Thanksgiving is your Lenten spiritual discipline. Indeed, it is your discipline in all times and places. We regularly acclaim in our prayers that it is “meet, right and our bounden duty at all times and in all places to give thanks to Almighty God, our Heavenly Father.
That’s what I find in praying the Stations of the Cross, which we have here at Saint Paul’s on Tuesdays at Noon during Lent. This I’m sure may seem strange to most of you.
Now, one who is a beginner in prayer, new to the Stations, hears only the theme of the suffering of the Lord Jesus. For such a person all they can dwell upon is the physical distress that our Lord endured. They recoil at the horrible dimension of his suffering. Finding it repugnant that human beings are capable of such hatred towards another, the tendency is to react with either disgust at the physical attributes of crucifixion endured by our Lord, or disgust at those who plotted for and carried out that sentence of death.
If such a novice thinks at all about his/her connection to the crucifixion, it is apt to be the reaction of guilt, as though he/she were the causative party of our Lord’s suffering.
But the person who has often turned to the Stations of the Cross as a means of prayer eventually moves to a more complex contemplation. Because that person is aware of how there is such a scope of tragic suffering in the world, there comes a greater appreciation for what Jesus suffered. Jesus’ suffering is no longer about ME ME ME. At the very least is becomes about US, US, US.
But more than that, to walk in the way of the cross with Jesus is to engage in intercessory prayer—prayer for others. If one is aware of what others around are enduring, bearing, suffering, then to walk in the way of the cross is to plea the sacrifice of Jesus in a particular way for the particular persons one knows who are also bearing their crosses in this present moment.
Eventually, one is moved to another contemplation. This comes only after praying and walking in the way of the cross for many years. What comes is not a diminished awareness of the suffering of our Lord, nor is there a lessening of the concerns for others. But in addition there comes profound thanksgiving for what our Lord has endured, not just for me, but for the whole of the human condition. For there comes the awareness that to be human is to walk in the way of the cross and that we are appreciate how we are given a choice in life—we can either embrace the way of the cross as the way to greater life, or else you are left with no other choice other than to embrace the hopelessness of the human condition. One comes to embrace that prayer of Saint Richard of Chichester:
Thanks be to thee, O Lord Jesus Christ, for all the cruel pains and insults thou hast borne for me; for all the many blessings that has won for me. O Holy Jesus, most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother; May I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly. Amen.