Protests, processions, Palm Sunday

One of those interesting confluences this week as the March for Our Lives took place in Madison today, a day after Madison Episcopalians walked the Stations of the Cross in Madison, a day before Palm Sunday and our re-enactment of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Three consecutive days, and three very different scenes on the steps of Grace Church.

In my nine years at Grace, I have witnessed and participated in many marches and rallies. There were the Act 10 protests in 2011; the demonstrations after Tony Robinson’s death in 2015, the Women’s March in 2017. There were many others. Some passed unnoticed. Often, we open our doors and welcome protestors inside, even spontaneously, as we did on the Day without Latinos in 2016. Equally often, the protests pass barely unnoticed. It’s a rare day when the state legislature is in session when there aren’t a few people walking around the Capitol waving signs. Some days, the Solidarity Singers are loud; other times, they can barely be heard.

Walking the Stations of the Cross in this setting is always jarring to me. I encounter people whose faces I know. We pass by the food trucks where I often buy my lunch. But our route is also disorienting. There are blocks that we walk down that I rarely walk in my regular routine, and I have the opportunity to look around and contemplate the square from a different perspective than the one I have as I typically make my rounds.

Yesterday, we paused for one of the stations on N. Carroll St, just in front of Grace Church.  Across the street, on the Capitol sidewalk, the Solidarity Singers were in full voice. A few steps away from them, three police officers were talking with a homeless man. As we contemplated Jesus’ suffering and death, one of those little moments that occur regularly in downtown Madison was taking place. A man, likely intoxicated or high, possibly mentally ill, was dealing with police officers. As I watched, they called for additional assistance. EMT’s? I don’t know. We had to move on to the next station.

I wondered how many other incidents like that were taking place even as we were connecting the events of Jesus’ suffering and death with the violence, oppression, and inequality in our community and nation.

There were a handful of us yesterday–fifteen or so, who spent the hour tracing a path from Grace to the Dane County Jail, the City-County Building, and around Capitol Square. As we walked, bearing witness to injustice and oppression, remembering Jesus’ suffering and death, we passed by suffering that was occurring on the sidewalks beside us and the suffering  and oppression behind the walls of the jail, the courthouse. We walked past banks and law offices, and the museums that tell the official, sanitized version of Wisconsin history: The institutions that oppress, and in which we are enmeshed and implicated, the forces that oppress and marginalize vulnerable populations. All of these surround us and shape us. They are the air we breathe.

Today, there were thousands who marched from the Library Mall to the State Capitol to rally for gun control. As we do at Grace, we opened our doors on this cold day to offer  warmth and respite from the cold, rest for the weary. Before the march arrived at the Capitol, police officers with bomb-sniffing dogs made a round of the square and there was  a heavy visible presence of law enforcement.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will process through our courtyard to the very doors that were held open today. We will reenact Jesus’ protest march in the streets of Jerusalem, a march that proclaimed the coming of God’s reign, the overturning of the system of domination that crushed the poor, the outsider, the widow and orphan, the coming of a new way of being, a new world of justice and peace. I’m guessing that in terms of numbers, it looked more like the little group of us who walked the Stations of the Cross than the thousands that marched today. A small group of those men and women who had come with Jesus from Galilee, and perhaps a few locals who had heard about him.

On Good Friday, the whole weight of Rome’s imperial power fell on Jesus and his little band of followers. Many of us feel like an even more powerful weight of hatred and oppression looms over us and even now is crushing the most vulnerable in our society–people of color, LGBTQ persons, undocumented immigrants; the power of cynicism and the super-wealthy that have rigged the system in their favor.

But at the same time, the voices and energy of children have been raised to challenge one of the most powerful special interests in our land, and have mobilized millions across our country to cry out for justice and change.

Christians this Holy Week remember and re-enact the events of the last days of Jesus’ life; we remember the oppression and injustice that he fought with love. As Americans, we mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, his martyrdom for the cause of equality, justice, and freedom, and the hatred that opposed him and brought an end to his life. The forces arrayed against change are more powerful now than ever before.

Watching events unfold this week against a backdrop of oppression, injustice, and violence, fearful for those who speak out and remember the deaths of Jesus and MLK, despairing for the future of our nation and world, my faith is rekindled by the witness of school children who, having experienced the worst of humanity, are showing us the possibility of a new way, a new America.

