Lessons from the 14 Stations of the Cross
By Gary Piper
I’d like you to go on a journey with me, a journey using our imagination, a journey dating back to the 1500’s a journey of The 14 Stations of the Cross that has been a mainstay of the Catholic Church spiritual exercise during the Easter Season. While we may not be members of the Catholic Church Jesus has journeyed with us all of our entire life and I think it’s appropriate for us to join him on an imaginary journey from his trial to the tomb. We will be using Creighton Universities webpage titled “The Stations of the Cross” (click for the webpage) as our guide.
In case you’re wondering, what can come from doing The 14 Stations of Cross Journey, Creighton University provides the answer. “The most important reason for reviving the practice of making the Stations of the Cross is that it is a powerful way to contemplate, and enter into, the mystery of Jesus’ gift of himself to us. It takes the reflection on the passion out of my head, and makes it an imaginative exercise. It involves my senses, my experience and my emotions. To the extent I come to experience the love of Jesus for me, to that extent the gratitude I feel will be deep. Deep gratitude leads to real generosity and a desire to love as I have been loved.”**
To be honest this is a first for me. I’ve heard of the Stations of the Cross but have never really been serious about digging deeper into them or even writing about them. But out of my hunger and thirst for a deeper relationship with Jesus I think it’s time for me to walk with him (as best I can) through the darkest days of his short life on earth. Even though on the surface they appear to be dark days they are actually days of Light, Light we can use to both light and enlighten our days.
Holy Spirit, we are embarking on a journey, not a perilous journey filled with danger at every turn but a journey to the dark side of humanity one where we might even run into ourselves. It is a journey of sacrifice and forgiveness, a forever journey of death and life. A journey we need to make. Strengthen and accompany us every step of the way. Bless us with insight, a deeper relationship with Jesus and a deeper appreciation for God. Amen!
Station One – Jesus is condemned to die…
“Jesus stands in the most human of places. He has already experienced profound solidarity with so many on this earth, by being beaten and tortured. Now he is wrongfully condemned to punishment by death. His commitment to entering our lives completely begins its final steps. He has said “yes” to God and placed his life in God’s hands. We follow him in this final surrender, and contemplate with reverence each place along the way, as he is broken and given for us.”**
Standing before Pilate found sinlessly guilty Jesus silently hears the sentence – death by crucifixion. Expecting some type of reaction a hush falls over the room as all eyes focus on the condemned Savior. Showing no reaction Jesus turns his gaze toward the ceiling smiles and whispers one word, “Amen.” Then he patiently waits his fate he turns to face the angry mob he looks for one particular person, suddenly he stops and affixes his attention on the one he was looking for, YOU. As his eyes meet yours a sense of peace washes over you such as you’ve never felt before.
Jesus not only said, “yes,” to God he also said, “yes to YOU” As he stands mute he presents YOU with the only real gift he can give, himself. “As I view the scene, I become moved by both outrage and gratitude. I look at Jesus. His face. The crown of thorns. The blood. His clothes stuck to the wounds on his back. Pilate washes his hands of the whole affair. Jesus’ hands are tied behind his back. This is for me. That I might be free. That I might have eternal life. As the journey begins I ask to be with Jesus. To follow his journey. I express my love and thanks.”**
It has been hard for me to find the right words as I consider Jesus being condemned to die because I cannot do so without condemning myself as well. I remember one night in March of 1981 lying in a hospital bed of feeling my life slowly slipping away, “LORD” I prayed, “If I make it, it will only because of you.” I learned 35 years ago that Jesus is about life, not about death. I learned 35 years ago that Jesus died that I might have life. Now I live not for myself but for the one who gave me life.
God I hope you’ll accompany us to Station Two Jesus Carries His Cross.
Station Two – Jesus Carries His Cross…
As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. (Matthew 27:32, ESV) One of the things Easter has taught me is there are some crosses we NEED to carry that are not our own! There have been times when I’ve needed someone to not only carry my cross (burdens) when I was unable to do so but they also had to carry me as well, remember the story Foot Prints in the Sand?
One of the best examples of carrying another’s “cross” is family, immediate family, our extended family, our church family, our employment family, are some examples. I remember many years ago I was laid off from work with two young boys and each week in the mail we’d get a money order signed only “your friends”. While we had no names the one thing we do know is it came from God’s Family! Other example is marriage, today begins 48 years of carrying each other’s cross, thank you Patti Piper for carrying me all these years, they’ve been wonderful!
