Stations: Resurrection (Easter Sunday)

25033732033_99aa455ce0Christ is risen!

That’s today’s great proclamation, but in the sunrise of the first Easter, resurrection is breaking news. But now we live in the light of ancient news, it’s sometimes hard to picture what that means in a world of barrel bombs and climate change. We try to imagine everything around us changing, we write books about the Second Coming. But maybe the purest expression of life after Easter is those first few hours after two days of darkness.

For someone like Peter there’s the resurrection of hope; his last memory of Jesus was a crucifixion and a cock crowing, but with the news of an empty tomb, maybe memories of Jesus’s promise to rise again start to break through the guilt and the remorse; maybe chains of his own making start to loosen, start to break.

For others, the empty tomb is judgement, condemnation, a grenade rolled into a toxic environment, the divine sabotage of a religious machine so that we can be liberated, jubilee through the jamming of gears. For those in the path of religious dreadnought, the empty tomb might even be an underground railroad.

And then there’s the iconic moment outside the tomb: Mary, crippled by grief, lost in the mourning, hears a voice; nothing more is said, other than her name, but in two syllables hope and love, grace and the future are resurrected within her, and she turns towards the voice, every nanosecond reshaping and recreating the world entire. And yes, she’ll go on to live the rest of her life, good and bad, but here in the garden she’s reborn.

Maybe this is the Easter we need; in the deepest depths, in our darkest hours, to hear a voice whispering our name, a whisper that raises us to new life, shoots of green breaking through cracks in the pavement, a moment in which all the things we thought lost are found again, in which chains are broken and prison doors kicked open, unexpected words in a garden that hold hope and grace enough to create a future.

In the dawn of Easter morning, a voice whispers “Let there be light” again, and Jesus steps out of the tomb. And a whole new Kingdom silently explodes into life.

The other posts in this series can be found here.

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Stations: Burial (Holy Saturday)

80261225fe004e90ed2d07839e63e9b1The crucifixion is over; the crowds have gone, the soldiers walk away to clean bloodstained weapons and armour. In the silence and stillness of death Jesus hangs, awaiting the final indignity; he’s probably due to be thrown into a mass grave with the two bandits on either side of him, erased and forgotten as he rots in a pit, no space for followers to mourn and be inspired. The spectacle is over, its job done. Its brutality needs to be remembered but not its victims. That’s how these things work.

We still find mass graves today, in Iraq, in Syria, in Mexico, in Ireland. The discarded victims of turf wars and extremism, abandonment and fundamentalists lie dumped like so much rubbish, the final crime committed against each of them. We might know their names if we hunt through the bones enough. Industrial cruelty wants its crimes and its victims to crumble quietly into dust and disappear in the wind.

The burial of Jesus is an attempt to spare him that fate, an extravagance he can be afforded in death if not in life. So Joseph gives up his tomb and Nicodemus gives up his cash and they give Jesus a burial, respect, dignity. These things are important; they preserve the humanity of those who died, their identity, as well as that of those left behind. This is a moment of mercy and grace, perhaps a moment in which, even in the silence, hope starts to break through.

But it’s Saturday and Sunday’s still to come, and so Joseph’s tomb is a place of mourning and remembrance and tears. We can pause here for a while as we remember the pain and loss of Good Friday, as we put aside denial and embrace the weeping, as we get sad and get angry about suffering and bereavement and death. There’s nothing wrong with this.

But keep an eye on the tomb. Something’s about to happen there. Over on the horizon, the sun’s about to rise.

The other posts in this series can be found here.

Stations: Death (Good Friday)

7-8-33tWe’ve encountered a lot of darkness during this journey; betrayal, violence, conspiracies and injustice, wars and prophesies of wars, all of these have walked alongside Jesus. Now these forces are gathered at the top of a hill, powers and principalities coalescing around a piece of wood, crowding around for a glimpse of the nails.

Those nails are driven through Jesus’s wrists, hammered through his ankles, and he’s raised up, hanging naked from a cross, crown of thorns burning into his brow, a sarcastic sign posted above his head. He is raised up, a spectacle for all the world to see, and people spit at him, hurl abuse and insults, the apparently victories of Palm Sunday forgotten by the mob as they scent blood.

