Out of the Silent City: Reflections on Suffering Via the stations of the Cross
Station 3: Jesus Falls the First Time
This station reminds me of the heavy burden of Christ, the weight that he bore as He sought to complete His mission in Jerusalem. The gospels, particularly Luke remind us that Jesus set his face like a rock towards Jerusalem. He was determined to complete the task before Him.
As a pastor, I’m reminded of my own struggle to bear the weight of another’s burdens, but in seeing this, I’m reminded that every burden we bear for the sake of another, we’ve borne for ourselves. As we have loved our neighbor, so we have loved ourselves. The pastoral burden is a great and terrible responsibility, but it’s also a wonder. As I wrote this reflection the other day, I reflected on how we’re called to bear one another’s burdens, to protect one another and ensure life for one another. I recognize my first and foremost task is the upbuilding of the Church, her churches, and the call to continue the task of calling faithful disciples. Jesus fell, but he got back up, he got back up and endured it all, so that I might see what it means to glorify the God we call Father. This too is an act of worship.
Station 4: Jesus Meets His Mother
I stopped and gave this one special consideration because of Mary. Having grown up Protestant, I was taught that Mary was ordinary and that any special attention paid to her was to be avoided at all costs. However, I’ve learned better.
I think of how she must have felt along the way, seeing her Son condemned to death, it’s a heavy burden to bear. Parenting is extremely difficult, and as I’ve thought about what to say in regards to Mother Mary, I’ve thought it best to simply be honest. I don’t understand fully why I believe Mary is as important to the entire Jesus story as Jesus Himself, I can’t explain it. I don’t know why I’m convinced that the moment she said “Be it done unto me according to thy will,” the universe changed. I can’t explain all that, other than, She’s central to salvation history, and the way God works. He works in and through people, he’s worked concretely, and powerfully through Mary.
Here’s a short poem I wrote about this event in the Way of the Cross:
Her eyes are guided, by tumultuous news
Agitation and excitment create an electric snap in the air
the crowds pass whispers, accusing Him,
The whole world stands still
The hot streets smell of contempt and bitterness
Her eyes are wide open with tears and anguish
“He says he’s The Messiah,” they whisper and laugh
It’s just another day to many, but she remembers
despite the anguish and the death of hope,
The heat feels like sickness in her stomach,
and the world grows cold as her eyes catch him
She remembers his words as a child
she remembers Jerusalem, and Egypt
Caesar has finally gotten His way,
the king is on the road to death
Better Him than me, another whispers in passing.
He is the unlovliest, her heart breaks for him all the more
She reaches out to him in anguished despair, hoping against hope
he’s barely breathing, it seems
her touch doesn’t reach him
Stricken with grief at the unlovely one,
She weeps for him
her heart’s anger flourishes, and she remembers
Setting her face like a flint towards Golgotha
she lets it resonate, the message pondered in her heart
Hail! Full of Grace! The Lord is with you!
She remembers her song, the joy of the revelation
“He shall be called Son of the most High”
How her heart must have broken for her son. What a burden they both carried on that day.
Station 5: Simon the Cyrene
My meditation on this event was a little cloudy at first, so I went to Luke to get his version of the story. Luke 23.26: As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.
Apparently, despite the image in the mosaic, Jesus is being dragged out in front of the cross and a bystander coming into Jerusalem from the country is made to participate in the execution of a stranger.
I think this is important to observe, and here’s my short meditation on this:
When we are neutral towards the empires, the powers, and the evils they perpetuate, we are actually complicit. Longshot? Maybe, but I think not. Peter denied Jesus three times, and it says he followed, watching from a distance, the previous night.
If we are not engaged in active resistance to the powers via discipleship, we’re complicit. We’re just as guilty as the next guy. We’d like to plead innocence, or that we were coerced. But this is what the Christian hope means, it means that we no longer need to fear the empires and powers that use death as a means of coercion. We serve the God who Raises the dead.
However, there’s also a positive side to this event, that Jesus who obviously needed help and it was provided by a man chosen for the job. Are you ready to help God fulfill his difficult mission when the time comes, and you have to choose between looking on from a distance and being the one who is right there to pick up where God has left the cross for you to carry?
