If you’ve walked alongside the 300 block of Pine Street recently, then you’ve probably seen the stations of the cross we installed for Lent.
How many of you grew up in churches that used Stations of the Cross?
Well, for the listeners at home, the stations of the cross recall the final events of Jesus’ life, from his condemnation to his burial. During the season of Lent, churches install these stations as an invitation for Christians to pray and meditate on Christ’s Passion.
Back in the day, I’m talking wayyy back – like, 5th century CE – Christians would travel to the Holy Land to visit the places where these events were thought to have happened. At first it was mostly Franciscan monks, but it was actually a fairly common pilgrimage by the fifteenth century. The stations of the cross are meant to make this journey accessible to all.
This year, St. Peter’s is using stations created by artist Mary Button, entitled Stations of the Cross: Refugee Journeys. (Mary is actually here with us today.)
This series explores contemporary stories of human movement; each station is a powerful image of refugees from all over the world. The stations begin in North America, exploring the history of forced migration in the United States, the relocation of indigenous people in Louisiana today, the movement of migrant farmworkers and the incarceration of migrants and their children in detention centers. Other stations document the movement of North African and Syrian refugees across the Mediterranean Sea as they journey toward Europe; Rohingya refugees escaping genocide in Myanmar; Venezuelans fleeing governmental chaos; Ukrainians escaping the war in the Donbass region.
Surrounding each station is a border which depicts the movement of Jesus toward the cross as well as images of maps and coordinates. As you pray the stations, you travel across the world twice-over. Let’s imagine ourselves standing along Pine Street – facing these stations.
On one level – we are walking alongside Jesus on his journey to the cross. We take in his pain. Our cruelty. We find moments of mercy – Simeon helping carry Jesus’ cross, Jesus seeing his mother one last time; we rest in them, even grasp for them. We remember when Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, God gave God’s only son.” We try to bear the weight of this giving.
On another level – we are walking alongside 21st century refugees through their journeys of displacement and uncertainty. I always think of the poem “Home” by Warsan Shire. The last part of her poem reads,
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here
Here, too, there is pain and cruelty. But where, we wonder, is mercy?
And yet, for both of these levels – Jesus’ journey, refugee journeys, we are still on Pine Street, taking in the content as observers, albeit sincere ones.
So before we travel alongside Jesus or even alongside our displaced siblings throughout the world, we must turn – or, in Lent, turn back – to our own call to journey.
12 The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
those who curse you I will curse;
all the families of the earth
will be blessed because of you.”
There’s so much here, but I feel the Spirit’s pull to that first verse: To remind us that we are and always have been a journeying people.
On their journey, Abram and Sarai learned and grew. They knew both promise and peril, hope and disappointment. They were hurt. They hurt others, including one another. These memories instilled wisdom and empathy. Their journey informed their life. How they came to know themselves, and to know God. It’s how Abram and Sarai became Abraham and Sarah.
We use the word “journey” a lot in church, and I worry we use it in a way that makes it seem like it’s not a word for everyday life. The kind of church-speak that makes us call a cup a chalice and a napkin a paten; not necessarily in a bad way, but in a way that tries to signal that something special is happening. But sometimes that’s how words lose their meaning. Because they feel too far away from or even irrelevant to our own lives.
The framing of life as a journey is so important, because a journey is all-encompassing and always happening. You don’t say, “I’m on a journey and also I’m working on my masters.” or “I’m going to Cape May this summer, and then I’ll be back on my journey.” “I’m engaged,” “I’m a grandmother,” “I’m sick,” “I’m afraid”…and also I’m on a journey. No. These are part of the journey – they are the journey.
I know many of us feel great fatigue about everything going on in our world today. We may be tempted to create distance from those things. Some of us do that by turning away, but a lot of us distance ourselves by over-functioning – it keeps us busy and in control and, hey, we’re not ignoring the issues…just our fears and despair about them.
If we journey that way, we will never be able to join with those who are so broken by the injustices of our world; will never be able to face our own brokenness. Perhaps we become more efficient, more informed, but we will not become more compassionate or imaginative or hopeful – and all of our sacred stories tell us that those are the kinds of things that transform us, the things that make us whole. We see this promise in Mary’s art. She connected her journey to those she may never actually meet, and look at what was created – stations that powerfully remind us we are all part of the blessed families of the earth.
There are people who do not like churches installing stations of the cross, worrying they cause a dissociation of Jesus’ death from his resurrection. Like a cliff-hanger on a season finale, or a recipe missing the key ingredient. Too much death, not enough life. Too much sad, without the happy ending.
But I think that is incorrect.
That is not how journeys work. And it is not how love works. Jesus’ journey to the cross was not some required punishing, where Jesus took on the pain and violence otherwise reserved for us. Jesus’ journey to the cross was his decision to walk alongside us. In the face of pain and violence, he chose loving us – journeying with us – over and over. He chooses loving us, over and over, still today. Especially those of us who are walking the roads of oppression and persecution like the one he walked. I don’t believe this love was an outcome of the resurrection or the reward on the other side of the cross. I believe this love created the resurrection. Only a love that has journeyed is powerful enough to conquer death. Both the cross and the resurrection come from the same love – they only feel disconnected if you’re watching the journey, instead of walking it.
In August 2018, Suyapa Reyes courageously chose to take Sanctuary at First United Methodist Church in Germantown, after she lost her asylum case and ICE began intimidating her family with bi-weekly check-ins and threats of separating her from her children.
Last week, after spending the last 554 days living in a church, Suyapa Reyes and her four children won their campaign to stay in the United States, receiving a grant of deferred action from federal immigration authorities. Those approvals typically allow undocumented families to live and work in the country without fear of deportation, usually for one or two years to start.
“I feel like a bird in the sky with my wings spread,” Suyapa Reyes said, “I am so happy that I won my freedom.”
And now they’re going to celebrate. This Thursday at 5:00 PM there will be an event called Suyapa’s Freedom Walk – the description says, “Let’s celebrate this huge community victory. Come and walk alongside Suyapa & all of the community that made this victory possible.”
Along with our stations of the cross, I hope you’ll join this freedom walk – a celebration which is, itself, a testimony and a reminder that this is an ongoing journey, a living story. And you are invited to be a part of it.
So go stand on Pine Street, look at the stations of the cross. Walk to one after the other, meditate on what happened to Jesus long ago, and pray mightily for what is happening across the world today…but also know there is something happening right then and right there.
Because you are on a journey too.
And walking the stations is a part of it…is now a part of you; taking up room in your life. It will change you, even if you don’t know how yet. Connecting all of us in a way that changes everything and, with God’s help, is creating a journeyed love that knows no boundaries.
May it be so. Amen.