Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!


Ok. I have to admit Lisa Fox's story about her Uncle Russell inspired me to write this post. Her post got me to thinking about those things in our lives that, if we did not grow up in the Episcopal Church, might have been the "prequel" to our finding TEC as our church home.

Now, for at least two and a half decades, I would have told you that this man, Wellington Buel (aka "Pete") Stewart, was one of the people who encouraged me to go to medical school and, ultimately, lead me to a career in pathology, even though he died before I ever graduated from medical school. But it was only in recent years that I have come to realize he also posthumously led me to the Episcopal Church, in some ways. The photo above is of him when he was chair of Pathology at the University of Kentucky Medical School, in 1960--the year of my birth.

I knew Pete from my Amateur Radio ("ham" radio) activities in the 1970's-1980's. But the part that was lost to me back then, and has grown over the years, is that I realize he was a loyal Episcopalian, and a member of Calvary Episcopal Church in Columbia, MO. Pete was one of those guys who didn't really "talk church" much, but I now realize he was one of those guys who led "a secret life of faith." He simply mentioned "heading off for church" or "getting back from church" in a matter of fact way, or things would come up in the conversation that exuded what I would call "A comfortable faith." It was "just part of him."

Church was simply "part of the 'fit' in his life." He didn't ever get too worked up about church politics or the details of sermons. He was the kind of person who was more likely to go to the early service than the late one. He was old school, and deep down inside, he was a "Rite I" sort of guy, and was not crazy about a lot of singing, preferring the spoken service. But his love for the Book of Common Prayer showed through every now and then.

At the time, I was living my life as a "disaffected LCMS Lutheran." Once in a while, we'd discuss deeper subjects over a beer. I distinctly remember his classic line when we were talking about prayer--what it was, what it does, and speculating "how it works." He used to say, "I don't pray anything that isn't in the Book of Common Prayer." At the time, I thought he was being a stodgy, unimaginative old fart. Now that the BCP and I are old friends, I realize his words had more to do with the fact there is probably something in the BCP to use as a "jump starter" for any possible prayer, and that the BCP has had so much thought in it, it truly has an almost universal quality to its ability to "fit the situation."

Only once in my exile did he ever bring up anything even halfway close to the "E" word--evangelism. We were doing the "discussing deeper subjects over a beer" thing at the old Heidelberg restaurant/bar in Columbia, MO (the one that burned, for you natives) and we were discussing my self-imposed exile from the LCMS. He very matter-of-factly, without missing the timing of his beer-swigging, "Have you ever thought about coming with Polly and me to Calvary sometime? Everything you're mad at about church, it's not an issue with us. We ordain women. Our theology is based on the Incarnation, not about guilt or shame for your sins, or "boy, oh boy, aren't you lucky Jesus died for you." It's not about that stuff. It's a theology for thinking people, and really, the way your mind works, you'd actually make a very good Episcopalian."

Then he sort of winked and added, "Of course, in the beginning, we might have to let you in the side door," then quickly said, "Not really--I'm kidding. Seriously, you could even go up for the Eucharist the first time you visited."

But nope...nope...I was still more interested in being mad, I guess.

I did, however, go to the rail at his funeral Eucharist. I had remembered his words. I wonder sometime if that wafer planted a seed, albeit a very slowly germinating one.

Seventeen years later, I began to regularly attend Trinity.

I think about him now and then when we do Prayers of the People and remember the dead, especially when the week of his birthday and the week of the date of his death rolls around. I wonder sometimes if he's sitting among the company of Heaven on those Sundays and hears me think it, and tells the gathered company, "I KNEW IT! See, I knew this was a fit! It just took a long time, that's all, but I WAS RIGHT!" I do muse now and then in church, "I wonder if Pete can believe it? Yeah, he probably can and does." I worry now and then he is scrapping with my late friend Debby for dibs on the credit. I imagine Debby credits her role in all of it, too.

When I think these things, I do have one unfulfilled longing. I do long for one time, that I can feel him sitting in the pew beside me. I think I would like, just once, to feel he and I have transcended a boundary and have "attended the service together." There's a lot there to thank him for, and I think I have felt that I have thanked him for everything in this life he did for me sufficiently except this one little leftover part. Maybe some Sunday, I will feel it. I hope so.

Now that I have completed my Lenten project, I wanted to create a file of the text only, that you are welcome to copy and share, as long as you attribute them to this page and credit me.

Kirkepiscatoid's Stations of the Cross--A Journey into the Passion of the World as illustrated by the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ

Opening Prayers:

Leader: ✠In the name of God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and redeemer,
People: Amen.

Leader: Lord, have mercy.
People: Christ, have mercy.
Leader: Lord, have mercy.

Leader and People:

Our Father, who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Leader: Pour your grace upon our hearts, O Lord, that the cross and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen us in all goodness and mercy.
People: Save us from the time of trial, O Lord, and bring us to the glory and resurrection of your blessed Son. Amen.


The First Station: Jesus is condemned to death

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: You stood in judgment without blemish as you were handed your fate.

In the early light of morning, the chief priests and scribes conferred in the waning darkness to bring about your death. You were bound, led away, and delivered to Pilate. As the sun rose higher in the sky, your blamelessness was revealed to the point Pilate could find no fault with you. When interrogated, you gave no answer. But the people clamored for darkness. They cried, "Give us Barabbas. Give us Barabbas and crucify this man." The voice of Pilate's wife whispered in his ear, "Have nothing to do with this man." As a riot began to build, Pilate took water and washed his hands. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he declared. "See to it yourselves," and he handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Leader: God did not spare the life of his own Son;
People: But handed Him to the mob for crucifixion.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

Holy and immortal God,
Your own Son was stripped, mocked, scourged and beaten
Before dying on the cross.
Grant that in your eternal mercy
That in his enduring humiliation and pain
We seek justice and peace in this world
When none seems to be had.
In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.

People: Amen.

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

The Second Station: Jesus Takes up his Cross

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: You carried the instrument of your death through the crowded streets.

Jesus left the place called "The Pavement," carrying his cross up to the hill of Golgotha, known as "The Skull," as if God's Son were a common criminal.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined this? Yet the Father allowed his own son to be crushed with pain, spat upon, mocked.

Leader: The Lord laid upon him the iniquity of the world;
People: For sins the people of the world committed in thought, word, and deed; things done, and things left undone.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

Lord God, author of the universe;
your beloved Son carried a cross hewn of the wood of our iniquities;
grant us strength and courage to take up our crosses and follow him,
although the way is narrow, and the journey arduous.
We ask this in the name of your Son,
who lives and reigns in your heavenly kingdom.

People: Amen.

Holy God,
Holy and Mighty,
Holy Immortal One,
Have mercy on us.

