Stations of the Cross
Pontius Pilate wasn’t a bad guy. He tried to let Jesus off, he really did. He tried to pacify the crowd by just beating an innocent man bloody. But they were so insistent. And sure, he had all the soldiers and all the power, but what if they had gotten mad at him? He couldn’t have that. No, Pilate wasn’t a bad guy, just a weak one. So weak that he permitted the greatest atrocity in the history of the world, crying, “It’s not my fault!” while he crucified the Lord of glory. You’re probably not a bad guy either. But is your refusal to stand up and be counted crucifying the Lord anew? Do you keep your mouth shut as your coworkers spew profanity or sit fiddling on your phone as your spouse slaves over dinner, dishes, bathtime, and bed? Do you make any effort at all, or are you sliding complacently to perdition having washed your hands of the need to stand up and be counted? Maybe it’s not your fight–but it wasn’t Jesus’, either, and he submitted. Shouldn’t you?
The Second Station: Jesus takes up his Cross.
When Jesus took up his Cross, it wasn’t tentatively, fearfully, or with disgust. Any halfheartedness in bearing his Cross would have made our salvation impossible as it slipped out of his grudging fingers. No, Jesus embraced his cross, clinging to the torture and the shame and the loneliness “for the sake of the joy that lay before him.”1 There is no glory in accepting the suffering thrust upon us with anger and complaints. But if we embrace our crosses, rejoicing in the trials of life because we worship a God who bore them first and continues to bear them alongside us, we will be transformed.
The Third Station: Jesus falls the first time.
The very first thing Jesus did after taking up his Cross was to fall. He became like us in all things, even in failure and weakness. He understands what it’s like to be inadequate, to disappoint. Being a Christian doesn’t mean being perfect–it means offering our flaws to the Lord, then getting up and starting over. It’s running to the confessional, falling on our knees, and rising stronger. When you strive for virtue and fail, remember: your God was a failure, but he kept going and his failure became the world’s redemption.
The Fourth Station: Jesus meets his mother.
It seems his one moment of respite, this encounter with someone who loves him not for what he has to give her but simply for who he is. As her heart breaks, she reaches out to hold him, pushing past her own pain to comfort him in his. As we become more like Christ, we also become more like Mary, loving those who toil and suffer enough to give them the strength to go on. But it’s so easy to be repelled by their needs, afraid of the sacrifice we’ll have to make to love them. Who needs you right now to look past their disfigured face, to move past your discomfort and love them? Are you willing, like Christ, like Mary, to move beyond yourself and live for others?
The Fifth Station: Simon helps Jesus carry his Cross.
In turning to Simon for help, Jesus sanctifies our weakness. Simon of Cyrene is a Saint only because Jesus was strong enough to be weak. James and John are Saints because Peter and Andrew recognized their inadequacy and asked them for help.2 Self-sufficiency is not a Christian virtue, particularly not in the area of combating sin. In what areas of your life do you need to humble yourself and ask for help? It won’t just give you support in carrying your cross–it may just make saints of the both of you.
The Sixth Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
She takes a great risk here, running through the crowd, pushing past the soldiers, and falling at his feet. She tenderly pushes the hair out of his eyes, mops the blood from his battered face, and comes away with his image imprinted on the cloth. For her selflessness, she is rewarded, not with wealth or fame but with the joy of having consoled the heart of Christ. To be a Christian is to be radical, to make people uncomfortable, to suffer for Christ. But when we choose to live with reckless abandon for the Lord, we find ourselves blessed beyond imagining with a peace that surpasses understanding.3 It’s just a matter of trusting that he will do what he said and living as we already know we should. When we do that, we will find ourselves–against all odds–bearing the true image of Christ to the world.
The Seventh Station: Jesus falls the second time.
By this time, I wonder if the soldiers aren’t annoyed. They have a job to do and this pathetic man’s weakness keeps complicating it. They roll their eyes, they jeer. They view the God of their salvation as an obstacle. If only we didn’t do the same. If only I saw the defiant middle-schooler as the purpose of Christ’s death on the Cross and not as a problem to be dealt with. If only I stopped resenting or tolerating people and started loving them. If only their weakness sparked compassion in me instead of exasperation. We expect the Lord to be strong in our weakness; what if we let him be strong in theirs through us?
