This meditation was shared by Bishop Peter at the Renewal of Clergy Vows on Maundy Thursday.


Inspired by the Stations of the Cross at La Verna Franciscan Retreat House on the Vaal River, Diocesan Clergy Retreat 2014
People come to ordination with differing expectations.
 For some it is fulfilling an aspiration- to respond to God, to fulfil a calling, to change the world.
For others it is less elevated: rather a chance to be up front in the sanctuary, to gain a secure and respected role in society, to be called umfundisi, or to squeeze out a fat farewell at the end.
For others it is a sacrifice from the outset, something from which we recoil, and only embrace after a struggle. We know it will be costly, demanding, at times unpopular, the path unclear and the end unknown.
For all of us along the way there will be crises, unknown to the wider world. Conspiracy will lurk in dark corners, people we have served turn to bite us, congregational leadership turn against us, our authorities either do not listen or wilfully discriminate against us. We are handed impossible assignments, asked to resolve intractable disputes, and offered poisoned chalices. At best these episodes leave scars; at worst they destroy ministries, marriages and the men and women who were caught in the crossfire.
Only those who have been there – who have lived in the clockwork of the institutional church- know how ugly it can be.
How then can we love being there?

1: Jesus is sentenced to death
The process is unfair, the outcome ridiculous. Sometimes – as Paul did - a person of God can appeal to higher courts, and should. That will carry its own cost.

But there are times when standing still, with dignity and acceptance, is the only dignified and humane way to face the injustice and corruption of human society.  In Jesus there was no protest, not even a cynical smirk, and very few words. He had long ago detached himself from needing to be adjudged right by secular power.
That is not to say that he tolerated injustice. It is to say that he pursued the good of others before the protection of his own position; we might say he believed in human rights but fought first for other people’s. So should we.
It is also to say that you can’t win them all in the short or middle term, but he had a strategy for the long-term pursuit of the right, and knew that sometimes submission to circumstance was part of it. They had no power over him even as they wielded what they had.

For us too, there is a time to accept quietly the inevitability of wrong, even when it is done to us: partly because it can only be rectified later, and partly because descending to its level is itself to surrender to evil. If they make us like them, they can win a despicable victory at the cost of my integrity; rather know when to fight for the right and when to wait in acceptance for the hour to come.
The resurrection is coming and with it the vindication of all that is good; even perhaps, if I was right all the time, of my little effort. But beware – my effort was also shot through with compromise and may not look too great in the light of day.
2: Jesus accepts the Cross
Sometimes we can see it coming – a dark cloud towards which we move reluctantly.
Sometimes it just explodes under our feet: a routine meeting goes sour, an e-mail lands from the blue, or some opportunist plunges a knife between our shoulder-blades.
Sometimes there is choice about it: we can opt to face the crunch or we can sidestep it, whether from wisdom or cowardice.
Sometimes the Church gives us the choice  - ‘please take on this task’ – and we know it will be ugly.
Sometimes it looks easy at the start, and just becomes  worse and worse as we thrash around in the quicksand.
I am not sure which is worse – the long-awaited storm or the unexpected ambush.
My late friend Sister Maureen of the Order of the Holy Paraclete used to say that the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain was crucial because it was when he began to come to terms with his own forthcoming death. I never agreed with her because I think Jesus was sharper than that, and knew very well from at least the day of his baptismal plunge in the Jordan. Either way, the sobering fact is that he never wavered after that: seeing the end, he moved relentlessly towards it.
So the ‘station’ called ‘Jesus accepts the Cross’ is no surprise, not even a decision: it was simply following a choice long ago entrenched in his heart.
So for us: if ministry was always a recreation, a dalliance, a career, the arrival of the cross will surprise and challenge us. We will need to opt in or opt out in the middle of the crisis.
But what is ordination if not a call to do good in a selfish world? A call to confront the world, the flesh and the devil? Such a calling assumes the presence of conflict and the need to do battle. It assumes that we are in a fight all the way.
