A Brief History:
In past years, when people visited the Holy Land, they were, of course, eager to visit all of the places where Jesus had visited during His three years of ministry. This was a very real connection to the life of Christ. Over the years, some of these sites became almost impossible to reach and villages and cities all across Europe began creating replicas of the way of the cross. These replicas became the set of the fourteen Stations of the Cross and were placed in almost every Catholic Church in the world.
Other denominations also observe the Stations of the Cross, as does my former denomination, the Charismatic Episcopal Church. In our sanctuary, the Stations of the Cross are displayed pictorially around the room in chronological order. Each station represents a time during Holy Week. For me, it is another visible and participatory way of understanding how much God sacrificed because of His love for you and for me.
The First Station: Jesus is condemned to die (Mark 15:1-15)
On the Mount of Olives, Jesus prayed: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” God did not remove this action of love from Jesus, and Jesus submitted to God and placed His life in God’s hands. Now, He has been beaten and tortured. But that is only the beginning. There is much more He will endure before the end. He has been wrongfully charged and condemned to die. He endured the beatings, the torture and the condemnation because of His great love for you and for me.
The Second Station: Jesus Carries His Cross (John 19:13-17)
The soldiers and guards made Jesus carry his own cross. This cross must have weighed more than one hundred pounds, but to Jesus it felt so much heavier. This cross represents the weight of our crosses. With every step, the cross becomes heavier as He begins to experience the humanness of the world. Our sins cause the cross to grow heavier and heavier.
The Third Station: Jesus Falls the First Time (John 1:29)
The weight of the cross has become unbearable. Jesus falls to His knees. Sweat is rolling down his back, His legs. Blood mixes with sweat as it rolls down His face. His body is growing weaker. The heaviness of human sin, misery, and sorrow prevents Him from rising. But the soldiers make Him rise and continue on the journey.
The Fourth Station: Jesus Sees His Mother (John 19:26-27)
I cannot imagine how it must have hurt Jesus’ heart for His mother to see Him in this condition. Not that He was too proud; but that He loved her so much He did not want her to see him suffer. I think of Mary, His mother. How her heart must have shattered into pieces—seeing Him broken and bleeding—and knowing the worst was yet to come. Even comprehending just a small amount of Jesus’ suffering for us, I cannot fathom Mary’s grief. As a mother, I don’t think I would be able to walk that path.
The Fifth Station: Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross (Mark 15:21)
“A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.” (Mark 15:21) The cross has become so heavy, and Jesus is so weakened, the soldiers have no choice but to draft someone. That someone was Simon. I wonder what was going through his mind. Chosen randomly out of the crowd, did he know it was Jesus? Did he feel Jesus’ love for him, even as he assisted in the ultimate end?
The Sixth Station: Jesus’ Face Wiped
As Jesus continues through the streets with Simon helping him, a woman leaves her home and meets Him as He passes by. She offers Him her veil to wipe His face of the sweat and blood that continues to trickle down from his head. When Jesus returns the veil to her, his face is imprinted on her veil.
The Seventh Station: Jesus Falls the Second Time
Although Simon continues to help him, Jesus falls a second time. The exhaustion is bone-deep and He experiences the disability, aging and disease that is experienced by humans down through the ages.