Walking around during lockdown, we came to Saint Stephen's church. Many years ago we came here regularly for Roman Catholic Mass. Today the church, like all churches, is closed, but not the churchyard. We found one stone with a passionflower, bottom centre of the disc, amid roses, a morning glory (?) and others that must have meant something to the bereaved husband. There are oak leaves and acorns in the triangular panels below the disc. This verse is my best reading of the damaged inscription. It speaks of hope. A happy world, a glorious place Where all who are forgiven Shall find their loved and best beloved And hearts like meeting streams that flow For everyone in heaven.
Tag Archives: passion
It was a headline in another website: ‘Where is God in a pandemic?’ followed by ‘We don’t know, but can you believe in a God that you don’t understand?’
I wonder, can I believe in a God that I do understand? S/He would hardly be a God – or a god – if I could understand him or her! Faith seeks understanding, says Saint Anselm, faith does not depend on understanding.
The Passion – that is, the life and death of Jesus – tells us that God is here in our suffering as he is in our joys. We pray for all suffering from illness, those caring for them in any way, and those who have been bereaved, and all who have died.
This figure of Christ, rising from the dead, taking his first, painful breath, is on the tomb of Saint Dominic in Bologna. The tomb was carved by many of the great and the good of Italian art of the time.
On the tomb there are many busy figures, but Jesus is rising all but unseen; a reminder that he was deserted by almost all his followers on Thursday night, and now here, on Sunday morning, he is alone. Perhaps he would rather take those first breaths alone? As a real man he must have been confused, as Mary Magdalene will be shortly when they meet in the garden.
By the time John and Peter get to the tomb, Jesus is long gone. It will take him an eternity to get used to being alive. He needs to touch his hands, to remove the thorns, and to keep on breathing: oh joy! A ghost does not have flesh and blood as I do.
But where are his friends? Confused, just a bit late, not quite up to speed. As we are. Were it not for the nail marks we would think he was standing on Pilate’s balcony. He is not dead though, nor marching unto his death. He is about to march away from death, and calls us to follow him, even through death’s dark veil.
Let us live this Holy Week in the light of Easter. Ecce Homo: Behold the Man: Christ is risen!
We reflected on the passion flower story back in June and in November last year, after we’d spotted gravestones in Chartham with carvings of them, and again on the capital of a column at a doorway in St Thomas’ church, Canterbury. This one, well, let’s say it’s very close to home, but I only found it thanks to Chartham.
A few weeks ago the L’Arche Kent community, with friends and relations on weekend vacations, did a 3 mile sponsored walk – we sponsored ourselves – from Chartham to Canterbury, in particular from Saint Mary’s church, Chartham to Saint Dunstan’s church in Canterbury. My companion and I had time for a coffee on arrival before joining the others, so I had my eyes open walking through the graveyard. And:
Here’s a passion flower, flanked by a daffodil and a rose, with blooms above that I’ve not yet identified. The rose for Saint George and England, the daffodil for Saint David and Wales, and the passion flower? This is how we concluded last year’s post:
When you see a passionflower let it remind you that Jesus is real, his death was real, as indeed will ours be – but so, too, will our rising. And when you see a passionflower on a gravestone, send us a picture to put in the blog!
The rest of that post, describing the story told by the passion flower, can be found here.
Thank you for following Agnellus Mirror or just looking in and reflecting with us.
Will Turnstone and Co.
Pilate is trying to finish with this troubling case. But he cannot shake it; it goes on and on. At the suggestion of releasing Jesus, the crowd erupts into violent, near-riot behaviour. They begin to scream for Jesus’ death. It becomes clear to Pilate that there is no ‘sane majority’, and no one wants this Jesus to be released. They want Barabbas, the thief and murderer, to be set free, not Jesus. Yet it is also Pilate’s opinion that Jesus is nothing more than a preacher, with no political aspirations at all. What is going on? Pilate is a superstitious man and he is beginning to feel odd (see John 19:8). What gods are frowning here, skewing this situation? His scalp is tingling with a weird anxiety that makes his blood run cold. He feels caught up in something uncanny, even preternatural.
Pilate tries to satisfy the crowd’s blood-lust by having Jesus taken to be scourged. Afterwards, the soldiers torture him psychologically and physically by mockery, and by making thorn branches into a crown and forcing it down on his head; they put a purple robe on him and make exaggerated bows before him, saying ‘Hail King of the Jews,’ He is slapped in the face. But it is still not enough for the crazed crowd. Pilate does not particularly like Jesus, but even less does he like the way things are going. He knows that whatever happens, the situation has become big enough to be talked about and remembered afterwards. He is anxious about how this will affect his reputation. Pilate tries again. He says to the crowd, ‘Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case against him.’ And Jesus is brought out in his now physically weakened and bloodied condition, dressed in the purple robe and wearing the thorn-crown. Jesus says nothing. Pilate says, ‘Here is the man.’ Instead of being moved by Jesus’ brokenness and his manifest harmlessness, the crowd’s thirst for Jesus’ death intensifies, and their shouts for his execution increase in volume and violence.
