It is great to be back from our mission trip to Mozambique, so much to think about it and reflect on from that visit. One thing I did notice, in the many churches we visited, they had the 14 stations of the cross on their walls. On the pilgrimage, they took time to walk the stations of the cross, in the outdoors, at Bernard Mizeki’s birthplace.
The ritual of walking the stations is part of the Anglican Mozambican culture. And people have been walking the way of the cross either in Jerusalem or in their local church for many centuries.
Over the Sundays in Lent, we too will explore the stations of the cross and what it might mean to us as we stand before them. We are grateful to Fred Velardi for loaning us the set he painted. Our journey together in Lent began on Ash Wednesday with remembering our mortality and our need for repentance. It is also our journey to the cross, and as we are faithful to it, we will find Jesus and life.
So let’s first, think about the Gospel for today on this first Sunday in Lent, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. We are told of the 40 days where Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, the temptation to be relevant, spectacular and powerful, as Henri Nouwen put it.
Satan’s offer for Christ to turn stones to bread was a trap, you have the power Jesus to perform it, to be the relevant leader we all want you to be. The temptation to throw one’s self from the pinnacle of the temple was presented as the desire to do something spectacular. Show the world, who you are Jesus, let those angels catch you! And then the temptations are concluded with the temptation to be powerful, look Jesus I will give you the world to control, just follow me… in all of these Jesus resists temptation, Satan leaves and we are left with the angels ministering to him alone. But then, much later…
Jesus is condemned to death. Station I. I wonder if he was tempted to flee. To leave. To not only ask God to take away the cup, but to not take it himself. To get himself out of the situation he knew was before him. But he did take the cup. He was arrested.
He stood alone. They were cursing him. Accusing him. He stood alone, just like he had in the wilderness. Pilate didn’t really care, he was a Jewish insurgent, and pain in the butt, to put it quite mildly. It was easy for him to give the order.
And Jesus was condemned to death. As you gaze at the picture, consider the emptiness that Jesus must have felt. His life was to be ended. He saw it coming but it didn’t make it any easier. There was no one there to comfort him. Condemned to die.
Jesus takes the cross onto his shoulder. Station II. It must have been surreal. It happened so fast. The last supper, the betrayal, the arrest, the two trials, and now the instrument of his death is upon his shoulder.
Alone and isolated from those he loved, he stood judged & condemned. No one left to speak on his behalf. No one to look his way. Death hung around him like the heaviness of a humid day.
Soon he was to make his journey. To the place of death, the Skull. They continued to mock him. Spit upon him. He was nothing. Dirt. Less than human. One of many they would have seen condemned to die. Son of God. A crown of thorns he must wear! Just another Jew on the way to crucifixion. Jesus was holding on to what life he had left. He needed all his strength to carry the cross. A cross that he carried for all of us, for on his shoulders was our cross, our lives, our sins, our death. Even as we turn away from him.
As the Isiah prophet said, “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with sorrow; and as one from whom others hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him of no account.”
But we know there is much more to the story, for we remember the words of St. Paul from the Romans reading we heard today: “Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.”
See the life Jesus offers us today. See the grace that is freely given from the cross. Life is offered for all, by his righteous act. In the words of one of our morning prayers: “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace…”
As we think about today’s stations, let me end with a poem…
by Langston Hughes
I met You on Your way to death,
Though quite by accident
I chose the path I did,
not knowing there You went.
When I heard the hooting mob
I started to turn back
But, curious, I stood my ground
Directly in its track
And sickened suddenly
At its sound,
Yet did not
So loud the mob cried,
Yet so weak,
Like a sick and muffled sea.
On Your head
You had sharp thorns.
You did not look at me—
But on Your back
My own Misery.