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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Community Stations of the Cross in Bloomfield & Glen Ridge


"These fourteen steps that you are about to walk you do not take alone. I am with you. We are truly one. And therefore my way of the Cross two thousand years ago and your own "way" now are also one. Yet there is a difference, my life was incomplete until I crowned it with my death. Your fourteen steps will not complete until you crown them with your life."

Today I had the privilege of accompanying folks from Christ Church in Bloomfield & Glen Ridge on their annual Community Stations of the Cross. This service is moving both emotionally and physically, as participants travel to 14 "stations" to remember milestones in the condemnation and death of Christ. The traditional locations of these events are marked in the old city of Jerusalem, concluding within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at the site where it is believed Christ died and was buried

In a congregational setting, the service normally takes place around the perimeter of a church, but--in a tradition that began several years ago as a witness to gun violence--Christ Church transformed this into an outdoor experience. This year's quest was to visit places of sorrow as well as places of hope in the area surrounding the church, which includes the downtown areas of Bloomfield and Glen Ridge townships.

The service was created by Christ Church's Rector, the Rev. Diana Wilcox, with some elements from the Episcopal Book of Occasional Services and the Book of Common Prayer, and the text at each station is a blend of what she shared and my thoughts at the time.  At the conclusion of each station, we prayed together:

Holy God, Holy and Mighty,
Holy Immortal One,
Transform me
That I might transform the world.

We gathered in the church to prepare ourselves for the journey.  As part of the Maundy (Holy) Thursday service the night before, the altar is stripped of the trappings of liturgy: candles, fabric, books, etc., are removed, leaving wood and stone.

God you created me and call me to be in this world, part of your creative force. In Christ you teach me the way of salvation. Help me to be transformed, utterly and completely changed, that I may live radically to transform myself and this broken world. Send your Spirit upon me that I might be an instrument of your peace. Amen.

The First Station - Jesus is Condemned

Bloomfield & Park Avenues

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests, with the elders and scribes, and the whole council, held a consultation; and they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him to Pilate. And they all condemned him and said, “He deserves to die.” When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called the Pavement, Hebrew, Gabbatha. Then he handed Jesus over to them to be crucified.

Christ Church sits at the busy corner of Park Ave & Bloomfield Ave on the Bloomfield-Glen Ridge border.  At that intersection, which is also a bus stop, pedestrians cross the street at their peril due to impatient and distracted drivers.  On Monday, a pedestrian was struck by a hit-and-run driver just feet from where we stood, and three others lost their lives in recent years.

Eternal One, open the minds and hearts of those who pass this way, that they may slow down and see their brother or sister who travels this same road, and stop as the Samaritan did, to offer help whenever it is needed. We pray for healing of the families of those who have died, and for the one still clinging to life. Amen.

The Second Station - Jesus Takes Up His Cross

Essex Animal Hospital  

Jesus went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. Like a lamb he was led to the slaughter; and like a sheep that before its shearers is mute, so he opened not his mouth. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.
Essex Animal Hospital has been serving the veterinary needs of Bloomfield and surrounding communities for more than 25 years. Every year, thousands of animals are abused or neglected. Animals bred to feed us are kept in harsh living conditions. This hospital served as a symbol of our need to care for all of God’s creation, especially those who cannot speak for themselves, and to respect the dignity of all life, including those animals we raise for food.
God our Creator, in giving us dominion over things on earth, you made us co-workers in your creation. Help us to love and nurture the animals, and care for their habitats, that in doing so, we may remember that it is all your handiwork. Amen.


We made our way, twelve of us or so, down Bloomfield Avenue, taking turns carrying the cross, helping each other. Drivers glanced over, perhaps confused by the sight. Several pedestrians unabashedly took pictures.

The Third Station - Jesus Falls the First Time

Vermeer Park

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped; but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and was born in human likeness. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name. 
Our next stop was the small park at the corner of State Street.  Here we remembered the victims of violence, hatred and abuse. Although crime is reportedly down in Bloomfield, there is still so much work to be done.

Loving God, although we find ourselves in a broken world – a world in which hurting people hurt other people, it is no mystery that you are a God capable of healing us through justice and fairness. May we be empowered by your Spirit to reverse the conditions that produce young men and women who are driven to resort to violence and destructive behavior, that our towns and cities may one day be places of love and peace. Amen.