We witness in many ways to the power of love and justice. In protests, in processions, as we walk the way of the cross. We witness in our words and in our actions, in worship and prayer. And we bear witness and offer support to the voices of those who cry out for justice and change. Through it all, my faith in God who is justice, peace, and love, sustains and strengthens me.

Walking the Stations of the Cross in Downtown Madison, April 7, 2017

At the entrance of the Dane County Jail

This is the fourth (I think) year we’ve walked the Stations of the Cross in Downtown Madison. It’s a strange, uncomfortable experience in that for me, I’m walking streets I walk nearly every day as I go to and from work or grab lunch or run errands. This year, as in past years, I encountered familiar faces as I walked, among them two elected officials of county and city government.

This year, in addition to the usual distractions of city traffic and people going about their business, we had to compete with construction on Capitol Square and with the Solidarity Singers, who seemed to be a larger group than they had been in recent weeks.

To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to today’s event. For whatever reason, my spiritual focus has been elsewhere, and my energy diverted to other matters. If it hadn’t concluded at Grace, I doubt whether I would have participated.

I was surprised how quickly I was caught up in the experience. It wasn’t just the familiar stations, and the meditations that connected Jesus’ suffering with the suffering on the streets of Madison. It was also about making Christ’s suffering present on these streets, at the door of the Dane County Jail, opposite the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum, and at the steps of Grace where a homeless person died in the winter of 2014, and where so many homeless people have sought refuge over the last thirty years, and hungry people have been fed.

We do so much to protect ourselves from the knowledge and experience of human suffering on the streets of our city. The homeless and panhandlers are harassed and shoved out of sight. The inhumanity of the Dane County Jail is at its worst several stories above the room in the City County building where Madison’s Common Council and the Dane County Board of Supervisors deliberate.

To walk the way of the cross in Downtown Madison is to bear witness to the blood on our streets and in our city. It is also to see in that suffering and pain, the suffering and pain of Jesus Christ.

Today I realized that our little Stations of the Cross, walked as we’ve done it every year on the Friday before Palm Sunday, has become an essential part of my preparation for the drama of Holy Week.


For background on the devotion of the Stations of the Cross and how we do it here in Madison, follow this link.

Weeping in and for Jerusalem: A Sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday, 2016

There’s an abrupt, shocking transition in our liturgy this morning. We begin in excitement, joy, and celebration with the liturgy of the palms as we re-enact what is called Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Then suddenly, at the doors of the nave, our mood changes as I recited the powerful words of the collect:

“Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.”

Holy Week is a time of intense emotions for many of us as we find ourselves thrown into the midst of a familiar story nearly two thousand years old. As liturgy, as ritual does, the movement of our bodies this week, the familiar words and hymns evoke not only the events that took place in Jerusalem that year, they also evoke all of the other year that we have participated in this story and in a way evoke all of the countless other Christians who over the millennia and across the globe this week, participate in the same story.

There are so many ways to approach this week, the story which we have heard and in which we are participating. There are characters to whom we might pay close attention and with whom we might identify. There is the portrayal of Jesus himself—so rich in this gospel, a portrayal shaped profoundly by the gospel writer’s concern. We experience his calmness in the face of arrest and execution; his forgiveness, his healing power in the midst of the chaos of arrest; his final words, and the way he dies. Jesus is in control of everything around him, even while the violence surrounds him, the turbulent chaos of crowds and injustice impinge upon him, and from him flows love and mercy.

Of all the things I’ve noticed while reflecting on the text this week, the repeated presence of one emotion has caught my attention. Perhaps it was triggered by the gospel we heard a couple of weeks ago in which Jesus lamented over Jerusalem (Lk 13:34-35):

34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’,

Those verses foreshadow what we do today. Both in the acclamation during the liturgy of the palms: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and in the repetition of Jesus’ lament for the daughters of Jerusalem as he carries his cross to Golgotha. It’s an incident that only Luke records, and it’s worth repeating:

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.”

But it may also be that Friday’s Downtown Stations of the Cross attuned me to the theme of weeping. This little episode is the theme of one of the stations in the traditional devotion of the Stations of the Cross, and it was one in ours as well which bring the traditional stations to life on the streets of our city and connect Jesus’ experiences and our devotions with the struggling and suffering in Madison. To think about the weeping women of Jerusalem in Madison is to be reminded of the plight of single mothers, of victims of domestic violence, of mothers who mourn the premature deaths of their children to the violence of the streets.