When I was ordained, I was hopelessly naive: I thought it would be lovely to work all my life with those Christians. Then I met the Church!  - wonky personalities, bizarre agendas, dysfunctional communities, all no doubt provoked to stupidity by the arrival of my own peculiar self in their midst, with all my needs, drives and ambitions. What a recipe for collision!
I have now given a few charges to people about to be ordained as deacons or priests. I generally tell the deacons to keep washing people’s feet, and tell the aspiring priests the same! I have not enough warned them of the crucifixion to come: not as a holy notion, a maybe possibility, but as an inevitable feature of the collision between the gospel and the world, good and evil, their calling and their circumstances.
Of course it is not so simple because our presentation of good and other people’s embrace of evil may both be half-hearted! But we are called to live at the interface with the world, the flesh and the devil, and it is hot in there. One of my mentors used to say, ‘when I am being kicked from both sides, I am on the Cross – which is not a bad place to be’.
So for Jesus to accept the Cross does not set him apart from us, it draws us after him: that is the deal.
3: Jesus falls for the first time
The infallible stumbles and falls. The path cuts his knees, the timber lacerates his neck, the impact bruises his joints and shakes up his inner being.
This is but the start: there are more falls and more wounds to follow. But we are shocked: the conflict is ugly and it damages us – words, looks, letters, e-mails, dirty manoeuvres – all hit us hard when we don’t expect them.
4: Jesus meets his weeping mother
At some point our families will realise that we are going to suffer, and we are going to leave them one way or another as we walk into the darkness that we cannot evade.
Parents so often bring their children to baptism without realising that in doing so they are asking God to take their child into his purposes and so, by definition, away from the parents’ nest and the parents’ purpose for them. It’s like the daughter leaving home to marry, only 20 years sooner: an inevitable separation to join another – but unperceived and not understood or faced up to in the event.
My parents took me to baptism in the north of Ireland and then left that country to keep their little boy safe from the pending  ‘troubles’ in Ulster. Then in 1960 they showed me a newspaper with the headline ‘SHARPEVILLE’ on the front – when I was 12 - not knowing that I would be installed there in 1990 as the first bishop of a new diocese in the middle of a civil war! And they worried about me – as if the prior act of baptism was not their gift of me to God for whatever God might decide – even if it took all of us by surprise.
At some point we need to look our mothers in the face and make our calling clear to them: then we may have to pastor them through the adjustments they must make along the way.
5: Simon helps Jesus carry the Cross
The Cross is always a lonely place – yet not as lonely as we fear, or as pride might make us want to portray it. Someone will pitch up – willingly or as in this case, by compulsion; a familiar face or one completely unexpected – maybe out of a culture, a language, a gender we might never have imagined or chosen.
But God’s emissaries are God’s, not ours and we need to look out for them with an open heart: we can only enter God’s Kingdom as children – simple and inadequate, needing to learn the way, learn the language, learn how the cookie crumbles: we don’t in fact know it all and we can’t negotiate the via dolorosa by skill or expertise.
It is only by grace and with the help of strangers that we bear it.
6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
My Veronicas have been many: a Dominican sister, a Sowetan spiritual director, a Jesuit psychologist – not to mention an astute though vulnerable spouse. Whenever the clashes have become heavy, a woman has appeared by the roadside bearing a cloth to wipe my face. One has helped me to understand; one has coached me to respond with grace and without descending to the level of brutality meted out by others; another has assessed the words of a critic or an opponent and set their allegations in perspective. Another again – the woman God has given to be with me –has simply held me when the  sword was going through her soul as well as mine and we have had to suffer together.
Look out for your Veronicas, and for your Ronnies: they are God’s gift along the road. Look after them, for they suffer with you: look out for them, for some will abuse them if they see them close to you. Sometimes we are judged by who our friends are – and sometimes our friends are judged because they are friendly with us. They pay a price for mopping your brow and you need to protect them too.