The Fourth Station - Jesus Meets His Mother

Farm Boy 

To what can I liken you, to what can I compare you, O daughter of Jerusalem? What likeness can I use to comfort you, O virgin daughter of Zion? For vast as the sea is your ruin. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be days of mourning shall be ended. 
 Empty shops are a sign of despair and loss. This storefront was one we stopped at last year because it was empty, then was restored as the Farm Boy produce market, and is now empty again, representing a sign of loss for the neighborhood. We hope for renewal in the neighborhood, and that our eyes need to be open to the new life that can grow out of death.

O God, whose love knows no bounds, help us to love one another as Christ commanded. Give strength and courage to those who face difficult circumstances, knowing that there is no darkness which Your light cannot overcome. Amen.

The Fifth Station - Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus

Block 243 Luxury Rental Development

As they led Jesus away, they came upon a man of Cyrene, Simon by name, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross to carry it behind Jesus. “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
We stop here to remember embrace the diversity of life that is Bloomfield, and to bear witness to the importance of continuing to be a place where everyone is welcome – people of all cultures, races, languages, gender identities, faiths, and sexual orientations. It is this great diversity in all of creation that is God’s blessing to us all. In this most Holy Week, we look boldly at signs of death as well as new life. In this new building across the street, we are witness to the changing community. May it be that new life in this neighborhood is one that celebrates the diversity of this community, adding to the fabric of life here, and serving as a sign of the re-building of our neighborhoods as places of inclusion and peace.

As we walked, several people voiced concern that--with all the new high-end construction--the changed neighborhood would not become one where long-time residents, many of whom are economically vulnerable, are unable or unwelcome to remain.

Holy One, we move so quickly in life that we often rush past those who have been pushed aside by our own greed. Help us to not only see them in our midst, but seek them out on the margins, knowing that in the web of life, all of creation is connected, and what happens to the lost and the least of these is the concern of all of us. Amen.

The Sixth Station - A Woman Wipes the Face of Jesus

Presbyterian Church Bell

His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance. He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.
A bell from one of Bloomfield's first churches is on display at the southern end of The Green, a long rectangular park where Revolutionary War troops once drilled. Originally meeting on Liberty Street in in 1858, Christ Church spawned four mission congregations in Montclair and Bloomfield, two of which have now folded back into the mother parish. The diverse and welcoming community has grown by a third in the past few years.

We remembered our own church ancestors and the other Christians who brought the Gospel to our area, and prayed for faith leaders and a healing to divisions among them, as well as all those whose belief calls them to work in the wider world.

Most gracious God, Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Creator of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Seventh Station - Jesus Falls the Second Time

Bloomfield Green

Surely he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to their own way; and God has laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all. He wasoppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth. For the transgression of my people was he stricken.
Continuing north on Broad Street, we passed a bus stop where a man stood respectfully when he saw the cross approaching, and wished us a happy Easter. Further along the Green, we paused in the shade of budding trees. Birds chirped, there is a break in the traffic, and for a moment we could take in the beauty of the spring day.


O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of refreshment and peace; and grant that we may so use our time to renew or minds, that our spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation. Help us God to see your Spirit alive in all of the earth, forgive us our neglect of creation, and enliven in us the will to protect and care for all you have entrusted to us. Amen.

The Eighth Station - Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

Bloomfield Presbyterian Church on the Green & Food Pantry

There followed after Jesus a great multitude of the people, and among them were women who bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”
Bloomfield Presbyterian Church on the Green, which gave the town its name is named, for Joseph Bloomfield, Revolutionary War officer, governor, lawyer, judge and abolitionist. The Food Pantry has been providing food on an emergency basis to families in Bloomfield and surrounding communities in Essex County. They currently serve an average of 40 families per month, which ranges between 75 and 165 individuals. Assisting the food pantry is also a primary ministry of outreach at Christ Church.

God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it is easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to love them as you loved us. Amen.