“I contemplate the wood of that cross. I imagine how heavy it is. I reflect upon all it means that Jesus is carrying it. I look into his eyes. It’s all there. This is for me. So I place myself with him in this journey. In its anguish. In his freedom and surrender. In the love that must fill his heart. With sorrow and gratitude, I continue the journey. Moved by the power of his love, I am drawn to him and express my love in the words that come to me.”**
In God’s Family we carry each other’s cross when we need to. Creighton University talks about Jesus’ cross being made of wood and it was no doubt heavy but it didn’t get its weight from the wood it got its weight from you and I! Jesus carried each one of us through the narrow streets of Jerusalem. I can’t speak for you but I NEED to take my turn at helping him carry us.
Station Three – Jesus falls for the first time…
Beaten nearly to death. Carrying a heavy piece of wood on his back raw from the beating Jesus stumbles and falls to the hard ground to his knees, instantly the huge piece of wood lands on him pushing him further to the ground. Jesus knows what it’s like to fall under the weight of burdens. Jesus knows what it’s like to have those burdens slam into him. Jesus knows what it’s like to struggle to pick himself and his burdens up. Jesus knows what it’s like to depend on someone else to help carry his burdens. Jesus knows what it’s like to be fully human.
Like the two disciples walking to Emmaus it is hard for me to comprehend the last week of Jesus’ life. Today I am having a difficult time trying to experience what it was like to see Jesus fall. What it was like to be the one to help him pick up the cross and carry not only it but steady him as well. One of my greatest needs is to experience Jesus as human like me. Yet at the same time I need him not to be like me. I need him to be stronger, because I am weak. I need to be able to depend him to pick me up when I fall. I need him not to fall, but he does. But Jesus falls. What am I suppose to do now? How can I depend on Jesus when he is able to fall? Now that I know Jesus isn’t Superman where do I go from here? Where do you go?
The author of Hebrews hints at what Jesus’ life mission really was. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power… (Hebrews 1:1-3, ESV) Jesus’ life was about introducing us to God. Throughout his life Jesus was quick to point out who the real power was behind his ministry.
At no point in his life did Jesus show himself to be human more than the last week of his life. His experience from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday was his way of illustrating the ultimate dependability of God. One lesson I am personally gleaning from walking with Jesus to Calvary is how strong he could be in spite of his human frailty. For me that speaks volumes!
Station 4 – Jesus meets his mother, a divine love moment…
“Jesus’ path takes him to a powerful source of his strength to continue. All his life, his mother had taught him the meaning of the words, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord.” Now they look into each other’s eyes. How pierced-through her heart must be! How pained he must be to see her tears! Now, her grace-filled smile blesses his mission and stirs his heart to its depth. Love and trust in God bind them together.”**
Jesus and his mother shared a sacred bond, a bond no other mother and child has ever had. No one will ever know the anguish Mary felt as she watched her son, a son she shared with God bloodied and beaten stagger through the narrow streets of Jerusalem. In my imagination I can see her with tears running down her cheeks throwing him a reassuring smile. The very human Jesus needed to see that smile, he needed a divine love moment. For just a few seconds mother and son shared a divine love moment between two humans one where both were strengthened for what lie ahead. It was a moment stirred up in heaven, a divine love moment.
Later while hanging on the cross Jesus shared another divine love moment with his mother and John, one of his closest friends. Everyone needs at least one person they can share divine love moments with. One such special moment that will always stand out in my mind occurred on the afternoon of November 3, 2013. While lying in the ER of a hospital Patti walked in and said, “What did the doctor say?” With tears in my eyes, “He said I had a heart attack.” Then deep inside I felt a comforting spirit of peace, it was a divine love moment shared by wife, husband, and the Holy Spirit. Even as I think about that November day this morning, it still has the capacity to put my troubled heart at rest.
There is nothing magical about a divine love moment. It can reassure a heart attack patient, it can reassure a cancer patient, and it can even give strength to a man sentenced to die the horrible death of crucifixion. The powers of hell are among the most destructive power anywhere yet when exposed to divine love its power are turned to ashes and carried away by the winds of the Spirit.
Station 5 – Simon helps Jesus carry his cross…
Last Wednesday I wrote, “One of the things Easter has taught me is there are some crosses we NEED to carry that are not our own!” Today I want to focus on carrying not just anybody’s cross, Jesus’ cross. Because Jesus’ trek to Calvary happened long ago it is impossible for us to do so, at least in a physical sense anyway. If we understand Jesus’ cross as Jesus’ passion for life than that opens up new possibilities.
