Living in the Paschal Mystery: Leading to Ascension

[This message was given at Kairos: Friday Morning Contemplative Gathering on April 29, 2022]

From Mary Pandiani, Selah Executive Director

Easter has come and gone for many. And yet, looking at the church liturgical calendar, we’re still in Eastertide, namely the 40-days before the Ascension of Christ Jesus takes place. These 40-days and Ascension are part of the story called the Paschal Mystery – a living remembrance of Christ Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, the Ascension (the rising from earth to be with God), that culminates with Pentecost (the unleashing of the Holy Spirit). The connection to the celebration of the Old Testament Passover reminds us of the lamb whose blood protects the Israelites who finally leave Egypt, leading them to freedom from slavery.

We’re called into this Paschal Mystery where we’re connected to the story as well. Our lives operate out of a Paschal Mystery – a life, death, and new life rhythm in the everyday and final death of our lives. That means we’re participating, in intentional and unintentional ways, with the 40-days and Ascension. We, like the disciples and followers of Christ Jesus, don’t quite understand the resurrection, yet want to believe in hope, that it brings changes in us and our relationship with God. The stories include walking the road to Emmaus, eating breakfast with the disciples, doubting and believing with Thomas who wants to see the wounds of Jesus. Confusion, joy, despondency, loss of faith, gaining faith, amazed, hope, and deep longing. These are the mundane and miraculous ways Christ Jesus enters into our world, different but the same, as a result of the resurrection. All of these emotions and new realities occur within the 40-days, inviting us to consider the change that has taken place.

Is that not like how change impacts us, especially the one where there is resurrection – a new power of and in life? We are grateful, excited, yet confused and dazed by the reality before us. We hold hope while wondering what’s next. When my youngest daughter left home for the first time at 13 years old (she decided she wanted to go to a boarding school – ask me about that story sometime), I held promise for her in the new experience, yet deep loss in no longer having her around. I was both faith-filled and faith-less. The liminal space of the unknown, yet newness, felt both awkward and comforting. How was I to enter into this change?

It’s in these places that lead to the Ascension where we ask the question of transformation: what do I need to let go of in order to experience new life to its fullest? Jesus tells the disciples that he must leave; he even goes on to say it will be better that he leaves. In his leaving, he offers something more. Or as Ronald Rolheiser suggests, “Ascension is to refuse to cling to what once was, let it go, and let it bless you, so that you can recognize the new life you already have with and within you and receive its spirit.”[1] There is new life in leaving, as counter-intuitive as that may sound, for that’s where new life begins.

As we live in this season of the Paschal Mystery, let us ask ourselves, what do we need to let go of in order that new life may arise? If we desire change and transformation, how we can move towards it, rather than cower away? Can we receive the spirit of life, revealed in these changes, that brings deeper and more meaningful encounters with God, with others, and with ourselves? Let us consider the invitation that the Ascension is asking of us.

The ascension deepens intimacy by giving us precisely a new presence, a deeper, richer one,
but one which can only come about if our former way of being present is taken away.
Ronald Rolheiser[2]

[1] https://ronrolheiser.com/managing-an-ascension/#.Ymh3hy-B23U

[2] https://ronrolheiser.com/a-spirituality-of-the-ascension/#.YmnKUy-B23

A Prayer in Spring

“Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;

And give us not to think so far away

As the uncertain harvest; keep us here

All simply in the spinning of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,

Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;

And make us happy in the happy bees,

The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird

That suddenly above the bees is heard,

The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,

And off a blossom in mid-air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,

To which it is reserved for God above

To sanctify to what far ends He will,

But which it only needs that we fulfill.

By Robert Frost

About Robert Frost

Robert Lee Frost (1874 – 1963) was an American poet. Known for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech, Frost frequently wrote about settings from rural life in New England in the early 20th century, using them to examine complex social and philosophical themes. Frequently honored during his lifetime, Frost is the only poet to receive four Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry. He was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1960 for his poetic works. On July 22, 1961, Frost was named poet laureate of Vermont.

 

Praying Stations of the Cross, a Primer for Protestants

As a protestant, I had heard of the Stations of the Cross but didn’t know anything about it until I decided to investigate it this year.

