The Assyrians said of the Israelites, “Their God is a God of the hills, not of the valleys.” Today’s Scripture Readings show that the glory of God is revealed in darkness, for the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. In the Scriptures we contemplate the revelation of the glory of God as seen by Abram and as revealed in the Transfiguration of Christ. Yes, the Transfiguration may have been on top of a hill, but it is when the hill is shrouded in cloud and darkness that the glory of Jesus is revealed. God is at work in the dark places of human life as well as the more sublime and this we see demonstrated very well in the Way of the Cross as Jesus goes along this way of suffering to his death which leads eventually not to failure, but to triumph.
III. Jesus falls for the first time
Psalm 25:1 To thee, O LORD, I lift up my soul. 2 O my God, in thee I trust, let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. 3 Yea, let none that wait for thee be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. 4 Make me to know thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths. 5 Lead me in thy truth, and teach me, for thou art the God of my salvation; for thee I wait all the day long. 6 Be mindful of thy mercy, O LORD, and of thy steadfast love, for they have been from of old. 7 Remember not the sins of my youth, or my transgressions; according to thy steadfast love remember me, for thy goodness' sake, O LORD! 8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. 9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. 10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. 11 For thy name's sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Ever since Station’s of the Cross has been celebrated this first fall of Jesus on the Way of the Cross has been frequently associated with the sins of our youth. And who among us cannot look back without sometimes flinching at the memories and the ensuing embarrassment and shame at the actions and attitudes of our formative years? As Jesus falls the whole weight of that transverse beam of the cross comes crashing down upon him, pinning him to the ground in the mire and dust, and that is where our memories so often pin us. Our guilt lies open in the sight of God and we are fearful that we will never arise, but “with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.”
The sins of youth are part and parcel of being human and growing up – for which of us is without sin? If there is anyone here who cannot look back on their past without shame and embarrassment then perhaps we ought to mount them on a wall, put a candle either side of them and bow down and worship them. But of course none of us fits the bill. Thankfully, the Lord in his mercy offers us forgiveness, but have we learnt to be merciful ourselves? All too often later life so many people conveniently forget the sins and transgressions of their youth and treat young people as if they are worse than they were when they were young. And so the young are pilloried and all too often they have no adults that will actually sit and listen to them. There are plenty of people ready to accuse them, to shout at them and dismiss them as troublemakers, but not so many who will listen and act as worthy spiritual guides.
As our Lord makes his way through the crowded, narrow streets, which are teeming with people on this eve of the Passover, he is the subject of the ghoulish fascination of the crowd, he is the subject of catcalls and jeers, he becomes the victim of the crowd – the one they have pulled down from the pedestal they made for him. For it seems that human nature is such that it loves to adulate people and then to see them fall and to revel in all the gory details of the mess people have made of their lives. This is why our Lord was always cautious about crowds of people and often withdrew to a lonely place. He knew that the crowd is fickle. Brave individuals may stand alongside and offer support, but the overwhelming majority abandon all human compassion and gleefully join in the mocking and the ridicule. Just look at the way people’s marriages are torn apart by, and in, the Newspapers and on Television and at how so many avidly read gossip magazines and so-called biographies where people capitalise on their own transgressions.
This first fall of Jesus is a reminder to us that we should forgive as we have been forgiven. Our prayer at this Station should be with King David: “Remember not the sins of my youth, or my transgressions; according to thy steadfast love remember me, for thy goodness' sake, O LORD!” and if we ask the Lord not to remember the sins of our youth then did we not also ought to ask him for the grace to be merciful even as he is merciful and to be given grace to help the young discover his mercy and love?
IV. Jesus Meets His Blessed Mother
Luke 2:34 and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed."
At this Station we naturally think of Mary the Mother of the Lord and the anguish that must have been particular to her at this moment. She had, all those years ago, received the Archangel Gabriel and accepted the calling to be the God-bearer (The Theotokos, the Mother of God – as the Church would later define her). She had heard the Archangel declare that she was full of grace, and announce that the Son she was to give birth to would be “The Son of the Most High....he will reign over the House of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Yet now all she could see was a bruised, lacerated and exhausted Son on the way to his ignominious death. And yet in this encounter as well as the grief that is naturally Mary’s there would also have been the intense grief that Christ would have at seeing His Mother so distraught and the pain that was particular to her at that moment – the sword that was piercing her own soul.
This meeting is about the distress of two sets of eyes that lock together in helplessness – for neither could do anything for the other............and yet perhaps this very meeting was the cause of mutual strengthening. At the beginning she had accepted the will of God and had said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” Even then she had soon known suffering and fear as Joseph agonised over what to do, and now she was seeing the fulfilment of that strange prophecy uttered by the elderly priest Simeon in the Temple all those years ago.
At this Station we naturally think of Mary and by extension pray for all parents of those who are accused and condemned, for so often they too find themselves sharing in the ignominy of their children’s actions. We pray also for the parents who sit at the side of the bed of dying children, of those who see their children falsely accused, and of those whose children are missing or abducted. And we also pray for children who are separated from their parents, for the children who are the innocent victims of their parents inability to act civilly towards each other after separation, for the children who are treated as little more than bargaining chips between mother and father, and the children who are the victims of horrific abuse whether it be at home, in other places where trust would normally be expected, or in situations of abduction. There are those that say that the Scriptures are silent on the sexual abuse of children, but the Lord had one very strong admonition for those who take advantage of the young and lead them astray: “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Luke 17:2
The pain that is particular to this meeting is to be seen in the meeting of two pairs of eyes, for the eyes are the window of the soul. Those eyes as well as sharing pain would also have shared love. God grant that we be given grace to share love and compassion even when life is painful and seemingly without hope. For there is always hope, even in the midst of darkness and death there is always hope, for the light of God shines forth and banishes the darkness.