The Third Station: Jesus Falls a First Time

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: You stumbled and fell while the unmoving crowd looked on, and soldiers jeered.

Although Jesus, Son of the Living God, had the power to summon angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven to deliver him, instead he consented to one of the emptiest moments in humanity--a condemned man walking to his death, carrying his cross. As he lay face down in the dust, the weight of the cross upon his weakening body, its rough wood splintering into his flesh, instead of holy adoration he heard mockery and scorn.

Come, let us bow down and bend the knee,
and kneel before the Lord our maker.
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.
Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!

Leader: God did not lift his Son from the dirty cobblestone street;
People: But left him in the loneliness of human suffering.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

Almighty God,
When we lie fallen in the midst of our own humiliation and doubt,
Remind us that you sent your own Son ahead of us
as a suffering servant to us all,
so that we may also rise in your glory.
When we feel alone and afraid
and our human frailties overtake us,
Place our hand upon the Cross of Christ,
So that we know he has been here before us
as we endure our weakest moments.
Strengthen us in the hope of the Resurrection of your Son,
and sustain us with your Holy Spirit.

People: Amen.

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

The Fourth Station: Jesus Meets his Afflicted Mother

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: Your blessed Mother wept at the sight of your pain.

As your mother saw your bruised, bloody and scourged body, she thought of an angel that spoke to her over three decades ago. "Greetings, favored one!" the angel had told her. What favor was there in this? How could the crowds who cheered triumphantly upon her son's entry into Jerusalem now mock him? Her son had fulfilled the angel's words--he had lifted up the lowly, and he had filled the hungry with the hope of good things--love and trust in our eternal Maker.

"O Adonai!" she must have cried. "Come to the help of your servant Israel! Where is the promise--the promise you gave to Abraham and our fathers? Where is the promise you made to me, that my son would reign over the house of Jacob, and where is his kingdom that has no end? All I see is my beloved son, who suffers unspeakably. Why have you deserted him, O Lord, and why have you deserted me? My son will either die on the cross that he carries or die on the streets like a beaten stray dog. I beg you to come to the aid of my Son, my Lord, my rock, and my Redeemer."

Leader: Not only did the whips and spears pierce your Son
People: But each mark upon him wounded his mother's soul.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

Eternal God of power and might;
We so often think of you as "our Father."
But you are both Father and Mother.
As we think about how the Blessed Mother of Jesus
longed to cradle her hurting son in her arms,
and spare him his fate,
teach us in our most desperate moments
to be unafraid to cling to you
like a fearful child clinging to a mother's bosom.
May we always feel your nurturing love, O Lord,
even when the world seems turned upside down.

People: Amen.

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

The Fifth Station: The Cross is Laid on Simon of Cyrene

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: A stranger unwillingly came to your aid and his life was changed.

Simon of Cyrene was merely a bystander in that rough crowd. As Jesus struggled, the soldiers knew he would need aid carrying his cross. Their eyes scanned the crowd. Simon's eyes looked downward. "Please don't choose me," he thought. "I have nothing to do with this. I merely came in from the country for Passover. Please, Lord. Not me." But perhaps it was his unwilling posture that caught their eye, and they dragged him out to carry Jesus' cross.

As his eyes met those of Jesus, Simon could suddenly see the pain of a broken world in Christ's countenance. From the center of his battered face, unquenchable eyes shone. From that moment, Simon unquestionably carried Jesus' cross.

Leader: Simon of Cyrene had no cross of his own to take up
People: So instead he willingly bore the cross of another.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

Holy God,
You come to us when we do not want you to appear.
You ask us to carry the crosses of others
When we do not desire to even carry our own.
Grant us the courage to carry those crosses
even when we would rather someone else do it.
Grant us the ability to see the privilege in being chosen to serve others.
Fill our hardened hearts
with the ability to serve our God,
even when we are feeling unwilling and unworthy to serve you.

People: Amen.

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

The Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: A woman from the crowd gave you comfort while throngs could not.

We call her "Veronica," but in reality we don't know whether this woman is one woman or many. She is very likely an iconic figure because the story does not appear in manuscripts until the Middle Ages. Perhaps she represents all of us. While the world stood still, while people in the crowd were frozen and helpless, she stepped forward and offered the simplest of hospitality to Jesus--her veil, using it as a sweat rag. Legend has it that the outline of Jesus' holy face remained on her veil; the "vera icon," hence we named this woman Veronica. Whether this story is fact or legend, it is a reminder that when we have touched the face of Jesus, it will leave an indelible mark on our souls.

What a comfort Veronica's simple act must have been to Christ. How many times do we offer what we see as "simple hospitality," feeling it is "not enough," but to the recipient of this hospitality, it is a profound moment? As broken and in pain that Jesus must have felt, this simple act, representing other similar acts lost to the ravages of time, surely opened his heart to love. We are reminded by a single story of a woman offering her head covering to wipe Jesus' face, that in that crowd, someone--or several "someones"--nurtured him in his few remaining hours on earth.

Leader: Veronica had nothing to offer Jesus but the veil upon her head;
People: But how a simple square of cloth must have comforted him.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

O Lord God, King of the Universe,
Let the legend of your Son's image remaining on Veronica's veil
indelibly mark our own souls with the power of His face.
Create Veronica in each of us,
people who are unafraid to offer unvarnished hospitality,
people who fearlessly share our food, our clothing, our homes, and our lives.
We pray that in our simple acts of sharing all that we have with others,
We will see Your countenance in the faces of others,
and others will see it in our faces, as well.

People: Amen.

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

The Seventh Station: Jesus Falls a Second Time

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: Even with Simon assisting you in your burden you weakened and fell again.

Although the burden of carrying his cross had been lifted from him, Jesus surely continued to weaken as he traveled the road to Golgotha. The sun rose higher in the sky and the temperature climbed. He was dehydrated and weak from loss of blood and body fluids. The crowds surely grew, and the way became narrower and narrower from the throngs of curious onlookers. The desire to stop--to rest--to simply lie down and not get up--must have been overpowering.

Once fallen, it is hard to imagine any shred of desire to want to rise again. The detail of soldiers assigned to accompany him very likely feared he would die before reaching his crucifixion site, and they also very likely feared punishment for themselves if he died before sentence was carried out. In many renditions of the Stations, Jesus is shown being cruelly whipped by one of his tormentors, often with a closed hand and with the butt of the whip wielded like a club. By this time they were probably beating him as much out of their own fear that they would be unable to fulfill the sentence as carried out, rather than beating him out of spite or to punish. Hurting others as a consequence of our own fear is as old as humankind itself.