The Stations of the Cross or the Way of the Cross, also known as the Way of Sorrows or the Via Crucis, refers to a series of images depicting Jesus Christ on the day of his crucifixion and accompanying prayers. The stations grew out of imitations of the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, which is a traditional processional route symbolizing the actual path Jesus walked to Mount Calvary. The objective of the stations is to help the Christian faithful to make a spiritual pilgrimage through contemplation of the Passion Story of Christ. It’s one of the most popular devotions and the stations can be found in many Western Christian churches, including Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic.

The Stations of the Cross originated in pilgrimage to Jerusalem and a desire to reproduce the Via Dolorosa. Imitating holy places was not a new concept. For example, the religious complex of Santo Stefano in Bologna, Italy, replicated the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other sacred sites, including the Mount of Olives and Valley of Josaphat.

Usually, a series of fourteen images will be arranged in numbered order along a path, and the faithful travel from image to image, in order, stopping at each station to say the selected prayers and reflections. This is done individually or in a procession usually on Good Friday, in a spirit of reparation for the sufferings and insults that Jesus endured during his crucifixion. As a physical devotion involving standing, kneeling, and genuflections, the Stations of the Cross are tied with the Christian themes of repentance and mortification of the flesh.

The fourteen Stations of the Cross

  1. Jesus is condemned to death 
  2. Jesus carries his cross 
  3. Jesus falls the first time 
  4. Jesus meets his mother 
  5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross 
  6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus 
  7. Jesus falls the second time 
  8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem 
  9. Jesus falls the third time 
  10. Jesus’ clothes are taken away 
  11. Jesus is nailed to the cross 
  12. Jesus dies on the cross 
  13. Jesus is taken down from the cross
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.

The style, form, and placement of the stations vary widely. The typical stations are small plaques with reliefs or paintings placed around a church nave. Modern minimalist stations can be simple crosses with a numeral in the center. Occasionally the faithful might say the stations of the cross without there being any image, such as when the pope leads the stations of the cross around the Colosseum in Rome on Good Friday.

Protestant puzzlement

Obviously, as a Protestant, I was puzzled about station six. Who was Veronica? According to Catholic tradition, Veronica was a pious woman of Jerusalem who was moved with pity upon seeing Jesus carrying his cross to Golgotha. As Jesus passed, Veronica wiped his faith. A miracle occurred when an impression of Jesus’s face was left upon the cloth called The Veil of Veronica.

And, I never knew that Jesus fell three times as featured in stations three, seven, and nine.

How protestants can pray the Stations of the Cross

In 1991, Pope John Paul II introduced “Scriptural or Biblical Stations of the Cross.” These fourteen stations are tied to scriptures from the Passion story in the gospels.

  1. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-41)
  2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested (Mark 14:43-46)
  3. Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71)
  4. Jesus is denied by Peter (Matthew 26:69-75)
  5. Jesus is judged by Pilate (Mark 15:1-5, 15)
  6. Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns (John 19:1-3)
  7. Jesus takes up his cross (John 19:6, 15-17)
  8. Jesus is helped by Simon to carry his cross (Mark 15:21)
  9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem (Luke 23:27-31)
  10. Jesus is crucified (Luke 23:33-34)
  11. Jesus promises his kingdom to the repentant thief (Luke 23:39-43)
  12. Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other (John 19:25-27)
  13. Jesus dies on the cross (Luke 23:44-46)
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb (Matthew 27:57-60)

The Stations of the Cross

You might try meditating on these scriptures at each station. You can use the artwork below.

Online Resources

If you want to pray the stations using the scriptures listed above, there are lots of resources online:

  • Written resources
  • Prayer apps
  • YouTube videos
  • Podcasts

The next time you wear a necklace with featuring a cross, I hope you’ll remember the Passion Story and the Stations of the Cross. May you find Holy Week this year meaningful with the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.

by Debora Buerk
Editor
Here & Now
Selah Community

Sources

“Experimental Theology” blog by Richard Beck, March 28, 2022
Wikipedia

Frank D. Getty

The message of Easter cannot be written past tense.

It is a message for today and the days to come.

It is God’s message which must re-echo through your lives.

 

Frank D. Getty