The Stations of The Cross became a Christian devotional practice in the thirteenth century. They use the ritual metaphorically to journey with him from his trial to his entombment. The participants stand before snap shot images to immerse themselves in the story of Jesus Christ’s final sufferings as he walked to Mount Calvary. The road between his condemnation at court and final crucifixion is known as the Via Dolorosa (“Way of Sorrows”) or Via Crucis (“Way of the Cross”). In Jerusalem it is still walked by many pilgrims today. Via Crucis is exemplary not of one man’s walk on one historic day, but the walk for all humanity. The idea is not to become Christ but to gain the awareness of the human condition and come to the conclusion, “ If Christ has done it so can I.”
For two millenniums the human circumstance has changed little, we all still suffer, we all still feel abandoned and we all still get betrayed. Migrant workers, soldiers, prisoners, racial discrimination and violence, the poor and the homeless, the grieving, and the mentally ill are among the many people we will meet along the path. When we focus our mind and heart on the “way” we realize there is strength in His example whatever the circumstances. Lent is comprised of the 40 days before Easter, a season devoted to deep examination and reflection on self. From the earliest of days of Christianity, followers of Jesus told the story of his passion, death and resurrection. Pilgrims arriving in Jerusalem were anxious to see the sites where Jesus walked. As Christianity took root around the globe, these holy sites were too distant for many to travel to. By the 1500’s, communities all over the world started creating “replicas” of the places along the route to Calvary in Jerusalem. Eventually, these shrines became the 14 stations celebrate.
Why we call them 'The Stations of the Cross'
You may be wondering why the sites are called Stations of the Cross. The word station comes from the Latin word meaning to stand. We are walking from Christ’s trial to His crucifixion at Calvary and we stop and stand to commemorate various moments illustrating what took place along the way. As you come to each station, you stand with those who originally stood and watched as Christ passed by on route to His death. At each station you stop, read the scriptures, pray the prayers, and contemplate the situation before moving on. As you walk from one station to the next, your walking becomes a devotional act, because you are walking with Jesus as He walks to Calvary. Our book illustrates the series of 14 images, with the15th added as the culmination of the tradition and final fruition of all the suffering. Why did you forsake me?… To what purpose?… The stations speak of injustice with no mercy, they speak of Jesus’s journey to his death with no complaint. But along the way there is not one death but many, each station revealing a kind of death of self and surrender to the horrors life has given us. We are supported by a few on lookers but ultimately we like Christ have to endure seemingly alone what is happening in our life. This is not just the historical reenactment, but the pilgrimage for all humanity until we learn to not do harm to one another.
Sacred Art is more than Biblical Story Telling
Sacred Art is more than biblical story telling. Rituals like the Stations of the cross were designed as a visual tool for the community. They help us navigate through a prescribed set of messages and motif and are no longer limited to only church. While the traditional form retains the rich connotations of the underlying message, there is room for reinterpretations that traverse boundaries and expand the possibility of transforming our normal life. The Stations of the Cross allow the inquiry for why do we have to suffer including the social, political, and metaphysical ways as well. My small collection strips the elements in the story to faces, hands and the cross to underscore our human commonality. The Stations exalt the unjust suffering, particularly those individuals struggling against authority. Parts of each one of us are seen, touched and crucified everyday.
Two sample Stations for the collection.
Jesus Falls for the Third Time
We adore you, o Christ, and we bless you.
Because By your holy cross you have redeemed the world. As you prepare for station 9, let yourself wonder what it must have been like for Jesus walking to his death, a death unimaginable in this day and age. Refugees, prisoners, victims of rape, addiction, child molestation and murder are all intermingled here in the third fall. This last fall is devastating. Jesus can barely proceed to the end. Summoning all his remaining strength he is barely supported by his inner trust in God. Jesus collapses under the weight of the cross. His executioners look at him as a broken man, pathetic, believing he is paying the price he deserves. They pity him and perhaps reluctantly help him up so he can make it up the hill to his own crucifixion.
We cannot change our history. We are trapped by what is happening to us. We know the exhaustion caused by the continual injustice around us. We are weak in our effort to change our directions and attitudes. The law has failed to help us learn to be civilized with one another. Yet as we lay there in exhaustion, we recognize there is a spark of God still breathing and beating within us.
John 16:32: “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter: And like a sheep that before its shearers is mute, so he opened not his mouth.” O God, grant us to not tremble at the sight of the cross, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss as did Christ without fear. Amen
Jesus is Stripped of His Garments
We adore you, o Christ, and we bless you. Because By your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
His skin is raw and bruised like a used garment. Everything has been taken from him. He is stripped naked before everyone to see. Jesus has been condemned, beaten, made to drag his cross through the crowd of onlookers. He is going to be nailed to the cross. He has no physical or mental identity left with which to be bound to this earthly realm. No one seems to be willing or able to stop the progression of this unfolding horror. By Station 10, the pain seems to pause and switch from the physical brutality to mental humiliation. Up until this point the robe protected his vulnerability from a crowd of onlookers. Being stripped naked publicly opens a floodgate of shame. There is nowhere to hide at this point. Jesus knows this is it. By exposing his skin and flesh to everyone, we see his humanness. We are the onlookers thrilled at seeing Jesus skin, the weak flesh full of sin like every other man.
How can we believe this is the Son of God, the Savior, or King of Jews? They gave me gall to eat. And when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink. Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon, give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident your glory shall be revealed. Amen.