Albrecht Duerer, Ecce Homo, (from the Large Passional)
The Collect for Tuesday in Holy Week
O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
On Friday, a group of us from Madison’s Episcopal churches walked the stations of the cross in the downtown. The Stations of the Cross are a traditional Roman Catholic devotion, consisting of prayers and meditations commemorating Jesus’ journey from his condemnation to death to his burial. Traditionally there were fourteen stations, and they are a common fixture in most Roman Catholic, and many Episcopal churches, with images depicting each of the stations mounted on the walls of naves.
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
–Robert Campin, The Merode Altarpiece (1425-1430)
Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, commemorating the story in Luke 1:26-38. It is the occasion for Mary’s hymn of praise, The Magnificat and has been a focus of Christian devotion for centuries. The angel’s greeting, “Hail Mary, full of grace” and Mary’s response, “Let it be with me according to your word” have shaped reflection and devotion to Mary, and served as models for Christian piety.
Meister Eckhart, the 14th century mystic said this:
We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I also do not give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time. When the Son of God is begotten in us.
I affirm that had the Virgin not first borne God spiritually He would never have been born from her in bodily fashion. A certain woman said to Christ, “Blessed is the womb that bear Thee.” To which Christ answered, “Nay, rather blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it.” It is more worthy of God that He be born spiritually of every pure and virgin soul, than that He be born of Mary. Hereby we should understand that humanity is, so to speak, the Son of God born from all eternity. The Father produced all creatures, and me among them, and I issued forth from Him with all creatures, and yet I abide in the Father. Just as the word which I now speak is conceived and spoken forth by me, and you all receive it, yet none the less it abides in me. Thus I and all creatures abide in the Father.
In the 150th Anniversary edition of The Nation, there’s a brief interview with Marilynne Robnson, author of Gilead, Home, and Lila:
We have lived through a period when we can see religion used very harmfully in society, which is of course not unusual in human history, either. Perhaps it’s typical, because history is kind of a mess. The thing that I think it is important to remember is that every question is always real. People can’t be passively religious. They have to be critical of what is being presented to them as religion. They can’t be passively liberal. They have to think about the consequences of what they are assuming to be liberal values. Human existence is so complex and so volatile that there is never any fixed solution. There is never any fixed understanding. Everything requires moral scrutiny over again, always.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed that all of our crosses and crucifixes are veiled in purple. They have been since Ash Wednesday. Next week on Palm Sunday, the color of the veils will change to red, and then on Good Friday, they’ll be veiled in black. You may wonder why we do it, especially when Lent is a season when we ought to be focusing on the cross. It’s an old tradition, dating back to the Middle Ages, and probably has its roots in penitential practice. In some places, for example, there was a custom of placing a veil between the altar and the people during Lent. So you can think of it as a reminder, like the fact that we don’t sing or say alleluia during the liturgy, that we’re in a season of penitence, that we’re prevented, by our own weaknesses and sins, from deep relationship with Jesus Christ. But let’s be honest. The real reason we at Grace veil the cross is because “we’ve always done it that way.” Continue reading