As one of my former professors said: “Christians are the ones who go to God in His hour of need.” This Simon, a man who surely did not want to help this man’s execution, or at least it is implied that way by the text has gone down in Christian history as someone who shared Christ’s burden. Whether willingly or not, we’re not told. But that’s not the point of the mention. Simon was one who went to God in His hour of need. Whether willingly or unwillingly, it does not matter, because it issues a challenge to us as Christians.
When we see that we are compelled by the government to do things, or when we are forced by our enemies and oppressors to assist in things we would wash our hands of, are we doing so in benefit of the poor and the oppressed? When the government issues the edict that we are to pay these and those taxes for increased healthcare or other social benefits, do we revile them? Or do we seek to exceed the challenge that secular imposition poses to the gospel by exceeding government expectations?
If the Christian God is found in and through my neighbor, am I going to God in my neighbor’s hour of need? Every needy person we come across is an altar, a place to repent of our selfish habits and offer up a sacrifice unto God. Christians are the ones who go to God in His hour of need.
Station 6: A Holy Woman wipes the Face of Jesus
While not specifically in the bible, I wanted to be faithful to the traditional form of the stations.
Usually Called St. Veronica, use the Wikipedia article on Saint Veronica or the New Advent for more information on the actual action here, I’m just going to go right into the meditation:
Jesus was weary, tired, condemned to death, and carrying out his sentence. A woman moved with compassion wiped his face with her cloth, and it left a miraculous imprint on it. At least, that’s how the story is told. When is the last time your suffering left a mark on someone else? When’s the last time your compassion opened you up to be changed by the misfortune and weight another person was carrying? Here’s another example of a woman who went to Jesus in his hour of need. This seems to me an echo of the lavish gift poured out on the feet of our Lord.
This one woman, in the midst of an overwhelming opposition, takes pity on this condemned man. Maybe she knew him, maybe she had heard of him, maybe she knew nothing about him, the point is that Her compassion left His mark on her life. He forever altered that cloth with his face, from a small act of faith towards the Jesus presented to us in the gospels, we surely will also be forever changed, like that cloth, he seeks to imprint himself upon us. This is good and holy, and we should seek to open ourselves to this imprinting in faith.
Station 7 Jesus is Falls a Second Time
The entire city falls silent, watching this contemptible Jesus fall. He is weak, exhausted, beaten and wounded. He stands at the end of his difficult journey. The darkened city watches with eager silence. He’s been handed over from group to group. From the hands of Judas into the hands of the Sanhedrin, from the hands of the disciples at the meal into the sleep shortly afterwards, from the Sanhedrin to Pilate, from Pilate to Herod, from Herod to Pilate, from Pilate to the crowds, who turn him over to the Romans and to ultimately Caesar. It’s all very complex and complicated, but it is as John Millbank says “Even in His death, Jesus was still being handed back and forth , as if no one actually killed him, but he died from neglect and lack of his own living space” (Being Reconciled: Ontology and Pardon 2003 Routledge.)
Out of the silent city will arise a cry, sometime very soon, the day and hour is drawing near, and Jesus intends to carry out what has been thrust upon him. Colossians says that this is the decisive moment of victory, and we often weep at it. We should rightly weep at the sufferings of our lord, but we should also rejoice in this, not a shallow empty rejoicing that tends to be popular among the Western Christians of “Jesus died for my sins, so now I can go to heaven.” There’s no mention of the disarming of the powers, or the overthrow of governments and the other language of true freedom and revolution and spiritual and actual liberation associated with this Jesus. We often sing songs about revolution with the implied belief that the Christian’s revolution is some emotional struggle against personal sin.
While the personal dimension is important, it’s subservient to the idea that this Christ has challenged the very nature of power, and undone all the violence in the world precisely because he’s truly king of the universe, even in the gutters of Jerusalem, falling under the weight of a heavy cross. So, while there are voices and jeers, there’s only one that will matter when the whole city begins to understand what’s truly happening. While we often regard strength and power, Jesus undoes the very meaning of those words, and re-centers them in his determined and faithful suffering to fulfill the will of the Father and the covenant to Abraham.
Our God may be fallen, but that’s where we’re supposed to find him, in our midst, choosing to be emptying himself in the form of a servant, making himself low. That’s what it means to be God.