Leader: As Jesus stumbled and fell again,
People: His tormentors began feeling themselves falling from the weight of their fears.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

Heavenly Father,
The physical falling of Jesus on the road to Golgotha
is a reminder of many falls that will happen today.
Someone in the world is falling from starvation and hunger.
Someone is falling from domestic abuse.
Someone is falling from a random act of violence.
Someone is falling because of their color, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
But it doesn't end there.
The hands that touch them will not help them up, nor dust them off;
they will beat them further, because of fear.
Be with these people on this day, Lord
and speak to the hearts of both the tormented and the tormentor.

People: Amen.

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

The Eighth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: You comforted the women of Jerusalem who wept for you.

As Jesus continued on his path, some women of Jerusalem approached him, tears streaming down their faces. This man treated women differently than most men. To so many men in Jerusalem, they were invisible. They entered and left the temple almost unnoticed. They were often ignored by the priests. They were not allowed to carry the Torah, nor were they encouraged to learn to read it. Their husbands were allowed to divorce them for some of the most minor of transgressions, yet they were not allowed to initiate divorce, even if cruelty was involved. Many women had fewer rights than slaves. So these women often lived in fear--fear of abandonment, fear of rejection, fear of harsh treatment.

But this man Jesus was different. He spoke to women, Hebrew and Gentile alike, with true kindness. He was unafraid to touch them to heal them, even if they were unclean. They had heard of his power in healing the woman who hemorrhaged. To see him abused so severely broke their hearts. As they cried out to him in both sadness and gratitude, he tried to comfort them. "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me," he said. "Weep for yourselves and your children." Would this world ever see another man like him?

Leader: The wailing of these women echoed through the street;
People: While Jesus silently prayed that their lives would change for the better.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

Almighty Creator,
Your Son's life empowered the women of Jerusalem.
We ask that women today are likewise empowered.
Open our eyes to see the plight of the widow,
the divorcee, the abused wife or girlfriend, and the single mother.
Grant them equal footing in the world's economy
and equity in matters of law.
Expand our powers of understanding
to aid in the empowerment of women
in countries where laws allow them to be beaten, mutilated, and killed
in the name of so-called "honor."
Make us unafraid to weep for them and their children.

People: Amen.

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

The Ninth Station: Jesus Falls a Third Time

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: The air was thick with hopelessness and despair as you fell again.

By this time, Jesus was nearing Golgotha. A few scattered skulls and bleached, broken bones dotted the side of the road--all that remained of others crucified there, people whose families either did not care about their remains or could not afford to bury or entomb them. Various birds that feasted upon carrion perched on some of the bones and in the trees. As Jesus still grew physically weaker, the crowds started to diminish a little. The hubbub of the nosy and the curious was giving way to the reality of what was about to happen, and the taunts and jeers of the crowd were receding into a roaring silence. Perhaps it was the sight of the actual hill where he would be crucified that weakened Jesus' knees--but for whatever reason, he fell again.

As he lay in the dust, he could hear his own heart beating more rapidly in his ears, mixed with the murmurs of the onlookers...

"I wish he'd just die and spare himself all this."

"I don't care what he did, this is too much for anyone to bear. They've whipped him more than anyone I've ever seen crucified."

"I wanted to believe in his God, but how can I now, seeing this?"

Jesus lay there, feeling the dark edges of these fears stabbing him like knives. It was only to escape them that he could manage to rise up from the ground and keep walking.

Leader: As Jesus neared Golgotha,
People: He could feel the light of his own soul straining against the darkness.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

God of Light and Creation,
stay near to us when we feel overwhelmed by darkness.
When we are so overtaken by the cares of the world
that we feel ourselves falling,
put out your hand to us in the dark.
Let the touch of your hand open our eyes
to the light on the horizon,
and encourage us to put one foot in front of the other
and walk to it, no matter how hesitating our steps.

People: Amen.

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

The Tenth Station: Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: They divided your clothing amongst them by casting lots.

As they reached Golgotha, Jesus was offered vinegar mixed with gall, and he refused it. Some sources say that this was offered him to subdue him, as most people fought being nailed to the cross with the last ounces of their strength. Other sources of ancient commentary postulate it was a poison, designed to help speed his death and avoid the agony of death by crucifixion. Whatever its purpose, Jesus refused it.

Jesus had already been stripped of his freedom. He had been stripped of his strength. Now, as the approached the cross where he was to die, they stripped him of the last thing he possessed on this Earth--his garments. He was physically exposed, but in refusing the vinegar and gall, he had refused to be stripped of his mental state. He refused to be stripped of his ability to hear and speak to God. Even in his weakest, emptiest, most vulnerable moments, he did not give up his God-consciousness.

Leader: Although Jesus' meager garments were taken from him,
People: His tormentors could not separate him from his relationship with God.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

God, you are always present, and present in all things.
Keep us from stripping things from others that are dear to them.
Help us to feel your divine love always,
so that we have no need to strip others
of their dignity, of their hopes and dreams,
and of their self-worth.
Remind us that others can strip things from us,
but cannot strip us from your love and your presence.
Strengthen us to also resist the bitter cups
of vinegar and gall when they are offered to us,
and instead taste the sweet nectar of your kingdom on earth.

People: Amen.

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

The Eleventh Station: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: You stretched out your loving arms upon the hard wood of the cross.

The soldiers assigned to the crucifixion detail expected resistance, but Jesus willingly lay his arms upon the cross as they drove large square nails through the heel of his hand at an angle through his wrist, and nails through the sides of his feet.. His willingness unnerved them. Most criminals fought the cross, but Jesus did not. Lashing the condemned's wrists to the cross first was not unusual, but there was no need. His arms lay on the cross, limp and unresisting.

"What manner of man is this?" the executioners thought. Was he so weakened he was senseless? His willingness made the hollow sounds of the nails being driven seem twice as loud. His silence was deafening. They were so used to criminals protesting their innocence, like the ones who were placed on Jesus' left and right. Why did he not speak out? To continue to drive the nails became more and more painful--not just to Jesus, but to those wielding the mallets. Suddenly, the heinousness, the gruesomeness, of what they were doing hit home, and they became more and more afraid with each strike of the mallet. How many others had they nailed to crosses, and why did this crucifixion bother them so? They studied his face. This was not the face of a criminal. This was a face of radiance and light, even though it was bruised and bleeding. What had they done?

Leader: The nails entered the wood of the cross inch by inch,
People: And each swing of the mallet pierced the air with the pain of the world.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

All-powerful and all-knowing God,
sometimes we are so sure in our judgments,
we cannot fathom the possibility that we could be wrong.
Give us sight that touches the depths of our own souls
to the place we can see error in ourselves.
Fill us with the courage of true repentance--
the bravery to turn in another direction,
the valor to admit our wrongs,
and the heroism to march forward
in the assurance that God forgives us.

People: Amen.

