You may have seen the announcement in the Sunday Bulletin or in the KNN that All Saints will be offering the Stations of the Cross on Sunday, March 27 at 6 PM, and Wednesday, April 6 at 7 PM (also, the sanctuary will be open over lunch on the weekdays for you to pray the Stations by yourself if you would like). Some of you may be saying “Stations of the what? What in the world is the Stations of the Cross?” Good questions!
The Stations of the Cross are a traditional devotional practice during Lent. Back in the early centuries of the church, Christians made pilgrimages to Jerusalem in the days leading up to Easter. One of the things they did as they prepared to celebrate Easter is they walked and prayed along the traditional path that Jesus traveled from his trial to his death on the cross and then to his tomb. Over time, different “stations” were identified where Jesus said or did something important along the way. Some of these stations are found in the Scriptures–here Jesus was condemned to death, there Simon of Cyrene began to help Jesus carry his cross, there Jesus was nailed to his cross, etc. Other stations seem to have grown out of local traditions about other things Jesus did as he carried his cross. Eventually, over the centuries, the stations were set to be these:
1. Jesus is condemned to death
2. Jesus takes up his cross
3. Jesus falls the first time
4. Jesus meets His Mother
5. The cross is laid on Simon of Cyrene
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
7. Jesus falls the second time
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
9. Jesus falls the third time
10. Jesus is stripped of His garments
11. Jesus is nailed to the cross
12. Jesus dies on the cross
13. Jesus’ body is placed in the arms of his mother
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb
As you can see, Stations 1, 2, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 14 come directly from Scripture. The remaining stations are based on those local Jerusalem traditions that I mentioned above.
So, the Stations of the Cross are basically an extended meditation on the Passion of Jesus (his trial, suffering, death and burial). They are especially associated with Lent because that’s the season in which, through special acts of prayer, self-denial, and service, we enter into Jesus’ Passion, so that at Easter we can also enter in a special way into Jesus’ resurrection. We suffer with him, we bring our suffering and the suffering of others to him in his Passion, so that suffering can be transformed just as his suffering was transformed in his resurrection.
That last sentence really gets at what so powerful for me in the Stations of the Cross. Through praying the Stations I begin to learn what it means to suffer with Christ, what it means to suffer as a suffering servant, what it means to give over to Christ all the suffering and hurt and crud that I am carrying for myself and for others. The Stations challenge me to understand and to bear my suffering and the suffering of the world in light of that singularly most important moment in the history of the universe: the moment in which Jesus carried all the suffering and hurt and crud of the world straight into the tomb and, as the conqueror of sin and death, left it there. And because he is the conqueror who has left it there, I too can leave it there. By the grace of God and the power of the Spirit, I too can be more than a conqueror over the suffering and hurt and crud in my life. Not a conqueror in the sense that I will ever be immune or impervious to my suffering or the sufferings of others. Rather, with Christ I can be a conqueror in that no matter the suffering I encounter, I can know that suffering will never have the final word in my life. Christ will always be there to redeem, to give meaning and purpose to that suffering (even when the suffering is so bad I can’t begin to fathom what possible meaning it might have, or how Jesus could possibly redeem it).
I’m reminded of the last few lines of one of my favorite passages of scripture, the Canticle of Zechariah…
In the tender compassion of our God,
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)
This good news is truer than true precisely because in his Passion, Jesus walked the way of darkness and the shadow of death. He blazed a trail for us to follow, so that we can step with him into the glorious dawn of light and life and peace. The Stations of the Cross provide us a way of walking that path with Jesus.
There is a lot more that I could say about all this. I know folks who find the Stations profoundly meaningful in ways I haven’t even begun to mention here. But it is far better to pray the Stations than to talk about them; it is far better to come face-to-face with Christ the Suffering Servant Lamb of God than merely to think about him. So I heartily invite you all to give the Stations a test-drive. I don’t think that you’ll be disappointed.