The first morning of my retreat began when I looked out of the window and saw the red-orange sun rising over the tree line. As it happened that morning, the planet, the sun, the time of day, my window, and the spot I stood all lined up to place the image squarely in the center of the first view of the day. God had not arranged this all for my edification, of course. It all happens, in some way, everyday. But, I often miss it. I am NOT an early riser most days, but the monks gather to pray at 7:15 AM, so I was up. It all happened on God’s watch – in God’s providence. I said, “Thanks be to God, and thank you early rising monks.”
After prayer, and breakfast, I took a walk around the grounds of the monastery. Paths, mowed into the grass, guide you to places of ordinary wonder – a lake, trees, an orchard, watermelon and tomato patches. I didn’t know exactly where I was going, so when I took one turn, I encountered a large, rough cross in the ground with XIV carved in the top. It was the last station of the cross (Jesus entombed). I walked on and another cross, numbered XIII, appeared. I was following the stations of the cross – backwards. I chuckled as I thought about some monk I had met seeing me and thinking, “Dumb Lutheran, walking the stations in reverse.”
As XIII led to XII, and XII to XI and so on, it occurred to me that in some way this might be exactly the right way to walk the stations for those of us who follow Jesus – at least as we come to faith in him. God is revealed to us as the Crucified God, on the cross, in the tomb, and then risen from the dead. It is only in light of the end (and new beginning) that anything else Jesus did, said, or suffered can be understood. Push back beyond the stations of the cross to the healings, the parables, the gathered crowds. Go back to the birth of Jesus in sleepy Bethlehem. None of that matters without the cross and resurrection. Those moments did not fade into the shadows of history, forgotten, because the cross and resurrection reinterpreted each event as more than miracles and signs. They were revealed as the very acts of God. Following Jesus begins at the cross and at the tomb, at the end of the stations.
There is a clue here about how we look at everything in our lives and this ailing, suffering world. Nothing makes sense if you don’t start at the cross and resurrection. A suffering God, a crucified God, rises to new life in the face of death and destruction. The loss and devastation; the violence and polarization; the hatred and the division of the world are unintelligible – unbearable – without a vision that places God in the center. The cross does exactly that.
How will we get through the terror and violence? The answer is in the cross and resurrection. How will we survive global degradation and environmental crisis? The cross and resurrection are the beginning of wisdom. How will we not be consumed by our grief and despair? Look to the cross and resurrection. No matter what people promise, only in the cross do we find a God who enters our suffering and death and then offers hope for something new. The cross emboldens us to do the hard and painful things that are demanded. The resurrection points us to the promise that God will redeem, sanctify and speak a new word, even into the darkness of death and evil.
When I finally came to the first station. I looked up and there, just ahead was the window to my room where the day had started. Walking the path backwards, from Cross to the beginning, had brought me home. May it be so with you.
copyright © 2018 – Timothy V. Olson