Welcome to Prayer Station Number Three
Read: John 19 17 - 37
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others – one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, ‘Do not write “The King of the Jews”, but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.’
22 Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’
23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
24 ‘Let’s not tear it,’ they said to one another. ‘Let’s decide by lot who will get it.’
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,
‘They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.’[a]
So this is what the soldiers did.
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to her, ‘Woman,[b] here is your son,’ 27 and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken,’[c] 37 and, as another scripture says, ‘They will look on the one they have pierced.’[d]
To Christ Our Lord
I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.
Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote this poem below. You may have read it before. Read it slowly and see if you can find references to Jesus that spark your imagination and wonder. (Commentary below if you want). More about the Cross in Station 4.
The poem is actually not to the bird at all; it is ‘To Christ our Lord', i.e. a religious poem. The octave is certainly about the bird, trying to define its particular inscape or identity, and the way it impacts him, its instress. But in the sestet, Hopkins shifts his ground, taking his eye off the bird and addressing Christ directly. The sestet in fact, unusually, divides into two clear stanzas:
• one thinking of the beauty of Christ as opposed to the beauty of the bird;
• the other, seeing in what way Christ's beauty is beautiful, and, more to the point, how an apparently ordinary religious life could share in that beauty.
This is a challenge for us, too, as modern readers, since we talk easily enough about beautiful women or landscapes, but not about beauty in ordinary, unglamorous things. We might even feel a little embarrassed about it. We have to remember that the Victorians, as heirs to the Romantics, had a much more fully worked out aesthetic , which they were not afraid to apply to religion, or even to a mathematical proof.
In the octave, Hopkins has been watching a falcon soaring and swooping in the morning air, marveling at the bird's skill and grace. The windy conditions do not seem to bother the bird, who seems in total control of all his ecstatic movements. Hopkins' ‘heart in hiding' is deeply moved by the sight, yet this reaction distresses him.
In the sestet he seems to want to regain his composure, ‘here buckle'. He can only do this by turning to Christ and declaring:
• that ‘the fire that breaks from the then' is both more lovely and more challenging
• such fire is hidden, but breaks out from the ordinary surface appearance of things to reveal itself
• the implication is that the bird's beauty is merely physical, and Hopkins' response to it merely physical
• the deeper beauty is spiritual, often hidden underneath a dull physical appearance.
There is the implication, however, in ‘fall' and ‘gash', that he is thinking more specifically about Christ's crucifixion, where his self-sacrifice must be defined as the ultimate spiritual beauty:
• this self-sacrificing love then becomes the mark of all human spiritual beauty.
However, not everyone would agree with this interpretation.
Maybe you would want to look at something in nature, perhaps from your garden and ask yourself how it speaks of Jesus.
What does it say, and how could you express it in word or painting or service or dance?
You might want to play ‘Lark ascending’ as you consider? (I am well aware that larks are not what Hopkins was writing about :) )