Jesus and God shared a passion for you and for me their passion was not only for our salvation but also for our day-to-day lives. In addition their passion went even deeper as illustrated in Jesus’ prayer the night of his arrest. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21, ESV)
Simon of Cyrene picked up Jesus’ cross and carried it to Calvary, Joseph of Arimathea picked up Jesus’ body prepared him for burial and put him in his own tomb, then God picked up Jesus and gave him life. Now we need to pick up Jesus’ passion for life and be his “body” in the world joining up with his Spirit and impact our corner of the world on his behalf. The Great Commission given to the disciples is just as relevant today as it was when Jesus first gave it to them. “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV) We can do this because Jesus was first passionate about us!
Station 6 – Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus…
I have to admit this is a new one for me. I checked the bible and found no reference to Veronica or anyone wiping Jesus’ face. Doing a quick search on Google I found this. “According to Church tradition, Veronica was moved with pity when she saw Jesus carrying his cross to Golgotha and gave him her veil that he might wipe his forehead. Jesus accepted the offering, held it to his face, and then handed it back to her—the image of his face miraculously impressed upon it.”
I also found this, “Station number six on the Via Dolorosa, however, marks the site of the home of Veronica, that noble Jerusalem matron who came forward with a linen cloth in her hands to wipe the dust and blood off Jesus’ face. Tradition has it that she was the nameless woman who was twelve years under an issue of blood who had been cured by touching the fringe of Jesus’ garment while he was being thronged by the multitudes at Capernaum. (Luke 8) In persistent gratitude, she followed Jesus afterwards, wherever he went.” (http://www.itsgila.com/veronica.htm)
Because there is no real evidence of anyone wiping Jesus face at first I was going to omit Station 6 but have decided not to because the bible does say, “And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him.” (Luke 23:27, ESV) You would think Jesus would be grateful for the compassion the women were showing him. Instead of showing them gratitude he gives them a compassionate warning, “But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” (Luke 23:28, ESV)
One of the things I have been hoping to accomplish this Easter season is to try and go deeper into Jesus’ mindset concerning not only was happening to him but how his sacrifice and suffering would impact those who believed in him including us and those who wouldn’t. While no one can really understand fully the mindset of another let alone Jesus but when we try and put the pieces of a mindset puzzle together our relationship is bound to get stronger and more intimate. As I try my best to assemble Jesus’ mindset puzzle I am beginning to get a sense of how deep his compassion was for believers and nonbelievers both. Compassion cannot be adequately described in words written or spoken it is something one must experience for themselves.
Station 7 – Jesus falls a second time…
“I contemplate Jesus brought very low. As I behold him there on the ground, with all the agony taking its toll on him, I let my heart go out to him. I store up this image in my heart, knowing that I will never feel alone in my suffering or in any diminishment, with this image of Jesus on the ground before me. This is for me, so I express the feelings in my heart.”**
As I’ve stated before one of the main reasons the bible goes into such detail in Holy Week is to portray the human element of Jesus. At no other time (although there are times that come close) does the bible show us how close Jesus comes to walking in our shoes. To be as honest as I can there are times when I find myself praying, “Jesus, since you know what and how I am feeling right now won’t you make all this trouble go away?” In response deep inside I feel him simply saying, “No one took mine away?”
Life is not only about what we experience it’s also about how our experiences impact our lives. When I experience the human Jesus stumbling and falling under the weight of the cross even with someone helping him the lasting impression fixated in my mind is we experienced this together, our friendship does not end when things go awry. “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”” (Genesis 2:18, ESV) I understand this scripture is talking about Eve but when I think about how Jesus (through the Holy Spirit) has accompanied and sustained me through some hard “falls” because he can emphasize with me he fits the image nicely. “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15, ESV)
Through his life as our Savior and our friend our message to a “fallen” world is. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, ESV)
Thank you Jesus for being as human as I am you are truly a Light on my path.
Station 8 – Jesus meets the women from Jerusalem…
“The women of Jerusalem, and their children, come out to comfort and thank him. They had seen his compassion and welcomed his words of healing and freedom. He had broken all kinds of social and religious conventions to connect with them. Now they are here to support him. He feels their grief. He suffers, knowing he can’t remain to help them more in this life. He knows the mystery of facing the separation of death.”**
I brought these ladies up at Station 6 but there’s more to be said about their encounter with Jesus. “And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him.” (Luke 23:27, ESV) Not only at this station do we experience Jesus’ compassion we also experience his helplessness, I don’t know about you but to me the feeling of helplessness is one of the worst experiences we humans face. I remember sitting helplessly with my father who fell into a coma shortly after he had cancer surgery as his life slowly slipped away.
