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Finding Your Face in the Crowd…

Were you there…?

That haunting question, from one of the oft sung hymns of holy week, brought me back to a family trip years ago to the Swiss Alps. There we fell in love with Lucerne, a quaint, picturesque city in the heart of the Swiss Alps, centered on a lake with ducks that dive deep into the water for their food. Those looking for an adventure can take a cable car ride to Mt. Pilatus for stunning views of Lake Lucerne. Back in town, the city’s Old Town features lively squares, boutiques, and the oldest wooden covered bridge in the world, built in 1365. A stroll along the lake will bring you to the cornerstone of Old Town, the Jesuit Church known for its ornate baroque style architecture. If you look carefully as you stroll through town, you will discover another church- a hidden gem- Franziskanerkirche- the Franciscan Church of St. Mary.

The Franciscan church was originally built in the early 1200’s to serve as a monastery, thus the exterior of this church is rather unassuming. The street level entrance to the church has no steps, denoting a church accessible to the common people. This common presentation finds many tourists passing by without a second look. But if you step inside, you will find an ornately carved wooden pulpit and stunning pink marble columns. Along the walls of the sanctuary hang a collection of paintings depicting the stations of the cross- 14 moments from the garden to the tomb. These paintings captured my attention, not just for the story they tell, but for the faces on each canvas. I wondered why the faces in the paintings did not look like the people in the Holy Land. None of the faces were of Semitic or Arab descent. Every face looked European with blue eyes and light skin tones. Upon investigation, I learned that the artist used the townspeople as his models, leaving them to wonder what part they would play in the story until the paintings were unveiled. Imagine that debut, people strolling down the church aisle searching each painting for their likeness. Some, I am sure, were pleased to find that they were among the women faithfully sitting at the foot of the cross. Others were perhaps less pleased to find their face immortalized on one of the soldiers nailing Jesus to the cross. The artist’s intent was obvious, inviting each person to find themselves in the story, no longer merely spectators from across the ages.

I think the gospel writers have the same hope, that we will read the ancient story willing to find ourselves along the way. Imagine being in the Sunday crowd, waving palms and welcoming Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna.” What joy to be there that day! But have we ever been in the Friday crowd, angry because life has not worked out the way we hoped, jeering the one who was supposed to save? Have our broken hearts ever shouted: “Crucify”? Have we gone to the garden with Jesus as he cries out to his Father? Do we ever fall asleep there? On Friday, do we sit at the foot of the cross bathed in grief, or do we hide from that moment as the disciples did? Is our hand on the mallet that drove the nails through his hands? Do we see our sin etched in each nail? Where will we be in those pre-dawn hours on Sunday- hopeful or broken-hearted? Will we join the women at the tomb, or will we walk away like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, still unable to believe the rumors of a risen Jesus?

Were you there… where will you be this holy week? Perhaps a read of the stations of the cross will allow you to stroll down the aisle to look for your face in the tapestry of this story.
  1. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-41)
  2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested (Mark 14:43-46) 
  3. Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71) 
  4. Jesus is denied by Peter (Matthew 26:69-75) 
  5. Jesus is judged by Pilate (Mark 15:1-5, 15) 
  6. Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns (John 19:1-3) 
  7. Jesus takes up his cross (John 19:6, 15-17) 
  8. Jesus is helped by Simon to carry his cross (Mark 15:21) 
  9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem (Luke 23:27-31) 
  10. Jesus is crucified (Luke 23:33-34)  
  11. Jesus promises his kingdom to the repentant thief (Luke 23:39-43)
  12. Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other (John 19:25-27)
  13. Jesus dies on the cross (Luke 23:44-46)
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb (Matthew 27:57-60)

Were you there… where will you be this holy week?

With you on the journey,  
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