Watercolor and mixed media by Theresa Wyatt Prebilsky. You are invited to come and experience all of the artistic, visual expressions of the Stations of the Cross to be on display at Trinity Episcopal Church February 16th through Easter.
The following article is from this month’s The Window of Trinity Church newsletter for Trinity Episcopal Church, Houston.
Living in the Comma of God’s Promise – Preparing for Lent
by Theresa Wyatt Prebilsky
When I was asked again this year to offer an artistic reflection of one of the Stations of the Cross for the Trinity Lent season, I was stumped when assigned the Thirteenth Station.
Since I am not a mother I respectfully questioned if I could truly understand what it might feel like to lose a child under any circumstances, let alone brutally hung on a cross before my very eyes. I worried that maybe I had been given the wrong station. I searched the internet for previously written text and images associated with the Thirteenth Station, and I seriously considered asking for a different assignment.
But then, going to my Bible, the pages fell open to John 17 where four headings struck me as timely guideposts in preparing for Lent. They read, and in this order, Jesus Prays for Himself, Jesus Prays for His Disciples, Jesus Prays for All Believers, and Jesus Arrested. These were the prayers that Jesus prayed as he prepared for His walk to the Cross. A tender feeling came over me as I noticed the intentional order of his prayers; first for himself, securing his own conscious contact with his Father, then for others close to him, and finally for all believers, like me, to know and do God’s will.
I read on and into the loving, last appeals he made for us to know Him, to know God, and to know ourselves; to abandon our illusion of separation from God – a temporary state righted by the sanctity of God’s truth, grace and glory. And to walk with him as he brings together our past, our present and our eternal futures at the foot of the Cross.
And now Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began. John 17:5
Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one. John 17:11
That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. John 17:21
And then, when he had finished praying, having said his prayers for himself and others, the wheels of arrest, trial, and death were put into motion. The momentum of what we have come to know as Lent begins, as does my own journey into the Thirteenth Station.
With new eyes and heart now softened by the prayers and promises of Jesus, I begin relating to the text and images associated with this moment on the way to the cross, and step into being a witness across the centuries to the feelings of those who loved him most. And I am stirred by the words associated with this particular station from our Old Testament, the testimony of a woman named Naomi.
“All you who pass by, behold and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow. My eyes are spent with weeping; my soul is in tumult; my heart is poured out in grief because of the downfall of my people. “Do not call me Naomi (which means Pleasant), call me Mara (which means Bitter); for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Ruth 19-21
As the story becomes increasingly and painfully personal, I begin to understand why I am standing at this station. Why the thirteenth is not a mistake after all. This is a story, for me, about grief; about feeling deeply the aching sorrow of letting go of someone or something very, very precious, all the while knowing that somehow, as horribly wrong as this may feel, this too just has to fit into God’s perfect law of love and order.
I hear on the spirit level a woman not so unlike me, who longs to have a witness to her sorrow and fears veering into the waters of bitterness, or worse yet, fears her God not serving justice in all the “right” places. Naomi, a part of our past, brings us to face our own choices in grief: are we tempted towards bitterness by a pain so deep that even God might not be able to rescue repair? But then, Naomi did not have the benefit of knowing the way of the Cross. Not yet was there a Son of Man to show her the consecrated mystery of death and resurrection.
I then stood as a humbled witness to Mary, as she mournfully cradles her son’s broken body – those precious last moments when touch is still warm yet spirit has left. What comforts of resurrection and eternal life withheld from Naomi by the natural order of God’s law, are now ironically made possible for Mary by the beloved Son lying lifeless in her arms. And the gruesome tragedy of her loss is transformed to life by the same. Where grief and sorrow are changed to eternal love and oneness within the comma of God’s promise:
In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me. John 16:16
I remember in detail my own bittersweet moments at my sweet sister’s bedside a little over a year ago, where my husband and I prayed and witnessed her leaving this human suffering to become fully spirit with God. I remember being torn between aching for one more breath to be shared, or one more laugh or ordinary time to spend together as sisters, and letting her go.
It was in this hushed moment of holding my sister’s hand, this pause between two worlds of the seen and the unseen, of life and death and eternal life, that I was calmed by the promise of God; where comfort comes to even the darkest of sorrows, the deepest of grief, and the shallowest of understandings about how life as we know it can end, and another begin renewed – brighter, fuller, and without pain of ever having to say goodbye again.
In this place of pause and promise, I connect in spirit with Naomi, with Mary, and with Christ during this special time of year as we prepare for our journey into Lent. And I thank God that I get to live in the comma of God’s promise.