Stations of the Cross
Jesus is condemned to death
In words and in attitudes, we “point the finger” at each other, blaming each other for our own problems. The Romans condemned Jesus to death as a “rabble-rouser”, a supposed threat to the “Pax Romana”, but all it did was to reveal to everyone how much their rule over Palestine was based on brute force alone. They condemned Jesus, but in doing so they condemned their own occupation of Jesus’ homeland. Likewise, when we “point the finger” at others, we condemn ourselves, revealing our own weaknesses that are displayed by our need to blame others.
MEDITATION: Whom do you blame for the ways in which you suffer? In what ways does your blaming and condemnation of others make you suffer more, as well as to cause them hurt and harm?
The cross is laid upon him
“We each have our own cross to bear.” This common phrase has some truth to it. Suffering is the universal condition of humankind. The Christian religion makes this point by making the cross its most central image. Buddhism, too, begins with this recognition. The Buddha’s first “station” on his path to enlightenment was to recognize that all life is suffering. But for Jesus, according to the legends that shaped the medieval Stations of the Cross, the cross was unbearable. It was too heavy for him to carry, after being whipped and scourged by the Romans. And for us, too, there are times when our crosses are too heavy to bear.
MEDITATION: What cross do you carry through life? When has it become too heavy for you to bear? Have you asked for help in removing it — from God and from others?
His first fall
According to the Stations legends, Jesus fell three times as he was marched to Golgotha to be crucified. Each of us will fall at some point in life, by tripping on rock: a life crisis, an illness, or just old age. To fall down is an injury to one’s dignity as well as to one’s body. Yet Jesus said (Matthew 21:42-44) that the stone of stumbling would become the cornerstone — the most important stone in the building of the new Kingdom of Heaven. We all fall down — and while this is painful for us, it is also what “levels” us all, rich and poor, strong and weak, famous and unknown, and puts us in our place. And there is the promise that our stone of stumbling can be transformed into the cornerstone of the new life on the other side of the cross.
MEDITATION: What is the stone that makes you stumble and fall? What is it like — to be humbled in front of other people as well as in front of God? How can your stumbling stone be transformed into the foundation of a new and better life for you and others?
He meets his mother Mary
Jesus and Mary endured one of the greatest trials that confronts human beings. The son had to endure humiliation in front of his mother, and the mother had to witness the destruction of her son. Being a parent and being a child — these are relationships that are incredibly beautiful. But being a parent, and being a child, can also be incredibly painful. Each of us has given our parents and/or our children both joy and pain. Jesus and Mary tasted both.
MEDITATION: What unfinished business do you have with your parents and/or with your children? If this was your last chance to communicate, what would you say to your parent/child?
Simon of Cyrene is made to bear the cross
Jesus was too weak to carry his own cross, according to the Stations legends. A man named Simon, who came to Jerusalem from his home in Cyrene, in North Africa, to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem, was picked, apparently at random, to carry Jesus’ cross. Sometimes we are asked to carry burdens for other people. They need our help, and we are called to make sacrifices for them. But sometimes we feel that by doing so, we are participating in their own destruction. When is it right to take on the burdens of others? And when should we let them suffer on their own? But in the end, we each are called to bear the sufferings of others, and others are asked to bear our own. Jesus carried the cross out of love for the people around him, and Simon carried it for Jesus.
MEDITATION: What crosses are you asked to carry for others? Do you do so willingly or grudgingly? Does taking up their crosses help them or hurt them even more? Who carries the cross for you — friends, family, co-workers, others?
Jesus’ face is wiped by Veronica
According to the Stations legends, Veronica was one of the women of Jerusalem who followed Jesus to the cross. She wiped his face to offer comfort, and his image remained on the cloth. The cloth became a relic that had healing powers. The name “Veronica” probably means “true image” — the true image of the Christ, which can be found in every human being.
MEDITATION: Look in the mirror– do you see the true image of the Christ in your own image? Do you see the suffering of the Christ, and also the one for whom the Christ is willing to suffer?
His second fall
Jesus, weakened by beatings, fell again on his way to Golgotha. It is more likely that we will fall when we are already beaten down by illness or other disasters in life. Insults get added to injuries. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. When we are weakened by one disaster, we are made more vulnerable to others. Life isn’t fair! But each time we have a choice: whether to stay down, or whether to stand up for life again, even if it means facing the chance of falling once more.
MEDITATION: What hurts have you experienced, both physically and emotionally, that leave you more vulnerable to more hurt? Have you chosen to hide or excessively protect yourself from further suffering, or have you chosen to take the chance of being hurt again?
