Stations of the Cross at the Holy Redeemer & St Thomas More
Sculptor: Ken Thompson
Pictures: Daniel Wiener
Text: © Canon Paschal Ryan
“Ecce Homo”(Behold the man!) Though in the Gospel of John (John 19.5) these words are found on the lips of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, they can also be seen as referring back to the prophecy of a Messiah in the Old Testament (Zechariah 6.12). In either case there is a clear contradiction between the figure presented by Jesus, the captive in the hands of the pagan invader, and the expectation his contemporaries had of a messiah who would be a leader, combining both priestly and royal dignity, bringing liberty his people. Jesus, though presented to the crowd as a prisoner, is in fact the one who is free. Pilate, however, is the prisoner. He is a prisoner of his fears: fear of being unpopular, fear of losing control, fear of the Truth. What fears hold me back from being fully a follower of Christ? How can the crucified King set me free?
I accept - Though an onlooker sees the cross being forced on Jesus, it is in fact his choice. It wasn’t easy, but, the night before, in his agony as he had prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus had chosen to do his Father’s will. There, on the side of the Mount of Olives, he had looked across the sleeping city and seen its need of a Saviour. Now, the suffering, the pain he had feared, began. He could have run away, everyone would have understood. Even to his closest friends this self-offering seems madness. Do I accept what God asks of me? Do I run away like Peter, or stand firm, faithful and obedient to God’s will like Jesus?
He falls - In Jesus’s life there was no sin, now, as he goes to die, it is only the physical weight of the Cross that brings him down. Morally, he stands head and shoulders above the mob who crowd in on him, jeering and shoving. When I fall, does anyone need to push me? Or is it my own choice that weakens me, causing me to buckle when I should stand firm?
'“Mother” Was that the first word he said? When the incarnate Son of God first made lips and breath combine to create a sound, was it to his Mummy that he turned? Then as he had grown into a man, learning his father Joseph’s trade, had he playfully chiseled his name into a sawn off piece of plank? Now they had written “INRI” (Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeaorum, Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews), not just in Latin, but in Greek and Hebrew too. It was Pilate’s little joke, his way of making fun, both of Jesus and of the Jewish authorities. Poor Pilate, he had missed the point entirely. This man, the one on the way to Calvary, is a king. Not just a king, but the King, King of Kings. His kingdom is not just Israel, but the universe. The length of his reign, eternity. Pilate, the emperor in Rome, all the petty politicking priests and pious people, all of them, would be gone and forgotten while the one who was their victim today would rule in glory as the Servant King.
(Mark 15.21) This man, this Jesus, whose name could be also abbreviated to “IHC”, was failing, well his human body was failing. He remained a man with a mission, but he needed a helping hand. Simon, a visitor from a North African town, Cyrene, was not too ceremoniously enrolled to help him. Whereas one Simon was missing, run away, this Simon was sharing the burden of the Cross. Christ’s cross became his cross. He’d live to find out more about the man he helps, to believe he was the Saviour, the Messiah. And in time, he’d tell his boys, Alexander and Rufus. Would it be one of those stories he told again and again, or was it something so special that only on very special occasions would he speak of the day he helped carry the Cross. Nobody gave Simon a medal or a knighthood for what he did, but anyway, that day he received far more than he gave. How often do we give the helping hand that is needed? Or is it our choice to clench our fists, to close our heart to the pain and need we see?
There are some people who just can’t stop themselves. They see someone’s need and they have to do something about it. Veronica is one of these. The poor man, the crowd all uncaring. He has blood and sweat pouring down his face, he can hardly see where he is going. All she has is her veil, after all one doesn’t expect to do this sort of thing, she hasn’t come prepared. So off comes the veil, she steps out, and just dares the soldiers with a mother’s look. She gently wipes the poor man’s face, he’s so cut and bruised she doesn’t move it, just presses it lightly but firmly to his flesh. He moves way, she cries, she holds the cloth to her breast, wondering. Only when everyone has passed by, some of them muttering disapprovingly, does she look down. There is the face of that man. Now she is afraid someone will take it from her; so silently, secretly, she folds it up and walks away. This cloth she keeps where no one can find it, until she learns more about this man. She finds out who he is, and what he means to many people who have become her brothers and sisters.