The gathered soldiers, the weeping relatives, the curious bystanders, all of these see a young man cut off in his prime, struggling for breath as his blood falls and is absorbed into the dust.  They see what the world sees, but for those who sing of incarnation during the long nights of winter, something else is happening. Maybe the principalities sense it too; this isn’t just a moral teacher dangling from a cross, this isn’t a demigod reaching the end of his myth. This is God Himself, become human to take on the worst of the world, and now we can almost hear the baying of violence, the mockery of injustice, the whispers of betrayal, guns cocked for war and swords unsheathed. This looks like a victory for the bad, and even Jesus feels foresaken.

And yet this is a divine self-sacrifice, and instead of turning spirits to stone and sin to noxious smoke, instead of salting the earth with the crushed bones of legionaries, instead of unleashing angels of judgement full of rage and fire, God hangs on the cross, suffocating.

I can’t pretend to know how this works, can’t sit here and turn this into some mechanism, some transaction, a coin in a slot. This is something far more profound, something ineffable and unknowable. Its roots reach from sacrifices in the desert and from a King in his Kingdom and crying in a stable. The supernatural collides with the natural, earth is staked to heaven by an executioner’s tree, and God refuses to flood the earth anew, refuses to cleanse the world with fire. Instead he dies, the one without beginning or end piercing a veil. And in doing this, by dying in grace rather than warring with vengeance, those powers that climbed the hill are neutered and defeated. The skies darken; the world shakes; a centurion acknowledges that which has always been true, and death and sin are broken and brought to heel.

It’s a victory, no matter how it works, but at a cost. A bloodied body hangs on a cross as oblivious crowds pull their cloaks around them and start down the hill for home. We may be forgiven for thinking that this is the end.

But the final victory is still to come, and that will be as strange as today’s upside-down inauguration. And we’re going to have to wait – two days left to go…

The other posts in this series can be found here.

 

Launchpad – Via Crucis: The Stations of the Cross

The Stawp-1489871621007.jpgtions of the Cross are the traditional commemorations of the various stages of Christ’s journey towards Calvary. While the following series isn’t always based on the traditional Stations, it’s rooted in trying to see how the echoes of Holy Week manifest in today’s world…

  1. Gethsemane (Jesus prays in the Garden)
  2. Judas (the Betrayal of Jesus)
  3. Malchus (Jesus heals the servant of the High Priest)
  4. Conspiracy (the Trials of Jesus)
  5. Terror (Jesus is tortured)
  6. Dismas (the good thief)
  7. Burden (Jesus carries his cross, helped by Simon Cyrene)
  8. War (Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem)
  9. Humiliation (Jesus’ clothes gambled away)
  10. Death (Good Friday)
  11. Burial (Jesus placed in the tomb)
  12. Resurrection (Easter Sunday)

Stations: Humiliation

1102014731_univ_cnt_2_xlAnd now Jesus ascends the hill; his long walk is over and the end is near, but there are still humiliations to come. The soldiers strip him of his clothes; forget all those works of art where Jesus wears a loin cloth, the fact is that people were crucified naked. This is, after all, a public spectacle; crucifixion isn’t just about killing someone – a dagger and a dark alley would deal with that with far less hassle – but about stripping them of their dignity and their self-respect and their basic humanity. And so no-one’s going to step in and spare the modesty of the Messiah – they want him naked and ashamed.

Maybe this feels like an humiliation too far. Pain and beatings are one thing, but this is more calculated. This is designed to show who’s in charge, to rob Jesus of his agency and his dignity. The fact that soldiers start gambling for his clothes is just another twist of the knife – imagine being stripped and seeing even your clothes being passed around as trophies. This is a part of the crucifixion we often overlook, but it’s one of its vilest elements.

The Australian church leader and activist Jarrod McKenna recounts how, during a protest over the rights of refugees, he and his colleagues were arrested and strip-searched, in what seems to be more of a calculated attempt at humiliation than any real security concerns. And in re-reading that story I’m confronted with the injustice and the dehumanisation that often takes place under our radar. Jarrod later staged a protest in his underwear as a way of drawing attention to what had happened; it’s confronting and challenges our concepts of public modesty, and maybe we need to remember that Jesus isn’t crucified in a way that makes him look good for the portraits, but in a way that takes on the worst the world has to offer.  And we should pause and recognise that, because we’re too close to the story, we know how this ends. We’re too quick to jump to Easter Sunday, or even the darkening skies of Good Friday. At least there’s power there, at least there’s hope.

But for now, Jesus stands naked and alone, smirking eyes catching him at his more vulnerable. And now one soldier leaves his group and picks up a hammer, as his comrades-in-arms continue to throw dice. The game goes on with no great urgency. Everyone knows who lost.

The other posts in this series can be found here.