Reflecting on Christ’s death is an important part of our spiritual journey. We can do this at any time, but Holy Week is the week in the church calendar when many Christians put aside time to think about Jesus’ last days and crucifixion, culminating of course with Good Friday. One way that many Christians use to help them reflect is Stations of the Cross, a type of meditation which has been used since at least the 17th Century.
Stations of the Cross are a series of fourteen pictures or carvings representing incidents on Jesus’s journey from his condemnation by Pilate to his crucifixion and burial. They are often placed on the walls in churches during Holy Week, and people go on a spiritual journey, pausing to meditate and pray at each picture. It is a visual way of helping us to reflect on Jesus’ death and what it means to us.
During Holy Week 2018, St Clare’s published 14 short blog posts, each containing a ‘Station of the Cross’, comprising a picture and a short meditation. The pictures are all images taken in the Coventry Cathedral ruins and surrounding area. They were designed to be an aid to prayer and reflection at home, or in-situ at the Cathedral.
These are those Stations of the Cross in full.
STATION 1 – PILATE CONDEMNS JESUS TO DIE
As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed. (Mark 15: 1-5)
Nobody thinks that this is an easy sculpture. Not even the artist, who used stone so hard it broke tool after tool in the creating. It has angular edges, colour which sucks the light away. It was made by a Jewish artist representing the Christian saviour in the ruins of a cathedral destroyed by the Nazis. The image itself portrays a moment of silence before an atrocity. Jesus is bound by the hands and a crown of thorns presses into his head.
Meaning blends and collides and it is almost too much to think about.
Pilate is uncomfortable looking at this Jesus and so are we.
- What is it that amazes Pilate?
- What does our discomfort mean?
STATION 2 – JESUS ACCEPTS HIS CROSS
So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. (John 19: 16b-17)
The whole idea of the Stations of the Cross connects to a path. Tradition (and tourism!) tells us that Jesus carried his cross along a path called the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. The traditional Stations of the Cross pictures take us, far though we are from Jerusalem, along that path. The path to the cross is a literal one; Calvary was outside the city and Jesus carried his cross to his own execution.
But the path is symbolic as well as literal. It reminds us that the path to death is the purpose of Jesus’ life, foretold with the myrrh that was brought at his birth. At any point along the path, if we look up, we see that the cross is what lies ahead.
- Stop and imagine that the path Jesus took walks through your life.
- What does it mean for you that if you look ahead, you see his cross
STATION 3 – JESUS FALLS FOR THE FIRST TIME
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. (Isaiah 53: 3)
At this point, the meditation of the Stations of the Cross slows down in comparison with the Biblical story. In the bible we race on to the crucifixion. But in the Stations we stop and imagine more of the journey there. Jesus has been flogged, and is carrying a wooden cross large enough to hold a man. He is human, and, as he walks, he falls.
This image is called ‘Choir of Survivors’. It honours civilians – ordinary people – killed or injured in the course of war.
In the telling of stories and in the remembering of history we so often give someone a hero’s death. For most people though, suffering is a quiet unremarkable thing. It goes unreported or gathered together in a list of names of strangers who happened to be on the same train, in the same street, at the same concert.
But suffering is not anonymous to God.
- Place yourself in the story of someone else’s suffering.
- Pray for them.
STATION 4 – JESUS MEETS HIS MOTHER MARY
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. (John 19:26-27)
In the midst of this story of horror, of a man bleeding and suffering, of betrayal and execution, is mention of home. This surprising domesticity in the heart of the story is mirrored in our cathedral ruins. If you walk past Ecce Homo (the sculpture of Jesus bound before Pilate), into the side chapel there and look up, you see this window. It looks like an ordinary window with ordinary curtains, it doesn’t belong in a ruined cathedral.
The word home is part of our common humanity. No matter what happened in your day, home is what we call the place we go at the end of it. The reality of homelessness is one of the most offensive failures of a society, because it feels so wrong. Home is normal.
In the middle of Jesus’ passion, which will change the cosmic ordering of things, his mum needs to go home somewhere tonight. If we ever think our domestic needs are beyond God’s interest, it is worth remembering this.
- What domestic worry is in the back of your mind right now?
- Try praying about it with the confidence that it belongs in the heart of God’s big story.
STATION 5 – SIMON HELPS TO CARRY THE CROSS
As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. (Luke 23:26)
This isn’t the street and this isn’t the man. But imagine that you just came into the city one day and stumbled upon the scene. There are soldiers, crowds, criminals on their way to execution, and this man Jesus who you’ve heard about, but who isn’t someone you actually know. He is bleeding and bowed by the weight of the cross.
Soldiers shout at you, you look behind you, this scene has nothing to do with you. But you take the cross from his bloody shoulders, a little glad to help, but barely able to breathe for fear.
- Wherever you walk this afternoon, imagine Jesus into it.
STATION 6 – VERONICA WIPES THE FACE OF JESUS
Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him. (Matthew 26: 67)
The bible tells us nothing of a woman called Veronica who wiped the face of Jesus. The fact that this story has emerged perhaps tells us something of how much we hope someone did this for him. We cannot bear his suffering, we want to send someone back into history to help. Perhaps it isn’t too fanciful to believe that there were friendly faces in the crowd. People who caught Jesus’ eye, who gave him relief.