7: Jesus falls the second time
This is not the world of the easy fix. No matter what you do, the snakes will strike back and the buffalo will want to gore you one more time. The forces of chaos, of malice and hatred are not so quickly appeased. When you fall they won’t sympathise and they won’t pick you up: they will put the boot in and kick you while you are down.
Come to terms with this: on the day when you die, someone will be glad. On the day when you fail, someone will claim victory. On the day when you are humiliated, someone will crow over your failure. Even on the day when you succeed, someone will swear vengeance and set about plotting your downfall even while you rejoice. It is an ugly truth, this, but it is none the less true for being ugly. You don’t think the Church should be like this, and you are right – it shouldn’t. But it is. They want to cut the heads off the poppies.
Get used to falling because you are going to be tripped often by the ones you least expected it from – the ones you trusted. Get used to grazed knees and a mouth full of dirt, because you will bite the dust often and again. Your enemies will see to that.
It is not however your own good name or your legacy that you are carrying. For all your inadequacies, which are many and great, you are bearing the Cross of Christ, identifying with the cause of Jesus in the world. Be humble and speak humbly, for they might misconstrue your doggedness as self-righteousness: but go on embracing the timber and pleading to be made worthy of its bearer, so you can keep your integrity by giving it away into another’s hands.
Then get up again and go on, with your load.
8: Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem
They speak of collateral damage: there is also collateral consolation. The women wept for Jesus as they wept always for their compatriots brutalised by the invading colonisers; they wept too for themselves, for they knew that the violence might at any time be visited upon them.
Caught up as they were in the violence of the via dolorosa, they found themselves caught up too in its consolation. For the prophets had often and again spoken to the downtrodden people, holding out the love of God and the promise of restoration in times of grief. Here among them was the prophet of prophets walking the via dolorosa among them. Their God was in their midst: one of them, bearing the violence visibly among them, greeting and looking and speaking words of assurance as of warning.
So is the Incarnation: not in teddy bears and bluebells but among the worst this world can devise: in sickness and in health, in battle and in need. Our struggles wound us and grind us down: but we face them in amongst the people and the people draw strength from our presence, our pain and our integrity. Persistence beats resistance: and the grace to persevere is grace providing its own credentials. Look out for the people along the way for we may lift them up even as we are borne down by our own weight of pain.
9: Jesus falls the third time
So it goes on – for Bonhoeffer in Germany, for Christians in Iran, for the kidnapped girls in northern Nigeria – seemingly endless fear and a hopeless horizon. One falls after another: falling victim, falling sick, falling down dead.
And Jesus falls with them: into the hangman’s pit, into the mass grave, into the impossible circumstance, into the horror we can barely conceive of.  Jesus falls and in falling, falls with us.
10: Jesus is stripped of his garments
A word of such promise at some stages of our life – the promise of nudity, of warmth, of intimacy, of togetherness – of fulfilment and satisfaction. The advertisers love it: ‘the next best thing to naked’, they say.
But what a threat too: when we want to cover up not only our bodies but our foolishness, our mistakes, our sin, our weakness. Naked. What humiliation: that is why the Romans did it, and every torturer since then has done the same. None of the loin cloth beloved of painters and carvers; all protection ripped away so that nothing remains ours, nowhere remains private any more.
It is the ultimate disgrace, the ultimate dread, and the ultimate vulnerability. Nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, nowhere to be except in the harsh and callous eyes of others, who care nothing.
Humiliation is the whole idea, the strategy, the plan, the intention. Deliberate inhumanity to remove humanity’s last rags of respect, respectability, dignity.  The shoes go in the dump, the teeth in the bin, the clothing on the floor, the bodies in the gas chamber. Naked together, nowhere to be except together, in the fire.
When we want to score over someone, we talk of exposing them: exposing corruption, exposing the truth, exposing the minutes of the meeting, exposing to the light what has been done in the darkness.
And so they will do to us: ripping off our defences, shredding our reputation, pointing out faults both real and fabricated. It is a scary place to be: a scary place into which to follow the Lord.
