cross: Jesus is helped by Simon to carry His cross (guest post by Abi Bechtel)



Sometimes it's not enough to know the story. Sometimes you need to read it, to write it, to hear it, to say it, to see it, to meditate on it, to walk through it physically. These last few weeks of Lent, several writer-friends and I are walking through the Stations of the Cross, a way of following the last steps of Christ's life here on Earth.

We hope you'll join us here on this journey.

Today's guide, Abi Bechtel, is a Southern expat in Middle America, a mom of three boys and an eternal college student. She writes at adiposerex.wordpress.com and tweets about feminism and her cats at @abianne.


What are you doing here?

What are you doing here in this city swollen with people, so far from home? Are you a Jew, here in Jerusalem – 900 miles from Cyrene, if you came by sea – to celebrate Passover with your people? Or are you a stranger here, passing through on your way to someplace else: a Gentile caught off guard by the crush of people, the angry cheers of the crowd, these people shaped by centuries of oppression, who long for a savior or a scapegoat?

What are you doing here outside the praetorium, that you’re standing by when this cluster of soldiers bursts out laughing, shoving this man between them? Were you just passing by, trying to skirt around the crowd of people waiting outside Pilate’s mansion, pulled in by the undertow of teeming humanity? Are you trying to break free and get on your way? Or are you one of them, crying out with one voice: Crucify him? Were you waiting here for him to come out, his body bleeding and nearly broken, the tang of blood and sweat piercing the dusty air?

When you see him, does your stomach turn?

Do your eyes meet? Do you look away fast, or fix your eyes on him? When he looks at you, do you feel that thud in your chest because for the first time you are being seen? Does the impulse to help him with his burden propel you forward, or do you shrink back from him? What do the soldiers see on your face that makes them thrust his cross on your shoulder: Sympathy? Pain? Contempt? Disgust?

Fear?

What does it feel like, walking this hard-packed road with the heavy weight on your back? Do you feel the splintery wood digging hard into your shoulder, or are you too focused on the stumbling footsteps of the man beside you? Are your ears full of the taunts of the bystanders and the wailing women, or have you turned inward, hearing only the thump of your footfalls and your heartbeat?

Does he stagger and fall? Do you stop, shift the weight on your back so you can offer him your hand? Or do you keep your head down and keep putting one foot in front of the other, afraid of the whip and the fist?

When you finally arrive at the top of the hill and the heavy wood is lifted off your back, do you feel the sudden freedom, the lightness in your body?

Or do you feel its weight on your shoulders for as long as you live?




For more from today's guest, Abi Bechtel, visit her website.

For more about the Stations of the Cross series, click here. Read all posts in the Stations of the Cross series, here.

Photo: Christ carrying His cross at the Gaudi church in Barcelona by Joel Miller. Jesus is helped by Simon to carry His cross at the Shrine of Christ's Passion by Emily McFarlan Miller.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Stations of the Cross: Jesus takes up His cross (guest post by Bethany Paget)



Sometimes it's not enough to know the story. Sometimes you need to read it, to write it, to hear it, to say it, to see it, to meditate on it, to walk through it physically. These last few weeks of Lent, several writer-friends and I are walking through the Stations of the Cross, a way of following the last steps of Christ's life here on Earth.

We hope you'll join us here on this journey.

Let's talk about today's guide: There are various facets to this girl’s life. She’s one part poet and one part punk. She is a dreadlocked, single mom to a beautiful wild girl (who still calls her mommy.) A justice and equality seeker for all, she desires that the love of Christ break beyond walls and barriers that have been set around it. Writing has been this girl’s safety since she first picked up a pencil. In the words, the story and the heart behind her eyes you’ll soon begin to see those various facets. Start with her stories at allthingstruthful.wordpress.com.


We know the story of Jesus being told to carry His cross up the dirty, dusty road to the top of the mountain where He would be crucified, alone but with others.

We know that while Jesus, who had just been beaten, was attempting to carry this massive cross up this dirty road, the Roman guards demanded that another man, Simon, help Jesus. I've never understood fully the historical meaning behind this text, but I can take a 21st Century gander at what it might mean today.

I have two ideas.

Faith is a twisted, messy and sometimes ugly thing. It’s not this all the time YAY JESUS I think sometimes it’s mislead to be.

I know I thought that once I started to walk a life with Christ -- that everything was going to be “better now,” that there would be no more struggles. I was so very wrong.

I don’t mean there hasn't been happiness or joy in my life. I have learned a lot about myself and my faith and what I can and cannot tolerate. I learned to look past the Christian cliché of not being given more than I can handle and always having a way out of temptation. I do not believe those are true, factual statements.

We are given more than we can handle, and I don’t believe there is always a way out of the situations we are in.

These, I would venture to say, are the cross-like experiences we have been given in this life. They are heavy and break our backs. Weeping, we go into the fight strong and ready to engage, but after awhile, the cross becomes so heavy we start to get tired and weary and want to drop it, drop ourselves and sometimes, I say, question God.

Jesus did question God. In the garden, He asked for the cup of crucifixion to be removed from Him. Then He said, “Not my will but yours be done.”

I think any person with the weight of a cross on his or her back would question God. I did. I also had to learn it was OK to question Him as the weight started to break the very core of what I thought was true. That nothing bad would happen to me.

The more things piled up, I wanted to sit down, let the cross hit the ground and give up.

Then people came along to pick up my cross and help me carry it. I know I wasn't going to the top of a mountain to be crucified, but I still was walking up a dirty, dusty road. I still am. I had people like Simon -- though they weren't demanded – to carry my cross. Sometimes it was right alongside me, and sometimes when I needed to sit in the dust and mud, they held it up because I just couldn't.

I would hope we all have and are cross bearers for each other. That’s part of who Jesus was and who He called us to be.

It’s like in a mission with the military. You don’t leave a man behind, even if you have to pick him up and carry him over your shoulder.

As followers of a compassionate, empathetic, human, god-son Jesus, we should do that very same thing.

Never leave a man behind.

If it means carrying someone else’s cross for awhile or letting go enough to allow someone else to carry yours. That’s the beauty of side-by-side in a faith walk.

I pray that as we close out the Lenten season and go into Holy Week and Easter, we can meditate on Jesus and Simon and think about what it would be like to be each other’s cross bearers.




For more from today's guest, Bethany Paget, visit her website.

For more about the Stations of the Cross series, click here. Read all posts in the Stations of the Cross series, here.

Photo: Christ carrying His cross at the Gaudi church in Barcelona by Joel Miller. Jesus Falls from the Stations of the Cross Path in Tirol, Austria, by VJPhotos.
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