He meets the women of Jerusalem
Jesus encountered a group of women who were his followers, who wailed about his impending death. He told them to wail not for him, but instead for themselves and for Jerusalem, which he predicted would one day be destroyed. Indeed, about 70 years later, the Romans completely destroyed Jerusalem and the people of Israel were driven out of the country, not to return until this past century. Sometimes we lack perspective: we act as if our troubles are just our own. But none of us lives in a vacuum: each of us is a part of a larger history, a longer and bigger human drama. Understanding our place in history is both a comfort and a curse.
MEDITATION: What is your place in history? What is your role in the bigger human drama of destruction and redemption? How do you, and how can you, make a difference in the unfolding of human destiny?
His third fall
Jesus fell a third time on his way to crucifixion, according to the Stations legends. He had lost his strength, his power, his reputation: many of his followers had abandoned him, and now he faced the ultimate humiliation. Not only did he lose everything, he was tormented with the knowledge of his loss as he approached Golgotha.
MEDITATION: What have you lost along life’s way? In what way are you cursed by these losses, and in what ways are you liberated? If you could have anything back that you have lost, what would it be, and what would you do with it if you had that second chance? What do you have to lose now — dignity, pride, position — and what would it be like to lose it? Is there anything positive that has come from your losses?
He is stripped of his garments
In Jesus’ time, it was extremely humiliating to be stripped naked…. even more so than it is today. Jesus was completely exposed — there was nothing hidden anymore. His robe or cloak was taken by the Roman soldiers, who drew lots to see which of them would get it.
MEDITATION: If you could wear a garment of Jesus, what would it hide? What part of your life do you want to keep “under cover”? What would it be like to wear the cloak of the Christ — to “walk a mile in his moccasins”? And in what ways have you made light, downplayed, or disrespected the sufferings of yourself and others?
He is crucified
His last words were “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was the moment of Jesus’ worst suffering, but it was also the pivotal moment of the gospel legend — the precise moment when God and human beings are closest together, the precise moment when divine salvation comes to humanity. Only through this moment is the door to the other side of the cross opened.
MEDITATION: When have you lost God? And when have you been closest to God? Has there ever been a time when both were true, at the same moment?
He dies on the cross
Jesus really died …. no matter how you read the story, whether literally or figuratively, the Jesus who lived before the crucifixion was different than the Christ who was resurrected. The gospel stories in the Bible show that the resurrected Christ was substantially different after his death that he was before the crucifixion. Jesus was never quite the same after his death! And so, it is with us: we experience little deaths that change us forever. We really aren’t the same people, exactly, that we were when we were children, nor will we be exactly the same people in years to come. Each major passage of life — childhood to adolescence, adolescence to adulthood, parenthood to grandparenthood — leaves us changed forever, makes us different people than we were before.
MEDITATION: What part of you has died? What part of you is dying? What new life is emerging from these deaths?
His body is taken down from the cross
The gospels tell us that one of the rulers of Israel, a man named Joseph of Arimathea, secretly admired Jesus and asked to remove and bury his body after his crucifixion. Quietly, Joseph took on this sad and thankless task, which surely must have exposed him to danger from the Romans as well as the other members of the Jewish Sanhedrin. According to medieval legends, Joseph later came to England to establish the Christian church there, and in England he placed the Holy Grail – the cup used by Jesus in the Last Supper – in a well at Glastonbury.
MEDITATION: When have you been served profoundly by people who have helped you in secret, with no thought of reward or even thanks? What thankless, hard tasks are you asked to do for the sake of others? Are you willing to do them without recognition or reward? When is it appropriate to expect thanks and reward for your good work, and when does public acknowledgement just get in the way of being of service?
His body is laid in the tomb
Jesus’ death was shameful, but he was buried respectfully and honorably. Joseph of Arimathea wrapped his body in a shroud and placed it in a new tomb with herbs and spices, in the traditional manner. So often we treat a person one way in life, and quite another way after their death. Can we celebrate each other’s lives while we are still alive, at least as much as we celebrate each other’s’ lives after death? The tomb was the cocoon, the womb, in which the story of Jesus the historical person of first-century Palestine gestated and was transformed into the universal and eternal Christ. Each of the three days in the tomb was a “trimester” in that gestation period…. ending with the resurrection we celebrate at Easter.
MEDITATION: What part of your life is entombed — on hold, unseen, dead to the world and to yourself? What would happen if that part of your life was transformed, and brought back to life in a new way? Are you ready for this kind of resurrection?