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

The Twelfth Station: Jesus Dies on the Cross

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: You displayed perfect obedience to God even unto death.

What little Jesus said in his last hours spoke volumes. He cried out to God in his anguish, much as we have done ourselves when we feel forsaken, alone, and separated from God. He called for his mother. He entreated the disciple whom he loved to take Mary as his own mother. He promised a criminal a home in heaven alongside of him. But it is also what he did not speak that the few people with him at the end must have heard. He could have asked for God to deliver him, but he did not. He could have mustered the forces of heaven and earth to shower plagues and strike down those who opposed him, but instead the sky simply grew darker, as if it would die itself. He could have cursed his accusers and tormentors with the full weight of God's holy wrath, but instead he forgave those who participated in his crucifixion.

Finally, he cried out, "It is finished," and breathed his last.
(a period of silence is kept.)

The air suddenly became electric with confusion. Those remaining at the scene were somehow astonished that he was really dead. There was no doubt. His chest no longer moved. When he was pierced with a spear, both water and blood flowed, and his body displayed no reaction. Those who had believed in him felt foolish, spurned, abandoned. Had they believed in nothing real, nothing of substance? Was belief in an Almighty simply a cruel joke, a fairy tale spun to placate the world's fear of death?

Only one spot on Golgotha remained free of fear and confusion--the spot where a lone centurion stood, distant and silent. Up to that moment, he had believed in many gods--Jupiter and Venus, Pluto, Mars, and Bacchus. As he stared at Jesus' lifeless frame, he said to no one in particular, "Truly this man was God's son."



Leader: As Jesus died, an eerie darkness silhouetted him,
People: And the grip of death clutched the hearts of those who remained.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

Almighty God, the bearer of true Light,
we are no strangers to the razor sharp daggers
of the fear of our own deaths.
They stab our hearts while we lie upon our beds
in the middle of the night,
or in the shaking chills of fever and sickness.
The seven words of our deepest fears cry out,
"Maybe this life is all there is."
Give us the courage, dear Lord,
to pierce the marrow of those seven words
with the six courageous words of the centurion--
"Truly this man was God's son."


People: Amen.

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

The Thirteenth Station: Jesus is Placed in the Arms of his Mother

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: Your blessed mother wept over your lifeless frame for all of us.

It must have been Mary's first inclination to want to hold Jesus as they took him down from the cross. Some of the people leaving the scene must have been holding their own children as they left--babies in arms, toddlers on hips, older children being steered away by the shoulders or pulled by the hand, asking their parents questions their parents wondered how to answer. Some were tired and cranky. As she held Jesus' still body, his skin starting to cool, his limbs still floppy and not yet in rigor mortis, Mary thought of those days when she held this man in her arms as a babe, or when she did household chores with him on her hip. She thought of his never ending questions as a boy. So long ago--so long ago, it seemed.

Perhaps she asked God to take the life within her and give it to her son to restore him. Perhaps she thought of her own pain in birthing him, and found that pain to be minuscule compared to the pain she was feeling now.

Mary studied his lifeless hands and face. She saw the scars from the childhood bumps and bruises and all the things she could not protect him from as a mother, even through the gashes and wounds of his recent beating. For some reason they stood out more noticeably to her, when the rest of the world only saw his most recent wounds. The holes in his hands were almost unnoticeable to her, but she gazed lovingly on the birthmark she used to notice bathing him as a baby.
She only saw the marks of their common life together--and for some reason, when she closed her eyes, as unlikely as it seemed, she could still hear the angel Gabriel's words about her son, and a part of her could still not give up on them. How, she thought to herself, could part of her "not give up" when she was holding her dead son? She pondered these things in her heart, just as she did that day when she and Joseph found him in the temple--but she kept them to herself.

Leader: Mary wept openly, her lifeless son in her arms,
People: No human comfort could possibly have consoled her.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

Lord God, our truest parent--
The wounds the world inflicts upon us are ignored by you--
yet every hair you placed upon our head is known to you.
You see only our divine spark, and you love it as a doting mother loves her firstborn.
Even when we are spiritually dead to the world,
you do not give up on us.
You gave a piece of your own being to us in the form of Jesus,
and allowed the world to put a piece of yourself to death.
Teach us to see others
with eyes that see the divine spark in them,
and ignore the gashes and bruises the world places upon them.

People: Amen.

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

The Fourteenth Station: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: You were laid to rest in a borrowed tomb.

As evening fell, those who remained looked around at the ground at Golgotha, and the littered bones and skulls haunted them. Surely this could not be Jesus' fate. The scattered bones and rotting human carcasses represented at most, the wicked, and, at least, the unloved. Jesus--even the fallen Jesus--represented neither.

Meanwhile, Joseph of Arimathea had already gone to Pilate and asked for the body. When a detail of soldiers came to get Jesus' body, some must have been fearful. Major criminals were sometimes rendered into pieces and distributed throughout the Roman Empire as a warning, or paraded as trophies. But Joseph of Arimathea assured those remaining with Jesus' body that he intended to give Jesus everything the Chevra Kadisha--the Jewish burial society--provided the community, as well as a tomb--his own personal tomb, newly constructed in a rock.

Jesus' body was prepared in the traditional Jewish way--ritually washed and prepared in burial linens--and placed in the tomb. As Mary silently watched the rock that was the door of the tomb rolled over the entrance, an old, old feeling crept over her. "No," she thought to herself. "This can't be." Something leaped inside her--the same thing that leaped when she knew she was pregnant with Jesus--a feeling of impending joy. The harder she denied the feeling, the stronger it was. Suddenly she realized that somehow, in some way--this story was not over. But who could she possibly tell? Who would believe her? Her heart grieved terribly that her son was dead, and seemingly all he represented was dead, too. What was to become of the disciples? They all seemed so lost, so confused, so stunned. Perhaps more would be taken, and treated as Jesus was. Uncertainty seemed as thick as the blackness of night that was settling in. But as she walked away from the tomb, she thought, "This is not all there is."

Leader: The noise of the stone rolling over the tomb pierced the sky,
People: But did not still the noise of something yet to come.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

Almighty God, designer of all things,
Abide with us in all the uncertainties of our life.
Remind us that death is not the end, it is a beginning,
whether it is physical death or the death of things in our lives
we thought were certainties, or assumed.
Give us the courage to grieve for them without shame.
Yet at the same time, open us to the possibilities
of what lies beyond death, in both the resurrections
within our lives, as well as that glorious resurrection
beyond our earthy faults and brokenness, into the realm
of angels, archangels, and all the company of Heaven.

People: Amen.

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

Concluding prayers:

Leader: Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched your arms upon the hard wood of the cross in a gesture of love for all of us;
People: Empower us to willingly stretch our arms to the world in love, in your name.