I am sure there have been many times when you’ve had similar experiences where you’ve been powerless to prevent a loved one, a friend, or even yourself from some adversity. Now take that feeling of helplessness and multiple it hundreds, thousands, or millions of times and that is what the human Jesus experienced throughout his entire life and especially the last week of his life. When the rich man refused sell all he had and walked away, how did Jesus really feel? When he saw and heard Peter deny him how do you suppose he felt?
As I personally make my way with Jesus through the most difficult time of his life, it is hard for me to find something to celebrate. Yet at the same time in spite Jesus’ pain and agony in my imagination there’s always a hidden smile on his face because he KNOWS in spite of his (and our) experience with helplessness there is God and he KNOWS (as we do) with God, “I can have hope through him who is present with me and strengthens me.” (Adapted from Philippians 4:13)
Through our relationship with God during the darkest times of our lives we can draw hope. One of the most powerful and influential things Jesus said from which we can draw hope when experiencing helplessness is found in chapter 20 of John. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” (John 16:20, ESV)
Station 9 – Jesus falls a third time…
“I pause to contemplate him there on the ground. The brokenness that makes me whole. The surrender that gives me life. I pause to experience and receive how completely he loves me. He is indeed completely poured out for me. As I treasure this gifted experience, I express what is in my heart.”**
For the first time on his final walk in his life I don’t want to reach down and help Jesus up. I don’t want to help carry his cross. I just want to lie down beside him and shield him from the blows that are sure to some. I want to tell him how much I love him. I want to tell him how much I need him. I really don’t know who feels the others pain more Jesus or me, or me or Jesus. It has to be Jesus of course because there’s no way I could ever experience the full impact Jesus.
I don’t know about you but I’ve “fallen” so many times in my life I’ve lost track of them. All I can remember of them is falling and asking for Jesus’ help not the mechanics of the fall. But then maybe that’s what Jesus’ life was all about, maybe when he went to the cross for us we not only received forgiveness for our “fallen-ness” but he cleared our memories as well.
As much as I want to lie motionless on the ground with Jesus, I can’t because Jesus won’t. Of all the things I will take away from Lent/Easter 2016 is: never stop moving forward, never stop hoping, never stop loving. I said this before and I’ll keep saying it: the real symbol of Easter isn’t the cross it’s the empty tomb. When Jesus headed from Jerusalem for the last time his plans were the cross, but with every step Jesus’ took God had a better plan – the empty tomb. I am so glad I’ve made this journey with Jesus and with you, but it ain’t over yet! The best is yet to come!
Station 10 – Jesus is stripped…
“And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.” (Matthew 27:31, ESV)
Perhaps the main theme of Jesus’ last week on earth as a human is spelled out in these verses. “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:53-54, ESV) Jesus was, is, and will always be the ultimate volunteer.
I don’t know why the Roman soldiers wanted to humiliate Jesus by stripping him and really the reason isn’t that important but what is important is Jesus nor God did anything to stop it. Jesus had a choice. Had he called upon God to send him legions of angels to save him he would have lost. However, he chose to go with God’s winning plan and honoring Jesus’ choice God’s plan saw to it that Jesus sacrifice “spilled” over into our lives.
There are times when we pick out certain incidents in Jesus life to address specific times in our lives but there are also times when we need to address Jesus’ life from before birth to after his return to heaven. There are also times when we need to address distinctive times in his life Holy Week is one of those distinctive times. If someone were to ask me condense the last week of Jesus’ life into one word that word would be—SURRENDER. On the surface it may seem as if he surrendered to the Jewish and Roman authorities but his surrender was to God and His plan not only for Jesus but for us as well. However, by surrendering to God and His plan Jesus sat the “bench mark” for us.