Now Pilate’s pulse really begins to race. The situation continues to feel eerie to him. His fears increase, as the text says (19:8). He calls Jesus to him again in private and probably peers at him intensely. Anyone else in Jesus’ position would have one objective only: to save his own skin. But Jesus is astonishingly serene. What is this man about, Pilate wants to know? Jesus waits. Pilate obscurely detects the existence of a conflict on a level he is not accustomed to dealing with. He has rarely, if ever, taken seriously matters pertaining to the spirit world and is completely lost now.
‘Where do you come from?’ Pilate finally asks. His question doesn’t really make sense. He knew that Jesus was from Nazareth. But Pilate has begun to realise that Jesus is entirely different from the man he thought Jesus was. Pilate is thrashing about in the sea of his mind, grasping at anything that seems to float, struggling with waves of deep perplexity and dread.
In the Book of Job, 22, his friend, Eliphaz the Temanite says:
“Can a man be profitable to God?
Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.
Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right,
or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless? “
Job’s comforters have a bad press, indeed Blake, who engraved our image calls them ‘tormentors’. But even if it’s the wrong time and place for it, Eliphaz has a point for us, if not for Job! As Rowan Williams puts it in his discussion on William Tyndale:
Any system of religious activity and thinking that tries to give us some leverage over God – I’ve never denied God a moment of my time, I hope he remembers that – such an attitude is poisonous to our faith.
We create religious institutions that are designed to preserve that divine indebtedness to us, and while we are doing that, we largely ignore the concrete forms of indebtedness toward other human beings to which we should be attending.*
ALL IS GIFT!
Accept the gift of your life, accept that it is a gift, be thankful for every breath! God did not have to bring you into being, and if you suffer, remember that so too did Jesus, his Son. Suffering is shared by God.
Alfred Joyce Kilmer put it this way in his Prayer of a Soldier in France:
My shoulders ache beneath my pack
(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).
Please follow this link to our post from July last year for the whole poem, written shortly before Kilmer’s death in battle. He concludes:
So let me render back again
This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.
The gift is the redemptive suffering of Jesus; allying our suffering to his is to set ourselves in sympathy with Jesus; so if personal suffering is a gift, that is because of how we receive it, endure it, live it: through him, with him and in him. Him being the one who prayed: O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:29)
Image from William Blake’s Illustrations for the Book of Job, via Wikipedia
* Rowan Williams: Luminaries: Twenty lives that illuminate the Christian Way, London SPCK 2019. p54
Francis was not the first to ride humbly, on an ass.
On that night within the wood, his companions, sith they were awake and were come to hear and mark what he did, saw and heard him, with tears and cries, devoutly beseeching God to have mercy upon sinners. Then was he seen and heard to weep with a loud voice over the Passion of Christ, as though he saw it with his own eyes. On that self same night they beheld him praying with his arms stretched out in the form of a cross, for a great space uplifted and floating above the earth, and surrounded by a cloud of glory, And so in such holy exercises he passed the whole night through without sleep.
And thereafter in the morning, his companions, being ware that through the fatigues of the night, which he had passed without sleep, Saint Francis was much weakened in body and could but ill go on his way afoot, went to a poor peasant of those parts, and begged him, for the love of God, to lend his ass for Brother Francis, their Father, that could not go afoot. Hearing them make mention of Brother Francis, he asked them: “Are ye of the brethren of that brother of Assisi, of whom so much good is spoken?” The brothers answered: “Yes.”
Then the good man, with great diligence and humble devotion, made ready the ass, and brought it to Saint Francis, and with great reverence let him mount thereon, and they went on their way; and he with them, behind his ass. And when they had gone on a little way, the peasant said to Saint Francis: “Tell me, art thou Brother Francis of Assisi?” Replied Saint Francis: “ Yea.” “Try then,” said the peasant, “to be as good as thou art of all folk held to be, seeing that many have great faith in thee; and therefore, I admonish thee that in thee there be naught save what men hope to find therein.”
Hearing these words, Saint Francis thought no scorn to be admonished by a peasant, nor said within himself: “What beast is this doth admonish me?” as many would say now-a-days, that wear the cowl ; but straightway he threw himself from off the ass upon the ground, and kneeled him down before him, and kissed his feet, and thus humbly thanked him for that he had deigned thus lovingly to admonish him. Then the peasant, together with the companions of Saint Francis, with great devotion lifted him from the ground and set him on the ass again, and they went on their way.
