One of the greatest dangers in the Christian life is the tempta- tion to experience the events of the Paschal Mystery – Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection – as if it is part of a drama that occurred once, long ago. While passion plays can be deeply moving and spiritually nourishing, if we see the events of the Passion only as a historical jour- ney of faith and redemption, but not something that continues to occur, we risk missing out on true Christian discipleship in the here and now.
The Stations of the Cross are a powerful devotion, allowing us to enter Christ’s passion in a way that transcends time and space. But we have to remind ourselves that we are not simply witnesses to the events. We are participants. And Christ continues to suffer and die in our time.
Jesus is condemned to die.
Today Jesus is condemned to die in war-torn nations where civilians are trapped in a nightmare cycle of violence and horror with little chance of escape. Jesus is condemned to die in countries ravaged by natural disas- ter and violence. Haunting eyes in the shrunken faces of starving men, women, and children beseech us to come to Jesus’ aid.
Jesus carries the cross.
Today the crosses carried by Jesus are as unique as each person. Jesus carries the cross of addiction. I’m close to a couple whose adopted adult son, an only child, has strug- gled with addiction for several years. He carries this cross, as do his parents, who love him and yet find themselves helpless to ensure he receives treatment. Jesus carries the cross of serious illness. A dear friend has been afflicted with a ter- minal brain tumor that is erasing her memory. She struggles to remember the names of her own children. Jesus carries her cross, and the cross of those who love her and must watch her suffer.
Jesus falls for the first time.
Jesus falls for the first time in the suffering young parents endure after a miscarriage, the anguish of a child whose parents are experiencing an acrimonious divorce, in the sorrow of a spouse who is betrayed. Jesus falls for the first time in a young per- son’s first experience of grief.
Jesus encounters his mother.
Jesus encounters his mother when mothers learn their children have been shot dead on violent streets, killed on dangerous military missions, locked behind bars, drowned after crossing rough seas on crowded refugee boats, or slaughtered in terrorist attacks.
Simon helps Jesus carry the cross.
Jesus is helped to carry the cross by doctors, nurses, emergency responders, teachers, police, social workers, priests, scientists, mental health care professionals, hospice caregivers – all who relieve burdens, ease pain, share suffering.
Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
Jesus’ face is wiped by mothers and fathers whose babies rely on them for every need. Jesus’ face is wiped by nursery caregivers and pre-school teachers whose patience and sacrifice help small children thrive. Jesus’ face is wiped by all who accompany a woman through labor and childbirth. Jesus face is wiped by those who offer compassion and care to the severely handicapped and the dying.
Jesus falls a second time.
Jesus falls a second time in the person who loses a beloved job and feels bereft and uncertain about the future. Jesus falls a second time in the decades-old marriage that begins to unravel. Jesus falls a second time in the re-occurrence of a cancer or the betrayal of a long-time friend.
Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem.
Jesus consoles in the person of grief counselors, bereavement groups, pastors, prison chaplains, and relief workers. Jesus consoles those in domestic violence shelters, halfway houses, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, immigration detention centers, and prison cells. Jesus con- soles those whose neighborhoods are dangerous and in decay. Jesus con- soles the marginalized, the unwel- comed, and the despised.
Jesus falls for a third time.
Jesus falls the third time in the elderly woman whose dementia has stripped her of memories. Jesus falls the third time in the cancer patient whose last hope for treatment is van- quished. Jesus falls the third time in the prisoner on death row.
Jesus is stripped of his garments
Jesus is stripped of his garments in the person of the refugee whose home and material wealth are aban- doned. Jesus is stripped of his gar- ments in the adults and children who are forced into prostitution by human traffickers. Jesus is stripped of his garments when forced to work for slave wages in dangerous conditions. Jesus is stripped of his garments when victims of rape, sexual assault, and abuse are blamed, ignored, or not believed.
Jesus is nailed on the cross.
Jesus is nailed to the cross when people are cast aside, consigned to lives of misery and poverty with little hope of relief. Jesus is nailed to the cross when people are denied education. Jesus nailed to the cross when health care is unavailable or too costly. Jesus is nailed to the cross when climate change creates conditions that threaten livelihoods and human welfare.
Jesus dies on the cross.
Jesus dies on the cross whenever someone loses all hope. Jesus dies on the cross when manifestations of mental illness go untreated or are criminalized. Jesus dies on the cross when a pregnant woman lacks proper nutrition and medical care and her infant doesn’t survive. Jesus dies on the cross when a people are oppressed, maltreated, and brutalized by violent regimes and terrorism.
Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross.
Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross by those who tended to the vic- tims of the recent chemical assault in Syria. Jesus is taken down from the cross by those who treat the dead with the dignity. Jesus is taken down from the cross by those who see the inherent value of human life in all stages. Jesus’ body is taken down from the cross by those who search for victims of natural disasters, air- plane crashes, and bombs.
Jesus’ body is placed in a tomb.
Jesus’ three days in the tomb seem like never-ending darkness, noth- ingness, to those who lack faith. Jesus’ body is placed in the tomb by those who exploit others and fail to acknowledge their worth. Jesus’ body is placed in the tomb by those who refuse to accept their own mor- tality and live mindlessly, as if their days will never end. Jesus’ body is placed in the tomb by those who live selfish, isolated lives, unwilling to acknowledge the pain of their broth- ers and sisters.
When we see our current world in the context of the Stations of the Cross, we can, by entering into the darkness, the suffering, the death, realize that we are active participants in Christ’s passion. In our own place and time, we share his suffering and offer Jesus comfort, consolation, and relief. When we do, we act as Christ did, and we participate in his resur- rection, as well.
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Mary Hood Hart is a freelancer writer and educator living in Pittsboro, NC. She can be reached at email@example.com