“XPISTOS” This, the Greek title “Christos” or “anointed one” we might more often translate as “Messiah” (coming from the Hebrew “Mashiach”). The Jews of Jesus’ day were expecting the coming of the Messiah foretold by the prophets in the Old Testament. They wanted, they felt they needed, a strong leader who would bring about the liberation of the Jewish people from those who had invaded their country militarily and culturally. While some wanted a soldier, others wanted a prophet or a priest, but Jesus did not seem to fit in with any of their ideas. Even worse, at this point he seems to be failing utterly, disappointing even those who had followed him. The palms they had waved to welcome him into Jerusalem as a king now lay trampled on the ground. Similarly the vision he had given them seemed shattered.
The prophecy of the Messiah in Isaiah (40.1-11) is perhaps best known to us through Handel’s famous “Comfort ye, comfort my people”. But here on the way to Calvary, when Jesus stops to speak to the women of Jerusalem, his words are far from comforting: “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep rather for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23.28). Yes, here the shepherd seems to have be being taken from his sheep. Will they be left prey to the forces of darkness which seem dominant at this moment?
“He falls”. Once again the mighty hand of imperial power, exercised by a frightened Governor, comes down on the crumpled carcass of man as near dead as maybe. Helped up, with Simon still there to assist him, somehow he staggers on up the hill. How clear the contrast is between the hand that beats him down, and the hand of this sacrificial victim. He had only sought to create, to build, to heal, to feed, to care. In him power found a new identity, the divine at the service of the downtrodden.
They had crowned him with thorns. Usually the first thing a vanquished king loses is his crown, but stripped of all else, this was left him. They saw it as an empty scornful gesture, but in fact it was becoming the sacred symbol of a new kingship. This was a ruler who could win by losing. The only uncertainty was as to who would win the robe they stripped form him, but only because he chose to lay it aside. His victory over death would bring life to many, but they could not have known that. His sacrifice would become the food of the new people, the new covenant.
A public execution has a strange fascination, even those who considered themselves better than everyone else were part of the spectating crowd. What would he say, dying? A curse? A prophecy? A blessing? Just before his last prayer (Ps 21 ), he asks his friend to take care of his mother, and her to care for this young man. The hammer sought to fix him with nails to the cross, but he was in fact the freest person there. All the others were prisoners of their sin, he alone sinless, and able to take away their sins.
“ICTHUS” The Greek word for fish was a symbolic code word. It meant “fish”, but the letters could be taken to have another, secret, meaning I – Jesus, C – Christos, TH – Theou ( of God), U – [h]Uios (Son), S – Soter (Saviour) Only a believer can look at the naked dead figure on the cross and say: “My God”, not as an exclamation, but as an acclamation. Here the murdered man gives the gift of life to those who have a heart to love him and those who, like him, carry the cross. To some the cross is a horror, to some a decoration, to others the key to life. Now the disciples are sent to share the secret, to free those in prisons of selfishness, fear, greed, lust, anger, and every sin that separates from God and neighbour.
A sword shall pierce in what she heard the old man say, but only now does she really understand. Oh, there had been those times when he had spoken of doing his father’s work, but not meant carpentry and the times she had had to wait to speak with him while he gave his attention to strangers. But this was different. To hold her dead son in her arms, all that precious life gone. He had been in danger from the moment she had said yes to that angel. Perhaps now, at last she would have him for herself, now she would bury him and mourn for him as only a mother can.
Look across his body, out of the tomb. There is the stone, with which the disciples will close the tomb. There, on the nearby hill, is the Cross, now empty. Here before us the dead body of Jesus Christ and the grieving disciples gazing, for what they think will be the last time, on the face of the man they love, for whom and in whom they hoped so much. Yet their mourning will give way to rejoicing. The one they bury in haste will rise in glory. What is more he will call them again. Then they will not weep to see his wounds, but marvel to sit once more at his side. The call to them to follow him becomes a command to share all that they have seen and heard with those who find in the empty cross the promise of eternal life.