This post is taken from The Imitation of Christ, Book 3, Chapter XIX. I am using the copy my late Aunt Margaret gave to my Grandmother Evelyn sometime in the late 1930s.
What is it thou sayest, my son? Cease to complain, and consider my Passion, and that of the other Saints. Thou hast not yet resisted unto blood. (Hebrews 12.14)
Thou oughtest to call to mind the heaviest sufferings of others, that thou mayest the easier bear the very little things that thou sufferest. And if to thee they seem not little, take heed lest this also proceed from thy impatience. But whether they be little or great, strive to bear them all with patience.
He is not a truly patient man who will suffer nothing, only so much as he shall think fit, and from whom he pleaseth. The truly patient man … how much soever and how often soever any adversity happeneth to him from any creature, he taketh it all equally with thanksgiving as from the hand of God, and esteemeth it a great gain. For with God not anything, how trifling soever, suffered for God’s sake, shall go unrewarded …
Make, O Lord, that possible to me by grace, which seemeth impossible to me by nature. Thou knowest how little I can bear, and that I am soon dejected when a small adversity ariseth. Let all exercises of tribulation become lovely and most desirable to me for thy Name’s sake, for to suffer and be afflicted for Thee is very healthful for my soul.
There is scriptural foundation for the Imitation’s position on accepting suffering: Here for instance is Ben Sirach, otherwise known as Ecclesiasticus, a late Jewish wisdom writer. (Ch2:3-10).
Wait on God with patience: join thyself to God, and endure, that thy life may be increased in the latter end. Take all that shall be brought upon thee: and in thy sorrow endure, and in thy humiliation keep patience. For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation. Believe God, and he will recover thee: and direct thy way, and trust in him. Keep his fear, and grow old therein. Ye that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy: and go not aside from him, lest ye fall. Ye that fear the Lord, believe him: and your reward shall not be made void. Ye that fear the Lord, hope in him: and mercy shall come to you for your delight. Ye that fear the Lord, love him, and your hearts shall be enlightened.
And here is Jesus in Luke 6:27-29:
But I say to you that hear: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them that calumniate you. And to him that striketh thee on the one cheek, offer also the other. And him that taketh away from thee thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also.
Nana’s little copy of the Imitation was well thumbed and could really do with some repairs to the cover. She had a great devotion to Christ crucified. Nana knew many trials in her life, but was a source of strength and fun to us, her grandchildren. (MMB)
Over the coming fortnight our posts will follow the Stations of the Cross from the point of view of Peter. You are invited to sit with him in prison in Rome under Nero’s persecution of the Christian church. He has time to reflect on his life with Jesus, and especially on the events of those few nights and days at the end of his Lord’s earthly life.
When someone is hurt, those around feel it too. All the more if they have let their loved one down, betrayed them, in big things or in small. Jesus suffers and dies with his brothers and sisters every day – near at hand and in lands far away. Do we walk away – like the disciples on the way to Emmaus? Do we harden our hearts, as Malchus and his companions must have done, to carry on arresting Jesus after he’d cured that severed ear?
Do we run off and weep as Peter did? Despair, as Judas did?
Do we let Jesus seek us out and help us back onto our feet, as Peter did?
These stations link the Via Dolorosa to other events in the lives of Jesus and Peter. If we could see the whole picture we would know that the life and death of Jesus are one story: as Rowan Williams said, he lived a lifelong Passion. We are his body and our lives make sense in his.
As we walk with Peter, yards behind Jesus, almost out of sight, let us pray that we may see more clearly our own sufferings and our own betrayals alongside our joys. May we see more clearly how our sisters and brothers are betrayed and abandoned by us. may we then be ready to let Jesus come and find us, put us back on our feet, and lead us into his Kingdom of service.
For each station there are Scripture references to the Way of the Cross and to parallel events in the lives of Peter and Jesus.
These Stations were followed in Saint Thomas’s Church, Canterbury in 2005.
Winchester Cathedral, MMB.
If clouds of doubt should ever fall,
A fog so thick that I should cry:
Is this the truest love of all –
Where men still suffer, bleed and die?
A quiet voice might ask of me
What other love I thought so true
What greater, deeper love I see
More heartfelt than the God I knew?
See there, beside the poor and weak,
Among the broken, there, he stands,
And with the voiceless, there to speak
With grieving heart and nail-pierced hands.
Abandoned once by dearest friends,
He meets the lonely, brings them near,
His mercy and gentle presence mends
Souls bound by bitterness and fear.
And he would show me in my prayer,
His woundedness, his cross, his shame:
The truest love of all was there –
There, even there, he knew my name.