Leader: We thank you, Lord God Almighty, for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, who had the courage to endure pain, suffering, and death in order to raise us to eternal joys.

We thank you for your desire that we escape the dominion of sin and death and reside with you in that heavenly country.

We thank you for your mercy in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we leave behind these fourteen vignettes depicting the final hours of our Savior, grant us the knowledge to take these lessons beyond the church door and the world. We ask these things in the name our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever,

People: Amen.

Leader: This concludes our Stations of the Cross. Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
People: Thanks be to God.


(Stained glass panel from East Window, St. Andrew's church, Soham, Cambridgeshire, England)


Fourteenth Station: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: You were laid to rest in a borrowed tomb.

As evening fell, those who remained looked around at the ground at Golgotha, and the littered bones and skulls haunted them. Surely this could not be Jesus' fate. The scattered bones and rotting human carcasses represented at most, the wicked, and, at least, the unloved. Jesus--even the fallen Jesus--represented neither.

Meanwhile, Joseph of Arimathea had already gone to Pilate and asked for the body. When a detail of soldiers came to get Jesus' body, some must have been fearful. Major criminals were sometimes rendered into pieces and distributed throughout the Roman Empire as a warning, or paraded as trophies. But Joseph of Arimathea assured those remaining with Jesus' body that he intended to give Jesus everything the Chevra Kadisha--the Jewish burial society--provided the community, as well as a tomb--his own personal tomb, newly constructed in a rock.

Jesus' body was prepared in the traditional Jewish way--ritually washed and prepared in burial linens--and placed in the tomb. As Mary silently watched the rock that was the door of the tomb rolled over the entrance, an old, old feeling crept over her. "No," she thought to herself. "This can't be." Something leaped inside her--the same thing that leaped when she knew she was pregnant with Jesus--a feeling of impending joy. The harder she denied the feeling, the stronger it was. Suddenly she realized that somehow, in some way--this story was not over. But who could she possibly tell? Who would believe her? Her heart grieved terribly that her son was dead, and seemingly all he represented was dead, too. What was to become of the disciples? They all seemed so lost, so confused, so stunned. Perhaps more would be taken, and treated as Jesus was. Uncertainty seemed as thick as the blackness of night that was settling in. But as she walked away from the tomb, she thought, "This is not all there is."

Leader: The noise of the stone rolling over the tomb pierced the sky,
People: But did not still the noise of something yet to come.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

Almighty God, designer of all things,
Abide with us in all the uncertainties of our life.
Remind us that death is not the end, it is a beginning,
whether it is physical death or the death of things in our lives
we thought were certainties, or assumed.
Give us the courage to grieve for them without shame.
Yet at the same time, open us to the possibilities
of what lies beyond death, in both the resurrections
within our lives, as well as that glorious resurrection
beyond our earthy faults and brokenness, into the realm
of angels, archangels, and all the company of Heaven.

People: Amen.

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

Concluding prayers:

Leader: Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched your arms upon the hard wood of the cross in a gesture of love for all of us;
People: Empower us to willingly stretch our arms to the world in love, in your name.

Leader: We thank you, Lord God Almighty, for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, who had the courage to endure pain, suffering, and death in order to raise us to eternal joys.

We thank you for your desire that we escape the dominion of sin and death and reside with you in that heavenly country.

We thank you for your mercy in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.

As we leave behind these fourteen vignettes depicting the final hours of our Savior, grant us the knowledge to take these lessons beyond the church door and the world. We ask these things in the name our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever,

People: Amen.

Leader: This concludes our Stations of the Cross. Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
People: Thanks be to God.


(Michelangelo's Pietà, St. Peters Basilica, 1499)

Thirteenth Station: Jesus is Placed in the Arms of his Mother

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: Your blessed mother wept over your lifeless frame for all of us.

It must have been Mary's first inclination to want to hold Jesus as they took him down from the cross. Some of the people leaving the scene must have been holding their own children as they left--babies in arms, toddlers on hips, older children being steered away by the shoulders or pulled by the hand, asking their parents questions their parents wondered how to answer. Some were tired and cranky. As she held Jesus' still body, his skin starting to cool, his limbs still floppy and not yet in rigor mortis, Mary thought of those days when she held this man in her arms as a babe, or when she did household chores with him on her hip. She thought of his never ending questions as a boy. So long ago--so long ago, it seemed.

Perhaps she asked God to take the life within her and give it to her son to restore him. Perhaps she thought of her own pain in birthing him, and found that pain to be minuscule compared to the pain she was feeling now.

Mary studied his lifeless hands and face. She saw the scars from the childhood bumps and bruises and all the things she could not protect him from as a mother, even through the gashes and wounds of his recent beating. For some reason they stood out more noticeably to her, when the rest of the world only saw his most recent wounds. The holes in his hands were almost unnoticeable to her, but she gazed lovingly on the birthmark she used to notice bathing him as a baby.
She only saw the marks of their common life together--and for some reason, when she closed her eyes, as unlikely as it seemed, she could still hear the angel Gabriel's words about her son, and a part of her could still not give up on them. How, she thought to herself, could part of her "not give up" when she was holding her dead son? She pondered these things in her heart, just as she did that day when she and Joseph found him in the temple--but she kept them to herself.

Leader: Mary wept openly, her lifeless son in her arms,
People: No human comfort could possibly have consoled her.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

Lord God, our truest parent--
The wounds the world inflicts upon us are ignored by you--
yet every hair you placed upon our head is known to you.
You see only our divine spark, and you love it as a doting mother loves her firstborn.
Even when we are spiritually dead to the world,
you do not give up on us.
You gave a piece of your own being to us in the form of Jesus,
and allowed the world to put a piece of yourself to death.
Teach us to see others
with eyes that see the divine spark in them,
and ignore the gashes and bruises the world places upon them.

People: Amen.

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

This morning, as I was working on my Lenten devotional book, we were asked to reflect on Joel 2:13: "Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord our God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relents of evil."

As I sat and reflected, the iconic image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus popped in my head.

I have to admit, I have always been fascinated by Sacred Heart images because, frankly, they are an iconic rendition of anatomic hearts, as opposed to Valentine's Day hearts. (not quite anatomically correct, but "correct enough.") Anatomic hearts placed outside the chests of Jesus and Mary. As I reflected on the passage, I came to realize what we are asked to do when we try to emulate the love of Jesus is literally, to wear our spiritual hearts outside of our chests, where they can be pierced, torn, and crushed, without the protection of a bony rib cage. We are asked to do, what, at first glance, appears blatantly fatal.

