During the season of Lent many churches do what are called the Stations of the Cross. These are fourteen stations, which re-enact the last moments of Jesus life here on earth from His condemnation before Pilate through His body being laid in the tomb. We get to walk with Christ along the same path He took and learn what it cost Him to purchase our salvation. Some may feel so what. Others may argue that not all the events recorded in the fourteen stations are actually found in the Bible and several are found in tradition only. For instance there is no record in the Gospels of Jesus falling once let alone three times. Nor is there any record of a woman named Veronica wiping the face of Jesus or of His actually meeting His mother on His way to the cross. Not to say they didnâ€™t happen just to say they are not found in the gospels. However is that the point? Our we just going through a reenactment of a historical event or is there something else happening here and something that we are supposed to be learning, being reminded of and changed by.
HISTORY OF THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS
Although the actual origins of the Stations of the Cross are lost in antiquity some scholars believe Saint Cyril introduced them during His reign as Bishop at Jerusalem. This was done to help the thousands that came to Jerusalem each year during Lent and the Easter seasons wanting to see the places where the events of Passion Week took place, to experience the sufferings of Christ being thereby identified with Him in His sufferings. Later they were reproduced in churches, monasteries and other holy places so that those who could not make it to Jerusalem to experience them could still do them just as they did in Jerusalem. Tradition says that Mary went each day to visit each of the sites her Son took along the Via Dolorosa or the way of sorrow. It needs to be noted here that while that may have been possible while they lived in Jerusalem ultimately she moved with Saint John to Ephesus and died there. Since earliest times the faithful had come to Jerusalem during Passion Week to venerate the places of Christ suffering and death. Indulgences were granted at certain Stations of the Cross and in 1540 Pope Leo X granted an indulgence of 100 days off time in Purgatory for those who did the Stations of the Cross. In 1742 Pope Benedict XIV fixed the number at the current fourteen stations we have today. So what does all this have to do with us today? What value is there in them or is it just a futile exercise we go through?
PURPOSE FOR DOING THE STATIONS OF THE CROSS AND WHY WE NEED THEM
The object of the Stations is to help the faithful to make in spirit, as it were, a pilgrimage to the chief scenes of Christâ€™s sufferings and death. In this sense we get to walk with Christ through all His sufferings. This I believe enables us to do three things that the scriptures tell us to do.
1. TO REMEMBER HIS DEATH
Jesus at the last supper as recorded by Saint Luke says something as He breaks the bread.
â€śThis is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.â€ť
(Saint Luke 22:19)
The word remembrance used here means recollection. Although Christ here is speaking of His broken body and the instituting of what we now call the Eucharist I believe it can have a broader application also. As we do the Stations of the Cross we are recollecting, everything Christ went through for our redemption and salvation. It is not a pretty scene neither is intended to be. It is intended as a graphic image that we wonâ€™t be able to easily forget of all that happened at that fateful time. It is to cause us to reflect on what it means for us individually and help us to become more identified with and like Him.
Saint Paul gives another take on this idea of remembering Christ.
â€śFor as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lordâ€™s death until He comes.â€ť (I Corinthians 11:26)
The word used here by Saint Paul for proclaim means to not only proclaim. It can also mean to promulgate, declare, and preach. It can also mean to show, speak of, and to teach. Again taken in a broad sense the Stations of the Cross fulfill the above criteria. By the means of them we are promulgating the faith, declaring what happened lest we forget. We are preaching to those who have never heard, and teaching new converts the basics of our faith and the price paid for our salvation. However it doesnâ€™t stop there.
2. WE GET TO BE IMITATORS OF CHRIST
The writer of Hebrews has this to say concerning about what we are talking about.
â€śThat you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.â€ť (Hebrews 6:12)
Christ has done that for us and has been exalted to the right hand of God where He is interceding for us. According to the dictionary to imitate means
1. To follow or endeavor to follow in an action or manner
2. To copy, mimic, or counterfeit
3. To make a copy of, to reproduce closely
4. To have or assume the appearance of something, to simulate.
Again the Stations of the Cross meet all the above. By doing them we are following in action the very footsteps of Christ. We are trying to copy or reproduce exactly and in the process simulate the last few moments of Christâ€™s life. Thus we can begin to get a tiny glimpse of what He went through for us and what we are in turn called to do also as we follow Him. This leads me to my third point as to why we need to do the Stations of the Cross.
3. WE GET TO TAKE UP OUR CROSS AND FOLLOW HIM
This brings us to the crux of the matter and why we need to do the Stations of the Cross. Jesus said
â€śAnd he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Meâ€ť. (St. Matthew 10:38)
This is what I believe the Stations of the Cross are all about. It is not just an historical reenactment of something but an invitation to take up our cross and walk along side Jesus. It is a invitation to partake of some of the suffering of Christ. It also invites us to do as Jesus told the women of Jerusalem
â€śDaughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your childrenâ€ť. (St. Luke 23:28)
It is an invitation to look at ourselves realizing that it is our sins, which have brought this moment in history and this travesty of justice. We realize it is us who should have been condemned before Pilate and who should now be bearing the cross not Jesus. It is us who deserve to be stripped naked before the entire world and nailed to the cross to die. Finally it is an invitation to place our cross next to His, to be nailed there, dying with Him. Its then to allow ourselves be buried with Him in the tomb so we might ultimately be raised with Him into glory. It is that reminder to do as Jesus did to endure the cross with joy by looking beyond the cross to the joy of what lies ahead namely Easter morning and the resurrection.
As we go through this Lenten season together doing the Stations of the Cross I invite you to join me as we take up our cross and follow Christ along the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrow. I invite us to meditate on what our Lord went through, to allow us through the Spirit to begin to experience some of the sufferings of Christ. I would ask us to consider our sins that put him there in the midst of all that is going on, on that day. Then to make time for us to repent and shed tears I sorrow for what we have done to put Christ on the cross. Then its to finally allow ourselves to die and be buried in the Spirit so that ultimately we may be raised with Him. Yes it may Good Friday now, the day of suffering, but look up Easter and the resurrection is on its way. That is what lies beyond Lent and the Stations of the Cross. That is what enables us to endure. Join me in following Christ this Lenten season in the Stations of the Cross.
As always any comments or thoughts welcomed and I will look forward to hearing them.