The Ninth Station - Jesus Falls the Third Time

Bloomfield High School

I am the one who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light. He has besieged me and enveloped me with bitterness and
tribulation; he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. Though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower ashes. “Remember, O Lord, my affliction and bitterness, the wormwood and the gall!”
Crossing Broad Street, we paused again in front of the High School. Mother Diana told us that--two years ago, the American Psychological Association's Stress in America survey found that millennials, aged 18-33, were the country's most-stressed generation. Now, the title belongs to an even younger demographic: American teenagers. I thought of PARCC testing and SATs, bullying and the relentless pressure to be cool, college acceptance and student loans.

Eternal God, bless all the students, staff and faculty of all schools, colleges and universities, especially Bloomfield High School, Glen Ridge High School, Bloomfield College, and Montclair State University. May they be lively centers for sound learning, new discovery, and the pursuit of wisdom, where all students are free of fear of bullying, drugs, and violence. Grant also that those who teach and those learn may find You to be the source of all truth. Amen.

The Tenth Station - Jesus is Stripped

Bloomfield Cemetery

When they came to a place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull), they offered him wine to drink, mingled with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And they divided his garments among them by casting lots. This was to fulfill the scripture divided my garments among them; they cast lots for my clothing.”
Bloomfield Cemetery, once called the Old Bloomfield Burying Ground, is the resting place of 32 Revolutionary War soldiers, as well as William Batchelder Bradbury, who wrote the popular hymns "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know" and "Just As I Am".

Most gracious God, we pray to you for those we love, but see no longer: Grant them your peace and let light perpetual shine upon them. Grant also to all who are bereaved the spirit of faith and courage, that they may have strength to meet the days to come with steadfastness and patience; not sorrowing as those without hope, but in remembrance of your great goodness, and the joyful expectation of eternal life with those they love. Amen.

The Eleventh Station - Jesus is Crucified

Glen Ridge War Memorial (at Ridgewood Avenue School)

When they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him; and with him they crucified two criminals, one on the right, the other on the left, and Jesus between them. And the scripture was fulfilled which says, “He was numbered with the transgressors.”
The Glen Ridge memorials to fallen veterans on either side of Ridgewood Avenue honor those who fought and died in WW I&II, Korea, and Vietnam. As a ship fan, I noticed the reference to the USS Leviathan, a German-built war prize that saw service as a troop carrier before becoming the flagship of the United States Lines.

Most Holy God, stand with those who bravely serve their country, protecting them from all harm, physical, emotional and spiritual, and granting them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be, including those whose whereabouts are no longer known to us. Guide those who lead them, and those who govern, that they may be wise in their decisions, and mindful of the lives that they hold in their hands. And we pray that you bring into your heavenly home all those lost to us. Let light perpetual shine upon them, and grant that we never forget their sacrifice, nor the pain and horror of war. Amen.

The Twelfth Station - Jesus Dies on the Cross

Glen Ridge Municipal Building

When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And when Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished!” And then, crying with a loud voice, he said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” And he bowed his head, and handed over his spirit.

O God, send down upon those who hold office, or serve as first responders, in Glen Ridge and Bloomfield, the spirit of wisdom, charity, and justice; that with steadfast purpose they may faithfully serve in their roles to promote the well being of all people. And, teach us all to rely on your strength and to accept our own responsibility to our fellow citizens, that we may elect trustworthy leaders, and may step forward ourselves to serve our neighbors as you have taught us to do. Amen.

The Thirteenth Station - Mary Receives the Body of Jesus

Glen Ridge 9-11 Memorial (at Train Station)

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.”
The men and women whose names adorn this marker likely began their day on September 11, 2001 by walking down the adjacent steps to the train station, thinking (or taking for granted) that they would return ten hours later via the ones across the bridge, weary perhaps, but safe.

We thought of our brothers and sisters in Bruxelles, Paris, the Cote D'Ivoire, Syria, Iraq, and everywhere that has been touched by terror and violence.

Most merciful God, let us hear the words of Jesus to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who abuse us, expecting nothing in return. In a world torn apart by terror and violence, may we be merciful, just as You are merciful, that peace may be brought to a broken and hurting world. Amen.

The Fourteenth Station - Jesus is Buried

Nursery School at Christ Church

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock; and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb.
In 1967, when most people thought a mother’s place was in the home, Christ Church chose to be forward-looking, providing innovative half- and full-day nursery school programs. The Nursery School now serves the needs of over 100 children. April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, and the Nursery School displays pinwheels in remembrance of child abuse victims everywhere.