Frank Viola in his book “God’s Favorite Place” writes about the benefit of surrendering to God and His plan for our lives. “On the contrary, people who have been broken by the hand of God know how to turn the other cheek. They know how to go the second mile. They know how to give their coats when asked for their shirts. They know how to speak well of those who misrepresent them. They know how to return good for evil. They know how to lose. And in so doing, they exhibit the Spirit of the Lamb and allow God to win.” (God’s Favorite Place on Earth, Kindle Locations 228-230. David C. Cook. Kindle Edition)
Station 11 – Jesus is nailed to the cross…
“Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” (Luke 23:32-33, ESV)
“So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” (Luke 15:3-5, ESV)
I believe the significance of Jesus being crucified with one man on his left side and one man on his right side is sometimes overlooked. We know about the one fellow who asked Jesus to forgive him. And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43, ESV) For me the significance goes deeper. One of the reasons the authorities might have put Jesus between two criminals was to give people the impression that Jesus was indeed a criminal himself worthy of death. However, in my eyes if that was the case their plan backfired, Jesus between two criminals “cements” in my thinking the fact that Jesus not only lived with sinners but he died with them too.
The bible does not say what crime the other two men did that called for the death by crucifixion we could speculate but is the reason that important. Whatever it was it was worthy of death and that’s all I need to know. While I am not a criminal worthy of death however, I am a sinner worthy of death and not a day goes by but what I don’t in some way tell Jesus, “remember me from your kingdom.” And one of the things that keep me going when it appears as if the light is going out is, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43, ESV)
The next time you read about Jesus and the two criminals, see a picture, or watch on video of them stop and take a good look because there’s more to that story than meets the eye! Don’t miss it.
Station 12 – Jesus dies on the cross…
How does one go about expressing the inexpressible? How does one take what lies deep in the heart and bring it to the surface for all to see?
“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said ( to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19:28-30, ESV)
“I stand there, at the foot of the cross, side by side with all of humanity, and behold our salvation. I carefully watch and listen to all that is said. And then, I experience the one who gives life pass from life to death, for me. I console Mary and John and Mary. And let them console me. This is the hour to express the deepest feelings within me.”**
There are times when Jesus’ death seems unreal. I read the stories of his death and they seem like just a story. I see movies that include the crucifixion they seem even more unreal. It’s not that I disbelieve in his death and the method of his death because I believe in his life and I believe in his resurrection but when I consider his death my human mind has trouble processing it. “You did that for me, Jesus?” keeps running through my mind. Then after that haunts me for a while, “Couldn’t there have been another way, God?” bounces around for a while.
It is out of a complex mixture of guilt and humility that give rise to my struggle with Jesus’ death but on the other hand out of the complexity of life come the reality of my need for the Holy Spirit, which is one of the reasons for Jesus’ death. “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7, ESV)
Never in my life has my need for the “Helper” more than now. I know my name is probably not at the top of the list of those who are desperate for “his” presence but I know it’s close to the top. The story of Jesus’ death is real. I know it to be real because my need for him is real.
By the way the answer to the first two questions lies not just in the heart/spirit of the author but in the heart/spirit of reader as well. There are those who will understand what I am trying to say, there are those who will not, and there are those who need try to.
Station 13, 14 – Jesus is taken down and laid in the tomb…
Holy Spirit, take us where we ourselves are unable to go… “And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.” (Matthew 27:59-61, ESV)
I’ve never really given much thought to Jesus’ body taken and laid in the tomb. For me it has been just another part of his death and burial. However, this morning as I try to experience the emotions of those who witnessed his death and then carried him to the tomb it is a journey full not of defeats but of victories. I have long saw Jesus’ tomb not only as a place for his body but also a place to bury the “junk” such as my fears, hopelessness, sins, prejudices, my doubts just to mention a few. Then on Resurrection Sunday as Jesus steps from the tomb the “junk” stays.
This morning as I’ve tried to put myself in the story I can picture myself with the entourage of followers and soldiers who make the solemn trip to the tomb with Jesus’ body. I can see us laying him in the tomb. I can see those of us who believed in him laying down our “junk”. I can see the huge stone sealing off Jesus and our “junk”. Then as the sun comes up on Resurrection Sunday I can see Jesus walking out of the tomb alone, and buried somewhere in a bottomless pit are the remains of our “junk”. And here’s the “icing on the cake” the ex-Jesus tomb remains open so we can make regular trips and dump our “junk”.
Please forgive me for using my imagination to express how I believe Jesus makes it possible for us to become dead to our “junk” and alive to a new life in Christ. I believe there are times when we exercise our imaginations the Holy Spirit accompanies us thus helping us understand what might otherwise be impossible.
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Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might!
Grace and PEACE, Amen!
Scripture quotations marked ESV “Are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
**http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/stations.html. Used with permission.