Event Name Sermon given at Matins on the Fourth Sunday of Lent 2016
Start Date 6th Mar 2016 10:00am

The Reverend David Stanton, Canon in Residence

Words from our New Testament lesson: 'He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness: by his wounds you have been healed'. (1 St Peter 2: 24).

In many churches, usually Catholic or Anglo Catholic, you find Stations of the Cross around the interior walls of the Church, though some are also found outdoors.

The Stations are usually a series of pictures or images representing certain scenes in the Passion of our Lord. They're usually made of stone or wood, but increasingly they're also depicted as paintings or sculptures. They came into general use at around the end of the seventeenth century, and although the number of stations has varied throughout their history, fourteen are now the norm.

The Stations are there to help us make a spiritual pilgrimage to the main scenes of Christ's sufferings and death, and, over the years, this has become an increasingly popular Anglican devotion during Lent.

For those of you who have not experienced this, its carried out by passing from Station to Station, with certain prayers at each and a meditation on Jesus' deep love for humanity. Of course this type of devotion first took place in the Holy Land where Jesus experienced His passion, death and resurrection. In Jerusalem these important sites were reverently marked out from the earliest times and ever since the days of Constantine became an important destination for pilgrims.

They help us to more literally obey Christ's command to take up our cross and follow Him. In a rather exciting and new way this traditional pattern of following the Stations of the Cross has been re-interpreted this Lent in an exhibition of religious art at various landmarks around central London. Details of which may be found on the internet by searching 'Co-exist'.

Held in fourteen locations across London, it uses works of art to tell the story of the Passion in a new way mapping the geography of the Holy Land onto the streets of a 'new Jerusalem'.

The creators of these Stations have recognised the importance of not just incorporating new works of art with the Stations, but finding ways of activating new meanings in existing works. In other words not just placing this story onto the city's landscape, but finding ways in which that story was already being told in existing locations.

This creation has brought together existing images of the suffering Christ, from paintings in the National Gallery to public statues, and connecting them with new artistic work. The Stations weave through religious as well as secular spaces.

The art ranges from Old Master paintings to contemporary video installations and the artists range from Christians, Jews and Muslims through to atheists.

Instead of easy answers, the Stations aim to provoke not just spiritual passions, but also artistic and political passions. A key vision is that those who follow this spiritual journey experience the same sense of discovery that the creators had when they looked for the perfect place to situate each station.

This is more than just contemporary art. At their best they are a deep engagement with the passion of Christ, helping us to connect emotionally with the suffering that Jesus accepted.

Yet many of us, especially in the West, are used to thinking of the crucifixion as an event happening at a certain time and place. Of course, the crucifixion was such an event. But it is more than that.

It is a truth about God—and how he works in the world with us human beings. The value in the Stations of the Cross are fundamentally twofold: Firstly, as we know only too well, life is sometimes dark, painful, and finite. That reality will not go away even for the Son of God. Secondly, God's work is often most clearly seen in the darkness even on the journey that leads to Golgotha.

Resurrection has no meaning without Good Friday and we need some darkness in order to see the light. In this sense, its helpful to remember that the Stations of the Cross are primarily a stage for prayer and reflection. Its all too easy to go through the motions of worship without really allowing ourselves an encounter with God.

But as we open our hearts and minds to God in this symbolic journey, we're drawn to contemplate, not only the suffering and pain of our own journey mirrored in His, but also to make the connection between Christ's own suffering and the suffering of our world today.

It is hard to talk about the suffering of Christ, some 2,000 years ago without connecting with the fact that we currently face the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. How half Syria's pre-war population (more than eleven million people) have been killed or forced to flee their homes. How so many people have really heavy crosses to bear in their lives, crosses of illness, grief, sadness, regret and hurt.

The Stations of the Cross point us towards a God who suffers with us, a God who has not abandoned us, a God who is with us; a God who became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and who dwelt among us. They also point us toward a God who has the power to transform, power which can bring good out of evil.

As you ponder on these images may you identify with our Lord in his suffering, and He with you in yours, and may you be drawn into a deeper understanding of God's love for you and for your neighbour.

We reflect again on the words of this morning's New Testament lesson: 'He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness: by his wounds you have been healed'.

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