ASK any church musician what their favourite time of the year is liturgically, and they will probably say Passiontide and Holy Week. The ritual remembrance of Christ’s Passion and death has inspired some of the most astonishing art and music ever created. This has been reflected in the devotional life of the Church, be it the settings by Bach of the Passion narratives, or the anguished settings of responsories for the service of Tenebrae by the likes of Victoria.
Another form of para-liturgical devotion has been the Stations of the Cross, a series of 14 meditations on Christ’s last hours on earth, ending with his being laid in the tomb. Many churches have a series of images that illustrate each Station, and are used by many as a devotional aid, a kind of mini-pilgrimage.
The problem with all this beauty is that it can seduce the soul and unbalance it. We can all too easily spend so much time focusing on sin and death and what they did to Christ that we can forget that the Christian calling is primarily to focus on Christ, and what he did to sin and death. Too much death and precious little resurrection, in other words.
All of this makes the book here all the more welcome. The Bishop of Chelmsford and a priest-poet who writes weekly for the readers of this paper, together with an artist (also a priest), Iain McKillop, have put together here a devotional of very high quality (matched by a good quality of production, which will, I hope, ensure the volume’s longevity).
© 2024 Iain mckillopThe image by Iain McKillop for Station XIII, “Jesus confronts Peter”. The artists’s Stations of the Resurrection, as featured in the book, will be displayed at Leicester Cathedral from Easter to Pentecost. For more details,visit mckillop.weebly.com
There are 19 “Stations” here, corresponding to the 19 resurrection appearances that the New Testament describes. Each section contains prayer material derived from Common Worship, a short meditation by Bishop Francis-Dehqani, a sonnet by Malcolm Guite, and a reproduction of one of McKillop’s paintings. Introductory and concluding material is provided in case the user wishes to use the whole series in one go; there are also suggestions for other individual or communal uses.
This book is an object lesson in the truth of the saying “Less is more,” and also in how properly to lay out a book of devotion: all too often, the desire to pray is lost in a sea of rubrics and alternatives. Pagination matters, and this is a good example of how it should be done.
One of the men who unknowingly taught me to preach many years ago said that all good preachers were at heart good plagiarists. Come Eastertide 2024, I shall be stealing material from this book in abundance.
The Revd Peter McGeary is the Vicar of St Mary’s, Cable Street, in east London, and a Priest-Vicar of Westminster Abbey.
Stations of the Resurrection: Encounters with the risen Christ
Guli Francis-Dehqani and Malcolm Guite
Iain McKillop, illustrator
Church Times Bookshop £12.59