But when we think about the icon that has developed over the years, ever since Margaret Mary Alacoque had her first vision of the Sacred Heart in 1673, perhaps it is not as fatal as it seems. Yes, the traditional Sacred Heart icon has a wound from the lance used at the Crucifixion, and is often shown bound by a crown of thorns. But what always strikes me is that it is often surrounded by fire or radiance that emanates from one of the great vessels of the heart, and the heart is not consumed by it. It reminds me that yes, our own most secret heart--our own sliver of the Sacred Heart of Jesus--can be pierced, squeezed, and bound, but cannot be consumed or destroyed.

I am in a unique position to think about the Sacred heart, because I have literally held (and removed) hearts from autopsies in my own hands, and sliced them into pieces to examine them. I have held still lifeless hearts scarred from myocardial infarctions, crushed from cardiac tamponade, and literally torn open from ventricular blowouts. I have touched the gray stony hearts affected by amyloidosis and hearts rendered flabby and useless from cardiomyopathy. I have cradled hearts in my hands repaired by bypass, and dissected malformed hearts from infants who died of congenital heart defects. I've run probes through hearts with patent foramen ovale and atrial or ventricular septal defects. I have had an intimacy with the anatomic heart that few are allowed to experience.

Yet I so often find myself incredibly unwilling to allow others to touch my beating, radiant secret heart impregnated with the love of Christ's own sacred heart--even barely allow it to be seen. But the longer I ponder it, I come to realize it is exactly what separates me from Jesus, and it is what I must learn to do to love more fully.

There's no doubt--the times I have exposed the love of my own sacred heart has been a mixed bag. Sometimes there are incredible joys associated with it. But other times have been excruciatingly painful and have caused me to withdraw, to shrink back, to say "never again." Yet it always seems that the more I become enmeshed in my prayer life, "never again," turns to "Ok, I'll give this one more shot." When I look back, I realize the end result is a more firmly "muscled love" and a glint to the radiance I didn't see before.

It made me realize that I need to think more often about the Sacred Heart of Jesus and how to bind it to my own a little more often. The traditional prayers for this, however, seem long and a tad ponderous--so I decided to craft a slightly more contemporary (and shorter) version.

A 21st Century Prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
by Kirkepiscatoid

Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy;

Heart of Christ, hear our prayer,
Heart of Christ, graciously hear us.

Heart of Heaven, have mercy on us.
Heart of the World, have mercy on us.
Heart of All that is Holy, have mercy on us.

Heart of Jesus, wellspring of all goodness, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, radiant with holiness, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, transplanted in all of us, have mercy on us.

Heart of Jesus, formed in the womb of Mary, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, who lived and walked and ministered, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, who lifted up the lowly and poor in spirit, have mercy on us.

Heart of Jesus, who forgave your tormentors, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, who died on the cross, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, who transcended death and lives among us, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, heart of our common life, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, heart of our own capacity to love, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, heart of the Eucharist, grant us peace.

Almighty and ever-living God, look upon our secret hearts and show us the heart of your beloved Son within them, and help us see the mirror of His incarnation within us. Grant us courage to show our hearts to those who live and walk among us, and the vision to see His incarnation in others. Free us from the slavery of the fear of exposing the heart of our holiness in our daily walk through the world. Let the radiance of our own sacred hearts be a beacon to guide others to you. We ask this in the name of your beloved Son, who lives and reigns forever and ever; Amen.


("Jesus Dies on the Cross", by Mark Wolfe, Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church 2007 Stations of the Cross Exhibit, Charleston, WV)

Twelfth Station: Jesus Dies on the Cross

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: You displayed perfect obedience to God even unto death.

What little Jesus said in his last hours spoke volumes. He cried out to God in his anguish, much as we have done ourselves when we feel forsaken, alone, and separated from God. He called for his mother. He entreated the disciple whom he loved to take Mary as his own mother. He promised a criminal a home in heaven alongside of him. But it is also what he did not speak that the few people with him at the end must have heard. He could have asked for God to deliver him, but he did not. He could have mustered the forces of heaven and earth to shower plagues and strike down those who opposed him, but instead the sky simply grew darker, as if it would die itself. He could have cursed his accusers and tormentors with the full weight of God's holy wrath, but instead he forgave those who participated in his crucifixion.

Finally, he cried out, "It is finished," and breathed his last.
(a period of silence is kept.)

The air suddenly became electric with confusion. Those remaining at the scene were somehow astonished that he was really dead. There was no doubt. His chest no longer moved. When he was pierced with a spear, both water and blood flowed, and his body displayed no reaction. Those who had believed in him felt foolish, spurned, abandoned. Had they believed in nothing real, nothing of substance? Was belief in an Almighty simply a cruel joke, a fairy tale spun to placate the world's fear of death?

Only one spot on Golgotha remained free of fear and confusion--the spot where a lone centurion stood, distant and silent. Up to that moment, he had believed in many gods--Jupiter and Venus, Pluto, Mars, and Bacchus. As he stared at Jesus' lifeless frame, he said to no one in particular, "Truly this man was God's son."



Leader: As Jesus died, an eerie darkness silhouetted him,
People: And the grip of death clutched the hearts of those who remained.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

Almighty God, the bearer of true Light,
we are no strangers to the razor sharp daggers
of the fear of our own deaths.
They stab our hearts while we lie upon our beds
in the middle of the night,
or in the shaking chills of fever and sickness.
The seven words of our deepest fears cry out,
"Maybe this life is all there is."
Give us the courage, dear Lord,
to pierce the marrow of those seven words
with the six courageous words of the centurion--
"Truly this man was God's son."


People: Amen.

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



When I watched this, I cringed. I don't know or really don't care if the man sitting on the pavement has Parkinson's or not, (I think he does, judging from his head movements) or what created the situation that put him in the position to want to counter-protest the group of Tea Partiers. I don't care about what life choices he made to be without health insurance. I don't care about his lifestyle habits. The only thing that matters to me is the chilling attitude of the man in the white shirt and tie throwing money, and his words, "I'll decide when to give you money."

Does this man think he has the right to decide anything for any of us any more than the rest of us in a free republic?

Money seems to be the one thing that we always seem to think we have more control of than we really do. There's always someone out there who wants to tell any of us how to spend our money, and we always seem to act like we know more than God in how to spend our money. We always think "we" earned it.

Earned. That's an interesting word. Forces beyond us determine the worth of our labors. Society has deemed janitors are worth X amount an hour, and managers are worth Y, and the various professions are worth Z. Even the same job has different worth in different cultures and geographic areas. But "we" earned it.

I wonder how the man throwing money at the man on the ground felt. Did he feel justified? Did it make him feel a little wealthier for a moment? Did he feel a little guilty later that he was "over the top?" We'll never know.

Did the man on the ground ever pick up the money? Or did he leave it lie?

