Walking the Stations of the Cross in Downtown Madison, April 7, 2017

At the entrance of the Dane County Jail

This is the fourth (I think) year we’ve walked the Stations of the Cross in Downtown Madison. It’s a strange, uncomfortable experience in that for me, I’m walking streets I walk nearly every day as I go to and from work or grab lunch or run errands. This year, as in past years, I encountered familiar faces as I walked, among them two elected officials of county and city government.

This year, in addition to the usual distractions of city traffic and people going about their business, we had to compete with construction on Capitol Square and with the Solidarity Singers, who seemed to be a larger group than they had been in recent weeks.

To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to today’s event. For whatever reason, my spiritual focus has been elsewhere, and my energy diverted to other matters. If it hadn’t concluded at Grace, I doubt whether I would have participated.

I was surprised how quickly I was caught up in the experience. It wasn’t just the familiar stations, and the meditations that connected Jesus’ suffering with the suffering on the streets of Madison. It was also about making Christ’s suffering present on these streets, at the door of the Dane County Jail, opposite the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum, and at the steps of Grace where a homeless person died in the winter of 2014, and where so many homeless people have sought refuge over the last thirty years, and hungry people have been fed.

We do so much to protect ourselves from the knowledge and experience of human suffering on the streets of our city. The homeless and panhandlers are harassed and shoved out of sight. The inhumanity of the Dane County Jail is at its worst several stories above the room in the City County building where Madison’s Common Council and the Dane County Board of Supervisors deliberate.

To walk the way of the cross in Downtown Madison is to bear witness to the blood on our streets and in our city. It is also to see in that suffering and pain, the suffering and pain of Jesus Christ.

Today I realized that our little Stations of the Cross, walked as we’ve done it every year on the Friday before Palm Sunday, has become an essential part of my preparation for the drama of Holy Week.

 

For background on the devotion of the Stations of the Cross and how we do it here in Madison, follow this link.

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A White Lent

1. Now quit your care
And anxious fear and worry;
For schemes are vain
And fretting brings no gain.
To prayer, to prayer!
Bells call and clash and hurry,
In Lent the bells do cry
‘Come buy, come buy,
Come buy with love the love most high!’

2. Lent comes in the spring,
And spring is pied with brightness;
The sweetest flowers,
Keen winds, and sun, and showers,
Their health do bring
To make Lent’s chastened whiteness;
For life to men brings light
And might, and might,
And might to those whose hearts are right.

3. To bow the head
In sackcloth and in ashes,
Or rend the soul,
Such grief is not Lent’s goal;
But to be led
To where God’s glory flashes,
His beauty to come nigh,
To fly, to fly,
To fly where truth and light do lie.

4. For is not this
The fast that I have chosen? –
The prophet spoke –
To shatter every yoke,
Of wickedness
The grievous bands to loosen,
Oppression put to flight,
To fight, to fight,
To fight till every wrong’s set right.

5. For righteousness
And peace will show their faces
To those who feed
The hungry in their need,
And wrongs redress,
Who build the old waste places,
And in the darkness shine.
Divine, divine,
Divine it is when all combine!

6. Then shall your light
Break forth as doth the morning;
Your health shall spring,
The friends you make shall bring
God’s glory bright,
Your way through life adorning
And love shall be the prize.
Arise, arise,
Arise! and make a paradise!

A Lenten carol written by Percy Dearmer. I’m grateful to Thinking Anglicans for drawing my attention to it. It’s lovely because of its quite joyful evocation of the beauty of springtime. And it is powerful in shifting the focus of Lent away from personal piety toward works of justice. I’ve borrowed the text from A Clerk of Oxford

 

Hens and Foxes: A Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, 2016

 

I don’t think anyone would deny that the general mood in our nation is particularly troubling. No matter what one’s political preferences might be, most of us, left or right, feel as if the country, our state, our culture is out of our control, that big money and political operatives are running the show and care little for the lives of ordinary people. It’s not just that we can’t seem to come together to solve intractable problems; it’s that the whole system is rigged for the 1% and their money and influence make it impossible for the rest of us—we end up fighting over an ever-smaller piece of the pie while the wealthy and powerful gorge themselves. Continue reading

I will draw all people to myself: A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, 2015

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

The Wilderness of Lent: A Sermon for the First Sunday in Lent, 2015

Of all the things we do liturgically, I sometimes think that the Season of Lent presents us in the twenty-first century with the greatest distance from our contemporary world. Lent is a season of repentance and self-examination that flies in the face of our consumerist culture and values. Lent challenges us to focus, when what we want is distraction. Lent is somber when we want to be happy. Lent invites us to self-denial and fasting when we crave self-indulgence. Continue reading

Forty for 40: A Literary Reader for Lent

A remarkable collection of readings for the forty days of Lent. I think I’ve found one of my lenten disciplines!

Compiled by Nick Ripatrazone who writes:

Lent is the most literary season of the liturgical year. The Lenten narrative is marked by violence, suffering, anticipation, and finally, joy. Jesus Christ’s 40 days of fasting in the desert are the spiritual and dramatic origin for the season that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday.

There are some old familiar pieces here and many that I don’t know and look forward to exploring.

Unruly Wills and Affections

The Collect for the Fifth Sunday in Lent is one of my favorites, full of rich imagery and language. I didn’t preach today because I spent it with our kids. They’ve been learning about the Eucharist and today I talked with them about it during the Liturgy of the Word. At the offertory, we rejoined the main congregation and the children gathered around the altar for the Great Thanksgiving.

All this meant that I really hadn’t spent any time with the propers this week, so the beautiful collect came to me as a wonderful surprise while I was presiding at the early service:

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

It has an interesting history. It derives from early sources (the Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries), where it was used in the Easter season. Cranmer appointed it for the Fourth Sunday after Easter. His translation was altered in 1662, introducing the phrase “bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners.” The 1979 Book of Common Prayer moved it to its current location. It seems much more appropriate as a Lenten collect than as an Easter one.

I’m taken by the understanding of human nature expressed in the prayer. The phrase “our unruly wills and affections” certainly implies sin, but doesn’t dwell on human sinfulness. But there is also an appeal to God working in us to effect our salvation, the request to God to give God’s people grace “to love what you command and desire what you promise.”

It then moves out to put us in our context–amid the swift and varied changes of the world and expresses the hope that we might focus our attention not on the constantly changing scenery around us, but on our true hope.