Our Place on the Way of the Cross

The Procession to Calvary, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1564.

A sermon for the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, March 28, 2010. The lectionary reading are Luke 19:28-40, Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, and Luke 23:1-49.

On Friday night we walked the Stations of the Cross, using the traditional prayers and readings, and making our way around these ceramic stations within our building. Each one (of course) represents a particular spot along the way through Jerusalem, as Jesus made his way toward Calvary, the hill where he would be crucified.

Last Friday, as it was so beautiful outside, I began wishing that our stations were like the ones in Montreal, at the Oratory of St. Joseph, high atop Mount Royal. If you’ve ever visited, maybe you’ve seen their Gardens of the Way of the Cross. There they have sculptures representing each of the Stations of the Cross, but if as you navigate them, you’re also walking through beautiful gardens with at view of Montreal.

Those gardens play a role in a 1989 movie called, “Jesus of Montreal.” The story involves a priest or abbot who hires an actor to play the part of Jesus and to update the monastery’s annual passion play. He tells the actor who will play Jesus to go and hire the other actors and then reinterpret the story, update it, make it big, so that more people will visit. And that’s what the actor-playing-Jesus does. He “calls” his friends to follow him in this project. He rescues a woman from an almost abusive working situation, he invites others out of their degrading work, and as the story goes on, we realize that it’s basically the Gospel re-told. The actor playing Jesus acts like Jesus as he calls people to follow him, and each person is changed in some way when they respond to that call.

Whenever I watch or think about that movie, I begin to imagine who in the cast I might relate to. Like when I walk or pray the Stations of the Cross, I sometimes meditate on which one of the characters who appear in the story are like me? If I were in their place, what would I have done? Would I have acted more quickly, or more boldly… or less faithfully?

We hear about some of those people in the Passion according to St. Luke. Are there any you especially relate to? Are there any who seem familiar or remind you of someone?

I doubt many identify with Pontius Pilate, but there may be times when we feel a little like Barabbas—we’ve escaped some blame or punishment that might have been due to us. We might identify with the crowd—the crowd that is so easily caught up in the mood of the moment, caught up in abstract understandings of “justice” or “holiness” to the extent that it loses all sense of right or wrong. Simone of Cyrene simply walks into town and is sort of thrown into things. But I bet that when he hears the whole story, he’s probably glad he was in the right place at the right time and able to help Jesus in some small way. We have perhaps sometimes been like the women of Jerusalem, the ones who mourn and grieve, who get caught up in their sentiment for Jesus, but miss the practical implications of their feeling. The soldiers are simply doing their job. The criminals following their fate—except for the one who asks Jesus to remember him, to pray for him, to ask God to show him mercy. Other accounts add other characters—the woman who wipes the forehead of Jesus, Mary and John, the other disciples, the others who look on. And so it is tempting to imagine who we would be, if we were there. It’s tempting to imagine how we might respond, if we were there.

On this day and on Good Friday, we often recall the words of that great spiritual, “Were you there?”

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?

Well the faithful answer, really, is “No. We weren’t there.” We can meditate upon those events, we can re-member them, we can perhaps even be changed by them, but the real question for us now, for us on this day, and especially as we begin this holiest of weeks is, “Are you HERE?”

Are you here, where Christ is alive again and reigns not from a tree, but from highest heaven and from within the hearts of all the faithful.

Are you here? Where miracles continue as bread and wine become body and blood and we are made one people in spite of all that might separate us, in spite of any cross, in spite of death, in spite of hell.

Are you here—are you awake, alert, aware, ready to be here and anywhere for the goodness of God to be tasted and felt and lived into and extended to a hurting and hungry world?

Holy Week invites us to remember, but it also invites us to be present and alive in our own day. We remember how Jesus was celebrated by a faithful few as he went into Jerusalem for the Passover, and so we pay attention to the mood of the mob and our place within it. We remember how he shared the Passover meal with his friends, and so we continue to receive his presence in the breaking of bread and in sharing what we have with those who hunger. We remember how he served his friends by washing their feet, and we open ourselves to serving others in God’s name. We remember the time in the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal, the mock trial, the crucifixion, and we pray for those in our day who suffer injustice and oppression. We remember the waiting in darkness and silence, in fear and hope, even as we acknowledge those feelings in our own day. And then, next Sunday, we remember and imagine what it must have been like for those first friends of his to learn that he had risen from the dead. And we welcome Christ to rise again in new ways in our lives.

The service we use when we pray the Stations finishes with a prayer that captures much of the intention of this day. We pray that even “as by [Christ’s] death he has recalled us to life, so by his love he may raise us to eternal joys.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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