Easter, March 31:
Beatitude Nine: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The Jesus Seminar scholars reached consensus that this Beatitude is more of a reflection of the early church’s interpretation of Jesus than of the words of the historical Jesus. No wonder, then, that the last Beatitude resonates so much with the Passion story, offering an understanding of the redemptive result of the persecution and crucifixion of Jesus.
The prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures spoke truth to power, even when that power threatened their lives. It is remarkable to consider that the holy scripture of the Jewish people was preserved for so long even though it included long rants against the injustices and excesses of its kings, who surely must have been tempted to censor its revolutionary contents. The tradition of honoring the utterances of prophets who were believed to speak on behalf of God was strong enough to survive the despotism of so many of Israel’s rulers. Likewise, the Christian gospel, with its revolutionary message of liberation, has survived and spread in spite of times of tyranny and oppression over two millennia. The mere existence of the Bible points to the power of honoring a Law of Love that is higher than any human authority. A great reward for humanity comes through the courage of people who stand up for the divine values of compassion, kindness, and peacefulness, no matter the cost.
Station Thirteen: Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea.
Joseph of Arimathea was a powerful Jew who risked his life and reputation to offer respect for Jesus by honoring his body after death. He arranged for Jesus’ body to be lovingly wrapped and buried in dignity. Joseph was a secret admirer of Jesus, but dared not publicly expose his sentiments.
The Grail legends tell that Joseph of Arimathea took possession of the cup that Jesus used in the last supper, and that he put the cup under Jesus’ wound when he was speared by the soldiers, and gathered Jesus’ blood. He then took the cup — the Holy Grail — with him to England, where he threw it into the well at Glastonbury to protect it.
Station Fourteen: Jesus’ body is placed in the tomb .
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Jesus’ body returned to the earth from which it came. But that which was put into the earth came out of the earth three days later, transformed. As St. Paul said, “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body” (l Corinthians 15: 44). One need not believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead in order to fully experience the meaning and power of this story. The three days correspond to the three trimesters of human gestation. Jesus’ physical body went in, but the eternal, universal, and ever-present Christ came out. The pain and terror and horror of crucifixion went in, but hope and promise came out. Jesus’ body went into the tomb, but a new and wonderful kind of Christian community came out, three days later.
The passage through the tomb reminds us of other transformational myths of Jesus. In the miracle story of the feeding of the five thousand, he transformed a few loaves and fishes into a satisfying meal for everyone. At the wedding in Cana, he transformed water into fine wine.
When have you witnessed the rewards resulting from the actions of people, including perhaps yourself, who have suffered hardship because they stood up for justice and peace?
When is it best to be a Joseph of Arimathea? – and work quietly and without fanfare in the service of others?
Who has been a Joseph of Arimathea in your life? – quietly and secretly supporting and serving you?
What new life will come from the parts of your life that have died, or must die?
What new life will come to society, after we say goodbye to the ways of our common life that are unjust and unhealthy?
How are you changing right now? What is gestating within you? – about to emerge from the dark tomb and womb of your unknowing?
What is your view about what happens, if anything, after or through death? How does your view of an afterlife affect the way you live now? What would it mean to have “heaven on earth”?
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?
Make a “tomb” out of any media – a dark, hidden place with a small opening. Into it put cards or notes expressing your hopes for “heaven on earth” – your visions of fulfillment, peace, justice, wholeness, beauty, and joy – for yourself and the world. Share the “tomb” with others who can put in more notes, and/or remove them to view.
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)