So many questions; no good answers. But it chilled me to think any of us has the capability of being either the man on the ground, or the man tossing the money around. Probably each of us has behaved at least a little bit like either person in the video at least once in our life. Pray for all of us.


O God, who from the family of your servant David raised up Joseph to be the guardian of your incarnate Son and the spouse of his virgin mother: Give us grace to imitate his uprightness of life and his obedience to your commands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

March 19 is the feast day of St. Joseph, and although I am somewhat oblivious to a lot of feast days, it's one that I generally don't let slip by me. Historically, the feast of St. Joseph recognizes him as a patron to the universal Church, fathers, and carpenters, but in recent years he has expanded to be recognized as the patron of stepfathers, foster fathers, and men who have played fatherly roles in our lives.

I totally get that one. I was raised by my stepfather who later adopted me, with a huge dose of "parental influence" added by my grandfather (who was really my mother's stepfather.) There are several other men who were a generation older than me who were mentors in my young adulthood, and they are, in my mind, all pieces of a great conglomerate that would make up a single hypothetical entity known as "my dad." All of them have been "my dad" at some point in my life. I don't claim any great corners on wisdom, but I know that the wisdom I have is highly attributed to these men. I have felt the love of each of them in a unique way, and none of them had to impart a bit of it to me if they hadn't wanted to do it.

I see St. Joseph in much the same position. He would have had every right to distance himself from the pregnant Mary. No matter if she was carrying the Incarnation in her womb, in the eyes of the locals, she was "damaged goods." He could have, in effect, taken her back to the store for a refund. In fact, that was what he was planning to do, albeit quietly, so as not to totally embarrass her family--until the angel appeared to him to explain what was going on.

In short, he didn't have to rear Jesus. No law held him to it, no court would have forced him to do it. But he understood this was bigger than him, and obediently went along with it.

Although we don't know much about the details of St. Joseph's life--in fact we know incredibly little--we can still see what kind of parenting he must have provided. When Jesus speaks of God the Father, "His father in heaven," he describes a wise and loving, and generous--short of being outright indulgent--father. This father forgives us again and again. He lets us make terrible mistakes and takes us back into his home with open arms. He tries to teach us good life lessons and doesn't stop trying. He loves us unconditionally.

Now, I don't think young Jesus had a hot line to the authentic God the Father to know this info. I like to believe he learned it the way ordinary children who have a good father learn their father is a kind and loving man--by watching "good dads behaving like good dads'--and I believe the prime example by which he learned of these things was through Joseph. We learn that St. Joseph was a fair and good-hearted man through the ways Jesus describes God the Father. After all, this was a man who searched for young Jesus for days before discovering him in the temple, and I bet he wasn't all that thrilled when young Jesus told him he was doing his Father's business. I bet the first thing St. Joseph thought was, "Boy, I'M your father, and you're going to find out just how much I am, all the way home, after all I've been through looking for you!"

But I am absolutely convinced that Jesus had a wonderful earthly father, because of the glowing tones he uses in describing God. He even calls him Abba, which more or less means "Daddy."

Psychological research also tells us that people who have had abusive fathers (particularly women who were abused by their fathers) have a really hard time in modern Christianity dealing with "God the Father." People who had abusive fathers, fathers who could not be trusted, or absent fathers, find it hard to latch onto the notion that we are children of a loving God. These people learned not to trust the male parental unit in a family. If St. Joseph had been that kind of a parent, I don't believe Jesus would have felt authentic describing God in the terms that he did, and if we know one thing about Jesus, he's all about authentic.

So in my mind, it tells me all that's good about "the love of a good dad"--whether it is one's biological father, one's stepfather, or anyone who plays a paternal role in the lives of young people. Thanks be to God that these men exist in our lives!


(From the Shrine of the Stations of the Cross, San Luis, Colorado)

Eleventh Station: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: You stretched out your loving arms upon the hard wood of the cross.

The soldiers assigned to the crucifixion detail expected resistance, but Jesus willingly lay his arms upon the cross as they drove large square nails through the heel of his hand at an angle through his wrist, and nails through the sides of his feet.. His willingness unnerved them. Most criminals fought the cross, but Jesus did not. Lashing the condemned's wrists to the cross first was not unusual, but there was no need. His arms lay on the cross, limp and unresisting.

"What manner of man is this?" the executioners thought. Was he so weakened he was senseless? His willingness made the hollow sounds of the nails being driven seem twice as loud. His silence was deafening. They were so used to criminals protesting their innocence, like the ones who were placed on Jesus' left and right. Why did he not speak out? To continue to drive the nails became more and more painful--not just to Jesus, but to those wielding the mallets. Suddenly, the heinousness, the gruesomeness, of what they were doing hit home, and they became more and more afraid with each strike of the mallet. How many others had they nailed to crosses, and why did this crucifixion bother them so? They studied his face. This was not the face of a criminal. This was a face of radiance and light, even though it was bruised and bleeding. What had they done?

Leader: The nails entered the wood of the cross inch by inch,
People: And each swing of the mallet pierced the air with the pain of the world.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

All-powerful and all-knowing God,
sometimes we are so sure in our judgments,
we cannot fathom the possibility that we could be wrong.
Give us sight that touches the depths of our own souls
to the place we can see error in ourselves.
Fill us with the courage of true repentance--
the bravery to turn in another direction,
the valor to admit our wrongs,
and the heroism to march forward
in the assurance that God forgives us.

People: Amen.

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


Many of you who connect with me on Facebook know that this week I am off on one of my "adventures in the blogosphere." I had no firm plans for my week off, so I used the time to connect with blog friends Kathy and Fran, and as an added bonus, met up once again with Laura, the first blog friend who came to life for me.

Many of you know Fran works as a parish secretary, and I got the opportunity to visit her "office" yesterday. I had arrived early and she still had stuff to do before work was over, so I simply "hung around the office"--spent some time in their lovely sanctuary. I was drawn to the display in the photo above. This was the creation of her boss, Fr. Jerry, and when Fran explained his conceptual idea of the display, I must say it was so cool I wished I would have thought of it!

The display started out on Ash Wednesday as a virtual "desert"--dry, arid, and unforgiving. I wonder if his parishioners looked at the pile of sand and rock and wondered if he hadn't flipped a cog, dumping it all on the chancel floor. (He did, however, put two layers of black plastic sheeting under it and girded it with the rocks to sort of keep it all in one place.)

But each week during Lent, he's changed the display a little. He has added a hint of greenery each week. This week he added the ivy. I got a heads up that next week he plans on removing the broken pot in the center. Without giving all the secrets away, his plan is that by Easter, the display will be transformed from a desert to a scene of greenery, color, and active growth--it will have been resurrected.

