College community retreats into the hills
Once per semester at ALC we set aside a day to withdraw from our regular routines and activities, as Jesus did from time to time (Mark 1:35). Staff and students local to Adelaide leave their routines behind and spend time in personal meditation on the Word and prayer in a day punctuated by corporate worship at the beginning, middle and end of the day.
And so we did again on Wednesday of Holy Week, the perfect time to retreat around the theme of Christ’s passion and death for us. Blessed with a crisp, sunny day this semester’s retreat took place amid the beautiful surrounds of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Birdwood, where students and staff could easily remove themselves from the normal distractions of life for a time.
During this retreat, we observed the Stations of the Cross. The stations vary in number and content across the different Christian traditions, but usually begin with Jesus’ trial before the high priest and sentencing by Pilate. They then proceed to the different scenes along Jesus’ path to his crucifixion on Golgotha, like the mocking, his flogging and cross-carrying aided by Simon of Cyrene, and his meeting the women of Jerusalem. The remaining stations draw our attention to Jesus’ words from the cross, the darkness that engulfed that first Good Friday afternoon, the division of Jesus’ clothes by the soldiers, his death, and his burial.
According to Mark’s account, Jesus languished on the cross for the same six hours of the day that we were spending in retreat, so we did these a little out of sequence. Mark tells us that Jesus was crucified at the third hour of the day (Mark 15:25), so we began with the crucifixion station during our first service at that time of day. Likewise, darkness covered the earth from the sixth hour until the ninth hour when Jesus gave up his spirit and died (Mark 15:33–34). So we sat in darkness in the Holy Cross church at the sixth hour (noon) as we heard a lone voice sing Psalm 88, and then, at our last service at about the ninth hour, we heard Mark’s account of Jesus’s death and burial.
For the other 'scenes' retreaters devoted themselves to individual reading, prayer and reflection at various locations around the grounds of Holy Cross where Pastor David Kuss and Vicar David Cherry had creatively set up the stations with whips, dingo traps (welded open!), hammers and nails, clothing, etc. to set each scene. The two 'cross-carrying' stations led retreaters through some paddocks down to a serene spot by the local creek. Its waters were running strong, a constant reminder of our baptismal union with Christ in his death and resurrection (Rom 6:4) and its cleansing power (Titus 3:5–6; 1 Pet 3:21). On the way one could pick up a fence post and carry it as Simon did and then, upon putting the burden down and experiencing the relief (they were solid!), be reminded how Christ has borne our griefs, carried our sorrows, and shouldered our sin and iniquities (Isa 53:4–5), taking them to the grave forever!
The day was an opportunity to meditate on the depths of Christ’s sufferings, to be sure. But more than that it was also a day of the profoundest joy to see again how the Son of God willingly languished on the cross for me, that he might rid me of my sin. It was a day to rest with Christ who died and rose to give me rest (Heb 4:9). And it was a day to receive the peace that surpasses all understanding through private confession and absolution offered by Pastor Kuss. Altogether it was a great prelude to the holy Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday that awaited us.
The ALC community is very grateful to the Holy Cross congregation for again making their lovely church and facilities available to us, and feeding us so well and generously at morning tea and lunch! Thanks, too, to those who led our services and especially to our head musician and choir director, Mrs Margaret Pearce, who provided the music, ably supported by cantors Jeremy Smith and Jacob Fabich.
Dr Adam Hensley