Week Six: Monday, March 18 – Sunday, March 24 (Palm Sunday):
Beatitude Six: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
“No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (l John 4: 12) It is through the heart that we experience God directly.
Mysticism is the direct encounter of the human soul with the divine. It is not about “mist”; it is not about the paranormal and the fantastic and the magical. Rather, it is the felt, known presence of the holy in the human soul. This experience transcends the bounds of all religions. It goes beyond the orthodoxies of all the great faiths. It cannot be limited by beliefs and creeds. Jesus does not say that only Christians will see God. He never thought of himself as anything but a Jew, and he didn’t even say that only Jews would see God. This Beatitude says that it is through a pure heart that one sees the divine. Through our hearts, the love within us recognizes the love that is God.
Station Eleven: Jesus is crucified on the cross.
The Romans intended the cross to be a symbol of the dire consequences of defying the power of their empire. But the early Christians made it the symbol of the exact opposite. The early Christians made it the symbol of God’s realm of peace, justice, equality, and charity.
The early Christians believed that the structure of the universe had changed through the life and death of the Christ. In the Roman Empire, most people believed that the universe was a series of translucent discs on top of each other, in the sky above the earth. Each successive layer below was subject to the level above it, with God at the top and the earth at the bottom. They saw the universe much as they saw the structure of the Empire itself: a system with a supreme authority at the top, lesser and lesser authorities below, with common people at the bottom. This image of nesting spheres resulted in the phrase “seventh heaven” – the uppermost sphere from which God ruled, or St. Paul’s reference to the “third heaven” – first, the earth at the bottom, second, the seven shells above it, and third, the uppermost heaven where God dwelled. It is also the origin of the phrase “the music of the spheres” – the levels of heaven were imagined to be like glass spheres that rubbed against each other to make subtle cosmic music. The early Christians believed that through Jesus, this order was permanently altered. From then on, God would rule the earth directly, without depending on the intervening cosmic powers getting in the way. The crucifixion, in their view, cracked open the cosmos and allowed pure divine power to pour onto the earth – and into our hearts.
When has your heart been pure enough to enable you to see God?
When have you experienced God through other people who are “pure of heart”?
What are you doing, and what can you be doing, to further the establishment of God’s reign on earth? What are you doing to continue what Jesus did: turn the world upside down?
How can your actions continue to transform the cross from a sign of death into a sign of hope?
Meditation on your Lenten Action:
Where do you find resonance, meaning, and inspiration in these Stations, and in this Beatitude, in the course of your work of service or advocacy so far?
Draw or make a cross which contains images of the kingdom of heaven on earth, as you imagine it to be.
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)