I sat for a long time yesterday, simply meditating next to the scene, while the life of the parish revolved around me. Some ladies were praying near the tabernacle and I could hear bits and pieces of their quiet prayers. Some schoolchildren were being taken round the sanctuary for the Stations of the Cross. I just sort of melted in with this intriguing display.

It's interesting. As an Episcopalian, I realize that as a part of the "Anglo-catholic" church world, I am "Fully anglo and fully catholic." There is this interesting ease in which I can become contemplative in the houses of my Roman cousins. I just sat quietly, for the longest time, studying the little details of the display, while the church day-to-day revolved around me, neither of us hardly noticing the other.

I thought about all the things in my life that have been spiritual deserts and the deserts I've yet to encounter. Honestly, I'm still a spiritual intermediate when it comes to taking in the desert journeys in my life. I am still not terribly accepting of them, and do still tend to fight my entry into those desert places. But over the years, I have learned to take a willing trip through them in the Lenten season, maybe because the time of the trip is predefined at 40 days. I know there will be an endpoint to it.

It's interesting that the number 40 has a lot of face time in the Bible, from the time Noah, et. al. were shut away on the ark, onward. We preserve that reverence for the number 40 in our Lenten season. I've read Kabbalistic theory on why 40 was significant to the Hebrews, I've analyzed the numerology of the number40, but I always fall back on a very non-scientific and intuitive notion--40 days resonates with people b/c 40 is just long enough to notice something, and just long enough to see a pattern of change, if there is one.

But as I pondered each and every detail of the display, I realized I have learned one thing about the spiritual desert. I've learned to search for signs of life--to constantly scan for a single speck or hint of green--rather than run around looking for water and wearing myself out and dehydrating myself. I've learned those specks of green will lead me to water. I've learned if green exists, that at some point rain will come and water the earth and me in the process. But it involves discipline and diligence. It also involves being open to what the Divine has to say about things. It's an odd mix of "searching and waiting."

I thought about how I am seeing this display frozen in a single moment, but the reality is that it is a spectrum. It was more arid last week, but I did not see how more or less arid it was. It will be greener next week, when I'm no longer there to see it, and the broken pot in the center will be gone. Next week it will be more whole than I'm seeing it now.

That's how it is, when we encounter the lives of others. We are seeing them at a single moment in a spectrum. They are seeing us in a likewise fashion. We don't know all of their past, and we may not get a glimpse into their future. I thought about all the people in my life who at times are "difficult people," and I thought about the things about me that make me, at times, difficult, and, at times, "downright intolerable" to others. Likewise, I thought about the people who are dear to me, and the things where others have found me endearing.

We only see each other at one point on the spectrum. We never saw what happened before we crossed paths, and we don't know what will happen to them after our paths diverge. It's a human notion to always think we have influence over the paths of others. We all spend a lot of energy consciously influencing, but in reality we are not allowed to pick and choose the influence we have on others, nor whether the part that "sticks" in our encounters is positively or negatively charged.

There's a wonderful impermanence to life, yet we get so hung up on always wanting things to stay the same. We are all creatures of habit, and I am very very much one of those. Yet, I've discovered, it is when I become brave enough to break the bonds of "habit" it is when I become green and grow. Too much breaking habit, though, puts me in an arid place, a confusing place, with no solid landmarks. It's all about pace, isn't it? Yet even the desert has pace. We are composed of our own ecosystems that are simultaneously fragile and tough. To journey through the desert teaches us lessons in balance, and in that lesson alone, we all have so much that can become green, growing--and resurrected.


(From the Stations of the Cross at St. Paul's on the Green Episcopal Church, Norwalk, CT, by Gwyneth Leech)

Tenth Station: Jesus is Stripped of His Garments

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: They divided your clothing amongst them by casting lots.

As they reached Golgotha, Jesus was offered vinegar mixed with gall, and he refused it. Some sources say that this was offered him to subdue him, as most people fought being nailed to the cross with the last ounces of their strength. Other sources of ancient commentary postulate it was a poison, designed to help speed his death and avoid the agony of death by crucifixion. Whatever its purpose, Jesus refused it.

Jesus had already been stripped of his freedom. He had been stripped of his strength. Now, as the approached the cross where he was to die, they stripped him of the last thing he possessed on this Earth--his garments. He was physically exposed, but in refusing the vinegar and gall, he had refused to be stripped of his mental state. He refused to be stripped of his ability to hear and speak to God. Even in his weakest, emptiest, most vulnerable moments, he did not give up his God-consciousness.

Leader: Although Jesus' meager garments were taken from him,
People: His tormentors could not separate him from his relationship with God.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

God, you are always present, and present in all things.
Keep us from stripping things from others that are dear to them.
Help us to feel your divine love always,
so that we have no need to strip others
of their dignity, of their hopes and dreams,
and of their self-worth.
Remind us that others can strip things from us,
but cannot strip us from your love and your presence.
Strengthen us to also resist the bitter cups
of vinegar and gall when they are offered to us,
and instead taste the sweet nectar of your kingdom on earth.

People: Amen.

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


(From mosaic Stations of the Cross, by Jim Krilich)

Ninth Station: Jesus Falls a Third Time

Leader: O holy Christ, we worship you, we adore you;
People: The air was thick with hopelessness and despair as you fell again.

By this time, Jesus was nearing Golgotha. A few scattered skulls and bleached, broken bones dotted the side of the road--all that remained of others crucified there, people whose families either did not care about their remains or could not afford to bury or entomb them. Various birds that feasted upon carrion perched on some of the bones and in the trees. As Jesus still grew physically weaker, the crowds started to diminish a little. The hubbub of the nosy and the curious was giving way to the reality of what was about to happen, and the taunts and jeers of the crowd were receding into a roaring silence. Perhaps it was the sight of the actual hill where he would be crucified that weakened Jesus' knees--but for whatever reason, he fell again.

As he lay in the dust, he could hear his own heart beating more rapidly in his ears, mixed with the murmurs of the onlookers...

"I wish he'd just die and spare himself all this."

"I don't care what he did, this is too much for anyone to bear. They've whipped him more than anyone I've ever seen crucified."

"I wanted to believe in his God, but how can I now, seeing this?"

Jesus lay there, feeling the dark edges of these fears stabbing him like knives. It was only to escape them that he could manage to rise up from the ground and keep walking.

Leader: As Jesus neared Golgotha,
People: He could feel the light of his own soul straining against the darkness.

Leader: Let us pray.
(a brief period of silence is observed.)

God of Light and Creation,
stay near to us when we feel overwhelmed by darkness.
When we are so overtaken by the cares of the world
that we feel ourselves falling,
put out your hand to us in the dark.
Let the touch of your hand open our eyes
to the light on the horizon,
and encourage us to put one foot in front of the other
and walk to it, no matter how hesitating our steps.

People: Amen.

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

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I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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