April 8, 2020, Meditation for Wednesday of Holy Week – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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It is our Episcopal tradition every Lent to observe the Stations of the Cross on Fridays at noon. Over the years one of our most faithful attendees of the Stations was Joe Swan, who was a long-time member of the Church. Joe passed away not long ago, but I have felt his presence with us when we gathered for this solemn service this year. Each week, after the service was concluded, Joe would come up to me, visibly shaken by the what we had just experienced. Every week, he was horrified afresh by “man’s inhumanity to man,” as he put it. He always seemed unsure he would be able to endure coming again the next week. And yet Joe came, along with a faithful few others, week after week, year after year, until his death took him from us.
And that raises an important question. Why do we focus so relentlessly on the grim facts of our Lord’s Passion, since we live in the here and now, on the other side of Easter morning? We are an Easter people, as some Christians are fond of saying, and they aren’t wrong. Our lives are illumined and directed and given purpose by the historical fact of Christ’s Resurrection, and the solid, physical reality of the empty tomb. What, after all, is the point of slogging through the violent, bloody streets of first-century Jerusalem in our Lord’s footsteps, year after year, when we already know that it all comes out right in the end?
Truthfully, it goes against the grain of modern Americans such as we are to dwell on something as negative as the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus. Most of us cut our teeth on the cheerful, optimistic mindset of Norman Vincent Peale’s “Power of Positive Thinking,” we took it in unawares with out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Self-empowerment and positivity – why, those are as American as apple pie. And that whole mindset has even been baptized and spiritualized by modern-day preachers like Joel Osteen, who exhort us to claim God’s promise and live victorious Christian lives.
On the other hand, there is that branch of the Church family that embraces the Passion of our Lord as a means of impressing on us sinners the vast magnitude of our guilt and shame. Every nail, every drop of sweat and blood, every cruel lash of the whip: they are laid to our account. We hear our own voice, harsh and loud, above the clamor of the mob: “Crucify him!” And now we come nearer the truth. He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The Lord laid on him our guilt. And if we dare to face the truth, we fall on our faces at the foot of his Cross, crushed by the weight of our unworthiness. But even then we have not yet come to the heart of Holy Week.
Think for a moment of the people who brought you into the world, who cared for you and raised you up. Think of your mother, who carried you in her own body, with all the aches and pains and weariness that entailed. Think of how she brought you into the world in pain, with sweat and tears and intense effort. Think of your Father who worked long, dreary hours to provide for his family, who denied himself time and again to put food on the table, to keep shoes on little feet that grow so fast. As you lie there on your face at the foot of the Cross, think of all those who have suffered for your good. Think of all who have given of themselves for your sake. Now, look up. Look into the face of Jesus Christ. The meaning of the Passion is not condemnation or guilt or shame. The meaning of the Passion is love.
In Holy Week we focus our forgetful minds on the pain and agony of the last days before our Lord’s death. We remember the cruelty and injustice of his arrest and betrayal. We remember man’s unthinkable inhumanity to man. We recognize our own face in the fickle crowd. We hear our own voice among the bloodthirsty cries of the violent mob. But above all we remember that it was in his surpassing love for us all that Jesus walked that long, painful road to the Cross. God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that whoever puts his trust in him might never be overcome by death, but might inherit abundant, incorruptible, everlasting life.