But that is not the only place in Luke’s passion narrative where weeping is present. After Peter denies Jesus, Luke tells us that he “wept bitterly.” And Luke adds that after Jesus’ death, the crowds who had watched his crucifixion went home, beating their breasts.

Weeping appears elsewhere in traditional devotions connected with the crucifixion. One of the most famous hymns to Mary, the stabat mater has as its first stanza:

At the Cross her station keeping,

stood the mournful Mother weeping,

close to her Son to the last.

Our liturgy may move us. As we wave our palms and shout hosanna, as we listen to the dramatic story of Jesus betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, as we sing the hymns connected with this day, we may find our emotions overwhelming us. For some, those depth of those feelings may have a great deal to do with things that are going on in our lives, or the lives of our friends and families. Some of us are grieving the death of a loved one, some of us are facing illness or the illness of a loved one. We may be struggling with work, or with difficult or broken relationships.

We bring all of that with us today. Some of us may be near tears, but those tears are for ourselves, or a loved one, and have little to do with the drama that is taking place here in our worship. For some of us, the emotions that are welling up in us are a product of our own brokenness, our sins, our personal shortcomings, our feelings of guilt. Some of us cannot name, cannot identify what in us is causing our pain. Others may be unmoved by all of this. We’ve enclosed our pain and suffering behind an impenetrable wall. Our hearts have grown cold and stony.

Whatever we feel, wherever we are today, the story we’ve heard invites us in. It draws us in, makes us participate. Whether or not we are weeping today, the story of the cross confronts us with our own brokenness and pain. It confronts us with the suffering, pain, and evil of the world. It shows us the oppressive power and might of imperial injustice, as well as the betrayal and abandonment of Jesus by his closest friends. It is a story that encompasses the human drama at its most grandiose and evil and yet, in some ways, at its most petty and small.

And still, through it all, we see Jesus, calm, peaceful, forgiving. In the midst of it all, the pain and suffering, the injustice and evil, Jesus offers his love to the world, and his forgiving word to his executioners. Through it all, Jesus offers his love to us and his forgiving word to us. May this day, this week, be for all of us a time when we experience that love and forgiveness in all its depth and power, that our brokenness might be healed, our tears wiped dry, and our joy complete.






The Way of the Cross is the Way of Justice: A Sermon for Palm Sunday, 2015

On Friday, a group of us from Madison’s Episcopal churches walked the stations of the cross in the downtown. The Stations of the Cross are a traditional Roman Catholic devotion, consisting of prayers and meditations commemorating Jesus’ journey from his condemnation to death to his burial. Traditionally there were fourteen stations, and they are a common fixture in most Roman Catholic, and many Episcopal churches, with images depicting each of the stations mounted on the walls of naves.

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Walking the Stations of the Cross with her 7-year old son

Miranda Hassett, Rector of St. Dunstan’s in Madison has a lovely, thoughtful post on her son’s participation in a recent Stations of the Cross. It’s here.

What did G do, while we were going around and reading the Stations? He stood with us -sometimes relatively still, sometimes hopping from foot to foot. Sometimes reading along in his booklet, sometimes flopping his booklet back and forth, sometimes holding his booklet over his face with just his eyes peering over. He wandered off and sat down on a chair, a rocker, the floor. He drew a cross in red marker on one page of the booklet. He gazed at the art. He breathed on the glass of the windows and drew crosses in the water vapor with his finger. He fell over, once. He peered into the faces of the two adults in the room, to try to figure out what we were thinking and feeling. Sometimes he read the responses with us; sometimes he missed them.

And – I know this because I’m his mom, and because at least half my attention was on him the whole time – he was tuned in, listening, taking it in and thinking about it, the whole time. He was wiggly and distracting and all over the place, but he was, in his 7-going-on-8 way, fully present. And, as I started to read Station 7, he said, “I’ll read the next one.” He read Station 8 and Station 10. He declined to read again, but the other adult encouraged him to read the last one, and he did. He read most of it from a seated position astride our (heavy, stone) altar rail.

She goes on to reflect on the inclusion of kids in worship. Read it.

Next Monday (the 25th), there will be a Stations of the Cross as a Witness against Violence (part of a nation-wide effort of the Episcopal Church) at St. Dunstan’s at 6:00 pm. More info here.