There is only one remedy: having nothing to hide. Becoming utterly transparent.  Holding our integrity in both hands with no difference left between the left hand and the right. Not minding who sees what and who knows what about us.
Where Pontius Pilate says of Jesus, ‘I find no fault in him’, the Kenyan translators wrote: ‘I find him a straight tree’ – an idiom meaning that there were no faults which could form a hand-hold for a boy to climb it by.
Where then are the hand-holds by which others can grip onto me and make me suspect? By which they can pull me down?
I need to seek these faults ruthlessly, bring them to God, renounce them, and have them healed. Then and then only can I gaze upon the nakedness of others and pass comment upon it; knowing my own hand-holds I view the faults of others with restraint, with understanding, with gentleness and forgiveness, with patience and understanding. 
For I am naked before the Lord and so is my opponent. We can wound each other easily when we are not clad in our defences: I must know that if I wound him, he can readily wound me too. And he will: I shall be scarred and I shall bleed.
Will I then restrain my hand when his nakedness invites me to inflict my wounds on him? Or what shall I do when his cover is removed?
 My God.
 Naked, my God.
11: Jesus is nailed to the Cross
I want to nail my enemies and they want to nail me.
Yet our Lord Jesus Christ asks me to love my enemies and pray for them.
So here is Jesus, nailed, forgiving his torturers for they know not what they do.
Here is Jesus, nailed, conversing with his tormentors for they seek the pathway to Paradise.
Here is Jesus, nailed, putting his mother and his friend before his own anguish, and providing for them.
I have been nailed by some of my critics in my years of life and ministry. I am being nailed by some of them today. There are some who even now plot to nail me further.
That nailing gets under my skin, it affects my sleep, it surfaces when I am trying to take holiday with my family. It lives with me and is not easily dismissed from the mind, the consciousness or the heart – never mind the subconscious. I shall need healing myself when each of these episodes is over, and I do need grace daily to react aright in the moment of suffering attack.
How I need the grace to forgive, to engage, to pastor in the face of such malevolence.
And how I need grace to leave the nailing of others to the judgement of God.
12: Jesus dies on the Cross
Death: what is that?
If I lost every battle I have ever engaged in, that would be death to me.
If my name was shredded and the world could be convinced that I was worthless, that would be death to me.
If everything to which I have given myself in ministry as a student, a cleric or a bishop were to be lost, that would be death to me.
If I had not received an e-mail from a woman in Europe saying how her life had been redeemed through our church in the red light district of Durban – that would be death to me.
If all the bread I have cast upon the waters, believing that it would one day be returned, were washed downstream – lost forever without gain to me or to anyone: that would be death to me.
If the children we have borne and the children they have borne in turn were abducted, brutalised and killed as so many others in Africa have been, that would be double death to me.
If the entire purpose of my life could be proved to be pointless and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ shown to be vacuous, that indeed would be death to me.
To die in Christ is so to offer it all to God that even if the worst comes about, I can commit my Spirit into his hands in trust and acceptance. He did that and I seek to do it too.
13: Jesus is laid in his mother’s arms
Life and death mingle as the corpse is embraced and loved; it is often so.
In my worst imaginings, my utmost desolation, there are still some who love me: some who will pick up the pieces, revere me, and remember me fondly. When my enemies have done their worst, ripped me apart, shredded my name, there will be someone who recalls me with love and holds my legacy in respect.
And so it is for us all.
14: Jesus is buried in the tomb
Some of those who hid when the heat was on, who left him – or us – to face the music alone, now emerge from the shadows. They seek the body, they offer the tomb, they do what they can. Perhaps they were wise to keep out of it before; perhaps cowardly. But here they are, the core of a new movement, the beginnings of something fresh and alive. 
When we died a seed was sown – and it will grow.
15: The Resurrection
Christ survives, we survive, blessed be the name of the survivors.
Bearing still the wounds, the marks and the bruises, he shrugs aside the conflicts and builds a new jurisdiction. Our battles are taken up into his and we, bruised as we are, rise again.

Oct 2014