To read the Passion account assigned for today’s Lectionary Reading, go to John 18:1-19:42
How did we get here? How did we so quickly move from the teachings on the hillside in Galilee to this? I guess we kept thinking that he could make it better. After all, he always made so much sense, always drawing us out of ourselves, out of the life that we thought we were supposed to have. What could we have done differently? It was right there, right in our hands. Life was right there. Why didn’t we pay more attention? Why didn’t we dispense with silly arguing over who was greatest? And what do we do now? We can’t go back. Everything has changed. We have changed. We are different.
The last three stations are the hardest. The twelfth station depicts Jesus’ death on the cross. “It is finished.” As Jesus breathed his last, the temple curtain tore in two, revealing a new world in which holiness was no longer separate and hidden from view. Trembling and shaking in the darkness, the earth opened to reveal a glimpse of a future yet to be. And through our grief and tears, God entered the heartbreak and brokenness of the world and in that moment began recreating it. In this moment, God’s future enters our present. And in the most unfathomable act of love, the cross becomes God’s highest act of Creation. Because with it, we and all of Creation are made new. That which is finished is the beginning of life. In this moment, our own eternity is conceived.
Station 13 of this Via Dolorosa has Jesus being taken down from the cross and his body given to his mother. There is no documentation of this in canonical Scripture. Perhaps it was skipped. It is a hard thing, after all because, after all, it is indeed over. There is a sickening finality to it all. Why did it have to end like this? Why did it have to end at all? We were just beginning to understand. We were just beginning to get what we were supposed to be doing. And now it is over. And then there’s this darkness. It’s never been this dark at this time of day. It adds to the pall of our souls. We have to go back now. But to what? After all, deep down we know that he changed us. How can we live now in the world? How can we go back? And yet, in this moment of our deepest despair, we remember that we have found love. Life will be different because we have found love.
Station 14 is the burial of Jesus in the Garden Tomb. Joseph of Arimathea, a “secret disciple”, we are told, provided a tomb that no one had ever used. It was appropriate, this virgin tomb, a fitting ending as someone finally made room. How can we leave? We have walked away from graves before and left the remains of a life behind us. But this…this is different. And so we strip our altars and we strip our lives and we try to make room for you. And then we wait. We wait for you to come. We wait for you to rise. We keep vigil and we enter into deep prayer,
knowing the day will come. And we wait. We wait for our eternity to be born. We waited for your coming once before, for your birth. But this is
different. Now we wait for our own.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In what seemed no time at all, Bethlehem has become Golgotha, swaddling clothes have become burial cloths, and the manger? The manger has become a cross. God did not send Jesus to die but to love. And he did that to the end. And somewhere along the way, we have changed. We haven’t become who we are called to be yet but the road has turned and we know that Life is up ahead.
Where Are You Christmas? (Faith Hill, How the Grinch Stole Christmas)
The pilgrims sit on the steps of death. Undanced, the music ends. Only the children remember that tomorrow’s stars are not yet out. (Ann Weems, “It is Finished”, from Kneeling in Jerusalem, 77)
Grace and Peace,
One thought on “On the Steps of Death”
I’m not sure I will ever understand the story of Jesus except for the part that reminds us to love one another which seems to be a very hard message for this world to accept.