Passion Week: Monday, Mar 25 – Saturday, March 30:
Beatitude Seven: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Beatitude Eight: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Station Twelve: Jesus dies on the cross.
The Christian gospel tells us that the death of Jesus was the turning point, the moment when salvation came to humanity. One traditional, biblical understanding of the death of Jesus was that he died as a blood sacrifice for the sins of humanity, which otherwise God would have to punish by death. But the Bible offers another rather different interpretation.
In ancient times, homeopathy was the primary form of medicine, in which “a dose of that which ails you is the cure”. In the book of Exodus, the people of Israel, wandering in their desert, began to despair of their fate and were then punished with a plague of snakes that bit them and killed some of them. Moses cried out to God for help, and God told him to put up a bronze serpent on a pole and have the people gaze at it, and thus be healed of the snakebites. The symbol of serpents on a pole is now the symbol of medicine. The bronze serpent was a form of spiritual homeopathy. In the gospel of John, chapter 3, Jesus said that as the serpent was lifted on the pole to save Israel, so would Jesus have to be lifted up in order to save humanity. The cross is spiritual homeopathy for the human condition of suffering and mortality. By gazing at the death of Jesus, we see our own death, and are thus liberated from it into life.
When and how have you been a peacemaker? What have you learned from other people who are peacemakers?
Have you ever been persecuted because you stood up for justice? What was that experience like? Was there any redemption in your suffering?
In what ways do you deny your mortality? How do you hide from it? Is this denial itself a kind of death?
How does your eventual death fit in your life? How does it motivate what you do, how does it shape who you are?
What life, what liveliness, would come to you if you lost your fear and denial of death?
What social ills does our society avoid seeing – but if we looked, would lead us toward healing?
Meditation on your Lenten Action:
Where do you find resonance, meaning, and inspiration in this Station, and in these Beatitudes, in the course of your work of service or advocacy so far?
Paint, draw, or make a collage in the shape of the cross, with images that illustrate what needs to be healed in your life and in the world around you.
Introduction to this Guide (repeated each week)
LENT prepares us to encounter the mystery and power in the stories of the death and resurrection of the Christ. It is the time in the traditional Christian calendar to experience the transformative meanings of the Passion story. This guide focuses on the Beatitudes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and on the fourteen Stations of the Cross, which symbolize the events remembered on Good Friday.
The Beatitudes are recorded in Matthew chapter 5 and a shorter version in Luke chapter 20. The Sermon on the Mount begins with this manifesto of hope and promise. They introduce the heart of Jesus’ teaching to his followers. Jesus’ nine Beatitudes address the suffering which so many of his followers experienced in everyday life in Roman-occupied Israel. Luke’s shorter set of sentences is more focused on tangible poverty and oppression.
The Stations of the Cross are an old Catholic Christian tradition. They mark fourteen stages along the path from Jesus’ condemnation to death until his burial (Luke 23). To this day, many Catholic churches have statues or plaques installed inside their sanctuaries or outside in their gardens, each marking one of the Stations. They are more than a simple rendition of the story found in the gospels. Some of the Stations correspond to actual passages in the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ Passion. But others have no corresponding verses in the New Testament. Jesus’ encounter with Veronica, for example, at Station number 6, is based on a legend that developed long after the biblical era. The Stations have always been evocative and interpretive, rather than simple historical representations. They remind us that we have great freedom to read new meanings into Christianity.
This guide invites you to walk with the Beatitudes and the Stations, a few steps at a time, through each of the weeks of Lent. It invites you to join in study, conversation, meditative prayer, artistic creativity, and compassionate action. It can be used for private devotion, for group study and practice, or for integration into study and worship in a church congregation.
This guide presumes that:
1) … the parts of the Passion and Easter stories that appear to be fanciful or supernaturalistic do not need to be taken literally in order for us to experience their extraordinary significance. The myth and poetry in these stories are portals into the realm of the soul. They provide us with essential structures of meaning, and guide us toward higher consciousness and greater compassion. “Just because something didn’t really happen doesn’t mean it isn’t really true!”
2) … the historical context of the Beatitudes and the Passion and Easter stories offers us a useful lens through which to interpret them. The social and political circumstances of Jesus’ time can serve as mirrors for us to reflect on the personal and public moral choices that lie before us today.
3) … the stories and traditions of Lent and Easter are many-layered. They meet us at historical, political, mystical, transpersonal, moral, intellectual, and aesthetic levels. You are invited to explore them all!
You are invited, as an individual or as a group, to commit to action for positive social change during Lent. This can take many forms: service to the homeless, working on a campaign, or many other types of charitable and/or advocacy work for the common good, whether as a volunteer or as a professional. It can be an ongoing work of service, or a short-term commitment during the weeks of Lent. (See the “links” at www.beatitudessociety.org for suggestions of organizations in which you can become involved.) Each week, this guide invites you to reflect on your experiences and observations in the course of this work.
Recommended books to accompany this Lent study:
Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary (Paperback)
by Marcus J. Borg (Harper One, 2008)
Campaign Boot Camp: Basic Training for Future Leaders (Paperback)
by Christine Pelosi (Polipoint Press, 2007)
The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem (Hardcover)
by Marcus J. Borg, John Dominic Crossan (Harper One, 2006)
Jesus: A New Vision by Marcus Borg (Harper One, 1991)
The Five Gospels: The search for the authentic words of Jesus, by the Jesus Seminar (Polebridge Press, 1993)