The Eighth Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
Crucifixion is the most painful and shameful way the Romans could devise to slaughter someone. It was so painful, they had to coin a new word to express the agony: excruciating. And yet, beaten within an inch of his life, dragging the instrument of his torture and death, Jesus saw nothing but others’ pain. “Do not weep for me,” he says, “But for yourselves and for your children.” It’s so easy to get caught up in our own suffering and ignore the pain of those around us, especially when their pain seems trivial. Remember, though, that the greatest pain a person has suffered is the greatest pain in the world. Live not just kindness but compassion, allowing your heart to ache for those who suffer–and then doing something to relieve that suffering, by physical aid, listening with love, or offering prayers and sacrifices. We become like Christ when we love like he did, even when we are broken ourselves.
The Ninth Station: Jesus falls the third time.
When Jesus fell the last time, there seemed no hope that he would rise again. He was spent, beaten and bloody, incapable of that last effort that would bring him to the top of Calvary. He could have just laid down and died right there, but he needed to be lifted up on the Cross for all the world to see. And so, in the face of hopelessness, he called on superhuman strength to persist. He kept going. And when he did that, he gave you the same power to let the Lord be strong in your weakness. There comes a point when we finally realize how completely inadequate we are to the task of holiness. We fall on our face, unable to resist the temptations or persevere in prayer. Then, at last, in our weakness he is strong.4 When we have nothing left to give, when we realize that we never had anything to give, then we allow him to be all in all. When we realize that we can never be good enough for him, we find that we already are good enough in him. Do not despair, my friends. It may be Friday, but Sunday is coming.
The Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of his garments.
Jesus held nothing back. He suffered pain and loneliness, separation from the Father, and finally the shame and indignity of being stripped to hang naked as the crowds mocked. There was nothing he wouldn’t give for you. What’s your line? Do you offer him your Sunday mornings but not your Saturday nights? Are you willing to be martyred for him but not to be mocked? Do you hand over control of your relationships but not your internet habits? Allow him to strip you of the walls that you’ve put between your heart and his–your sin, your pride, your job, your standing in the community. The more you follow him, the more you will find yourself naked and unashamed in his piercing gaze. But you have to unclench the fists you’ve tightened around the garments you’ve clothed yourself with before you’ll ever find peace in him.
The Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the Cross.
It was not nails that held him to the Cross. One would expect creation itself to rebel, the Cross to splinter and the nails to warp, when their Creator was crucified. But “Peace,” he told them, “be still.” Because even had the nails crumbled to dust, his love would have held him there. In his mercy, he became a slave to love and was never more free. You are not bound to stay in your marriage. Divorces are cheap and getting easier by the day. It’s not the law that keeps you there but your love. You are not bound to stay in your Church. God knows you wouldn’t be the first to leave. It’s not your obligation that keeps you there but your love. And so with your children and your job and whatever else may not seem worth it today. You stay because you are more free as a slave to love than you would be unshackled by all the relationships that hold you bound. And each moment that you choose love, each moment that you are crucified by your beloved, you will find that the nails bite less deeply as the pain becomes peace.
The Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the Cross.
There is nothing in the life of Christ that is not also expected of his followers. So when he dies on the Cross, handing his life over for love of those who despise him, keep this in mind: you must do the same. This is the universal call to martyrdom, the requirement that all followers of Christ die daily to themselves in order that others may live. In order that Christy may live in them. We must die to our love of wealth that the poor may live. We must die to our love of rest that our families may live. We must die to our love of self that our neighbors may live. We must die to our love of mediocrity that Christ may live. Turning from laziness or pornography or Candy Crush or envy or rage or materialism or gossip or Twitter or complacency may feel like a crucifixion. That’s what you signed up for.
The Thirteenth Station: Jesus is taken down from the Cross.
Jesus’ corpse is pulled down from the Cross and lain in the arms of his mother. There is only one pain greater than the pain of a parent who has lost a child: the pain of a parent who has given a child. The Father knows that pain. Even though you mocked and betrayed him, even though you ignored and rejected him, even though you continue to deny him and will until you die, he thought you were worth it. And so he stepped back and watched his Son suffer for 33 years. And when it became almost unbearable for his sinless Son, he stepped back so far that God himself felt abandoned by the Father. He watched his Son die in agony and then looked at his broken, lifeless body and rejoiced. Because it was that misery that won him you. And you are worth it. Live like you’re worth it.
The Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb.
It is finished. Love has come and been slaughtered for his pains. Nothing, it seems, will be beautiful again. But Sunday is coming. In this moment of defeat, of silent agony and hope destroyed, lies the true joy of the Christian life: our God is bigger. He is bigger than death, bigger than divorce, bigger than sin and shame and shallow distractions. There is no wound he cannot heal, no death he cannot reverse. He may not triumph in the way you would have chosen, but know this: he will triumph. Know this, as you lie in your tomb, as you weep at her tomb, as you run from his tomb: for the Christian, defeat is merely the seed of victory. He will triumph.
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