O God, in little children we are given a glimpse of what is possible – of innocence and joy, of love and light, most especially when we are in our darkest moments. Grant that we may look upon the children as Christ did – the ones closest to Your heart, and see in them the new life that awaits us when we open our hearts to you; and, work through us to protect, educate, nurture, and love them. Amen.


The service concluded in the church, with additional prayers, and the tolling of the bell, 33 times to mark the years of Jesus' life, and we departed in silence. I left profoundly moved and grateful for the experience to mark the death of Jesus in this very concrete way.

This is the altar in St. Mary's Chapel, where consecrated bread and wine were held in reserve for the evening's service. Good Friday is the only day of the church year when the Eucharist, the blessing of bread and wine, does not occur.


I told you at the start, My other self,
        My life was not complete
        Until I crowned it by My death.
        Your “way” is not complete
        Unless you crown it by your life.

        Accept each moment as it comes to you,
        With faith and trust
        That all that happens has My mark on it.
        A simple fiat, that is all it takes;
        A breathing in your heart,
        “I will it, Lord.”

        So seek Me not in far-off places.
        I am close at hand.
        Your workbench, office, kitchen,
        These are altars
        Where you offer love,
        And I am with you there.

        Go now!  Take up your cross
        And with your life
        Complete your way.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Fear is Poison, and Someone's Left the Cap Off the Bottle


Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, “Where I am going, you cannot come.”  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
JOHN 13: 33-35

Holy week again and--much like our Gospel ancestors--we find ourselves gathering at the table in fear.

In the past week, a European city has been struck by terrorist violence, triggering the usual wave of "Will it happen here?" Our "leaders" have sprung into "action" with South Carolina's Senate passed a bill to create a "refugee registry" the contents of which will, of course, only be available to our trusty law enforcement friends, because that won't cause any problems.  Just like it didn't in 1930s Germany. One of the (God help us) presidential candidates stated that under his watch, we would "patrol Muslim neighborhoods" to stamp out any hint of suspicious activity.

But one bogeyman isn't enough, you know, so two adjoining states in the same part of the country (and one elsewhere lest we think there's something in the water), no doubt still smarting from the Supreme Court telling them "Yes you WILL let same-gender couples marry" are cobbling together what restrictions they can still impose on LGBT folk to make sure they still feel oppressed.  Georgia's governor is considering a "religious liberty" bill that allows one to discriminate based on one's so-called beliefs, and North Carolina up-ended non-discrimination bills in several cities by passing its own that specifically excludes orientation and gender identity, and also forbids lower jurisdictions from enacting broader protections. It ordered government buildings to assign a single gender to bathrooms and ensure the anatomy of those using them matches the sign. In the latter case, they clearly did exhaustive study first, since the entire thing went down--from proposal to signature by the governor--in under twelve hours.

Kansas went even further, encouraging vigilantism by offering a $2,500 reward to anyone who "catches" someone whose "plumbing doesn't match" using the "wrong" bathroom. Really? How is that not creepy and invasive? Who is going to check, and on what grounds? The sad irony is that this law, which states its purpose is to prevent violent, traumatic encounters, will pretty much require the same in order to be enforced.

Fear is at the root of all of this; fear we attempt to assuage with reactive window-dressing.  The truth none of us wants to face about violence is that it is--by definition--random. While vigilance and keen observation of our surroundings are doubtless important, the idea that we will plug all the holes is delusional. And following people around based on religion or identity will neither prevent violence nor do anything to de-escalate the tension that leads to it.  The vast majority of Muslim people in the world are horrified by the acts perpetrated by DAISH and other extremist groups, just (I hope) as most Christians would be horrified by the violence the church has perpetrated on Muslims and others throughout its history, and is perpetrating now on LGBT people in Russia, Africa, and the good old US of A.

Which brings it back to us, here in a crazy and uncertain world, where seemingly endless bad news and a 24-hour ticker of threats seems bent on making us a bunch of suspicious insomniacs peeking under bathroom stalls. The goal of "religious freedom" as described by people who would likely also describe our country (right or wrong) as a "Christian nation" should, one would assume, free us to act as our savior would.  The same savior, who--knowing one of those he called his friends would imminently perpetrate violence upon him--nonetheless greeted each of them with a kiss, and sat with them to eat and drink.