- Take the bench in the ruins for a moment.
- Give to yourself mercy in this week; the mercy you would want to offer to Jesus.
STATION 7 – JESUS FALLS FOR THE SECOND TIME
We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. (1 John 3:14)
We generally think of dying as something which happens in a moment, the sky turned black and the curtain torn. The weed growing in the ruined wall speaks of the strange intertwining of life and death. As the roots grow into the wall, more damage is caused. As Jesus walks painfully towards Calvary he is growing closer and closer to the moment of his death.
But it isn’t the breath he draws which is the hallmark that he is still alive. It is the love which compels him towards death. Rather than the roots of death creeping into his life, the roots of love are about to break apart death itself.
- Stop with Jesus and know that he loves you more than he despises death.
STATION 8 – JESUS MEETS THE WOMEN OF JERUSALEM
A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children’. (Luke 23 27-28)
Here the camera is turned away from the cathedral towards the city. Our walk has been an intimate experience so far, but here we are forced to turn towards the rest of the world. The cross will not make everything easy. Troubles will still come. Jesus doesn’t hide the truth from his followers in distress. Redemption will not pretend hardship and sin away, instead history pivots on the axis of the cross, and points us forever more towards heaven.
- What painful truth can Jesus carry for you today?
STATION 9 – JESUS FALLS FOR THE THIRD TIME
After twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Mark 15:17-18)
The cross is getting heavier, the gaps between falling are shorter. Now as Jesus falls for the third time, imagine him landing on the ground and looking up at a Mediterranean blue sky.
Here, around our cathedral, rather than seeing through a crown of thorns, as we look up we see holly prickles, reminders of Christmas, as at Christmas, holly is a reminder of Good Friday.
Spend a minute reconnecting with the Jesus of Christmas, the wonder at God incarnate, the softening of our faces as we look at a baby.
- Allow the words of a carol to come to mind.
- What does that bring into this journey to the cross?
STATION 10 – JESUS IS STRIPPED OF HIS CLOTHES
They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him (Matthew 27:28)
From the ground, these torn scraps are wounds in the tree. They are resonant of the kind of horror of torture and death that we know is coming in the crucifixion.
Close up we see that they are popped balloons not blood soaked rags. Perhaps for us they can stand in place of trampled leaves and cloaks from Palm Sunday. The party is over. Jesus doesn’t even have his clothes to hide behind and they are laughing at him.
Humiliation and death are bound together by human fear. Mocking people breaks relationships and isolates us. But Jesus keeps walking further and deeper into our personal darkness.
- What is the opposite of humiliation for you?
- How can you offer that generously over the next few days?
STATION 11 – JESUS IS NAILED TO THE CROSS
And they nailed him to the cross. They divided up his clothes and threw dice to see who would get them. (Mark 15: 24)
Usually there is comfort in the ordinariness of Jesus’ story. Normally it speaks of Jesus becoming like us, and it helps us to connect with him. But this connection here reminds us of the ordinariness of the instruments of pain which were used upon him. Ordinary things of life turned upon our extraordinary saviour. Tools from any building site, wood from any lumber merchant.
- What painful things have become ordinary in your life?
- Try and offer them to Jesus to take to the cross.
STATION 12 – JESUS DIES ON THE CROSS
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23: 44-46)
‘Giving up’ is never really a good phrase in our culture. Especially when it relates to death; we fight, we plead with loved ones to fight. But the power of the cross comes from Jesus’ acceptance of it. The thieves on either side are still doing battle to hold on to life. But Jesus surrenders.
Likewise the people of Coventry Cathedral let their building and their resentment go when they looked at the charred cross; let go of keeping score of sin, surrendered to the need for all to be forgiven.
It is Good Friday because from today we can look at death without fear and all its power melts away.
- Try out what is feels like to give up a fear you hold tightly to.
- Stand in your own ruined cathedral and know that it will be okay.
STATION 13 – JESUS IS TAKEN DOWN FROM THE CROSS
Then Joseph (of Arimathea) bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth. (Mark 15: 46)
We usually see the cross from straight on, hanging from a chain around a neck, on a communion table, forming a gravestone and so on. In reality it must have been huge, and even the tallest amongst us would have had to look up. Looking up at the cross emphasises our helplessness, our childlikeness.
But even when there is nothing to be done, there are things to do, and doing them with great care is all the more powerful because there is no reason to do so but love.
- Try doing something seemingly pointless, for nothing but love’s sake.
- Think of this Joseph, remembered for nothing but that.
STATION 14 – JESUS IS PLACED IN THE TOMB
Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19: 41-42)
Although we don’t much think of it, we always have tombs nearby. Granted, they are not usually new tombs, but we walk by them daily, rarely thinking of death. Death cannot hold our thoughts, because Sunday is coming…
- The next time the sun shines, stand in it. Let it fall on your face and know you are loved and death is defeated.