Stations of the Cross:
Interactive Personal and Collective Contemplation

 A progressive Christian interpretation by Rev Jim Burklo, board member, PCU - Sr Associate Dean, Religious and Spiritual Life, University of Southern California -- For use by faith communities during Holy Week

These interpretations of the Stations invite you to contemplate the cross from both a personal and a social viewpoint. What cross do you bear, and what cross bears you? What social and economic and political structures have crucified us and others? What resurrection awaits us, personally and collectively, on the other side of the cross?
Up to and during Holy Week, faith communities are invited to post 14 big sheets of paper on walls inside or outside their buildings, making pens or colored pencils available, and invite their members to write or draw their responses to the meditation questions at each station. Send us pictures of your stations for sharing here at PCU E-news....

The practice of contemplating the Stations of the Cross, depicting the final hours of Jesus’ life, is a very old one. Many Catholic churches have gardens or sanctuaries in which the stations are situated. Each of the 14 stations marks a point along the way to Jesus’ death.

The Roman cross was a sign of the Empire’s power to torture its subjects into submission, but its brutality contributed to its moral decay and eventual collapse. The early Christians turned the Empire’s intended meaning of the cross upside down and inside out.
“…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up…” (John 3: 14)  In the gospel of John, the cross is described as the homeopathic remedy for the human condition of suffering. 
In ancient times, homeopathy – the principle that “a dose of that which ails you is the cure” – was the dominant form of medicine. The cross is the central symbol of the Christian religion; it confronts its viewers with suffering, and it is through this homeopathic encounter that suffering is transcended. Buddha’s first step on his path to enlightenment, known as the First Noble Truth, is that life is suffering. Only by facing this truth can one begin to get relief from it. The first and most deeply paradoxical of the Twelve Steps toward recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous is to admit that one is powerless over alcohol. It is by facing what crucifies us that we begin the process of resurrection into action for healing, recovery, forgiveness, reconciliation, repentance, and renewal.
The passage from John refers to a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures (Numbers 21:9): “So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” The people of Israel, wandering in their desert exodus, began to despair and were then punished for it with a plague of snakes that bit them and killed some of them. Moses cried out to God for help, and God told him to put up a bronze serpent on a pole and have the people gaze at it, and thus be healed of the snakebites. (The image of the serpent on a pole, the caduceus, is the symbol of medicine.) The gospel of John says that likewise, Jesus was lifted up on the cross before us. By squarely gazing at our brokenness, we can begin to resurrect into wholeness. 

These interpretations of the Stations invite you to contemplate the cross from both a personal and a social viewpoint. What cross do you bear, and what cross bears you? What social and economic and political structures have crucified us and others? What resurrection awaits us, personally and collectively, on the other side of the cross?

The 14 Stations of the Cross

One: Jesus is condemned to death.

The Romans condemned Jesus to death on a cross as a rabble-rouser, a supposed threat to the “Pax Romana”. The cross was a symbol of Roman state terror, meant to frighten its subjects into submission. A few hundred years later, the Roman Empire was gone – but the cross still stood: no longer the symbol of Roman power, but rather as the sign of the death-defying love of Jesus the Christ.

MEDITATION: Whom do you blame for the ways in which you suffer? What are the consequences of your blame and accusation? In society, who are our scapegoats? What would it be like to end this game of shame and blame?

Two: The cross is laid upon him

“We each have our own cross to bear.”. Suffering is the universal condition of humankind. The Christian religion makes this point by making the cross its most central image. Buddhism, too, begins with this recognition. The Buddha’s first “station” on his path to enlightenment was to recognize that all life is suffering.

MEDITATION: What crosses do you carry through life? When have they become too heavy for you to bear? Who or what can help you bear them?

Three: His first fall

According to the Stations, Jesus stumbled and fell three times as he was marched to Golgotha to be crucified. Jesus said (Matthew 21:42-44) that the stone of stumbling would become the cornerstone — the most important stone in the building of the new kin-dom of heaven on earth.

MEDITATION: What is the “stone” that makes you stumble and fall? What are our current social, economic, and political stumbling stones? How can the stumbling stone become the foundation of a new and better life for you and others?

Four: He meets his mother Mary

What was it like for them to encounter each other as he staggered to Golgotha?

MEDITATION: What unfinished business do you have with your parents and/or with your children? If this was your last chance to communicate, what would you say to your parent or child?

Five: Simon of Cyrene is made to bear the cross

A man named Simon, who came to Jerusalem from his home in Cyrene, in North Africa, to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem, was picked, apparently at random, to carry Jesus’ cross. It was a common practice of Roman soldiers to press people into service to carry loads for them. 

MEDITATION: What crosses are you asked to carry for others? Do you do so willingly or grudgingly? And who carries the cross for you? What do we owe the Simons of our world today – the people who labor in our fields and factories, the people who empty bedpans and mop floors?

Six: Jesus’ face is wiped by Veronica

This station is based on a medieval-era legend not found in the New Testament. According to the tradition, Veronica was one of the women of Jerusalem who followed Jesus to the cross. She wiped his face to offer comfort, and his image remained on the cloth. The cloth became a sacred relic that had healing powers. The name “Veronica” means “true image” — the true image of the Christ, which can be found in every human being. Veronica herself became the true image of the Christ through her act of compassion for Jesus.

MEDITATION: When you look in the mirror, do you see the true image of the Christ ? Do you see the suffering of the Christ, and also the one for whom the Christ is willing to suffer? When have you witnessed the true image of the Christ in other people?

Seven: His second fall

Jesus, weakened by beatings, fell again on his way to Golgotha. When we are weakened by one disaster, we are made more vulnerable to others.

MEDITATION: What hurts have you experienced, both physically and emotionally, that leave you more vulnerable to more hurt? Have you chosen to hide or excessively protect yourself from further suffering, or have you chosen to keep on living and loving, and risk being hurt again?

Eight: He meets the women of Jerusalem

Jesus encountered a group of women who were his followers, wailing about his impending death. He told them to wail not for him, but instead for themselves and for Jerusalem, which he predicted would one day be destroyed. Indeed, about 70 years later, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the people of Israel were driven out of the country, not to return fully until this past century.

MEDITATION: What is your place in history? How do you, and how can you, make a difference in the unfolding of human destiny? What is your part in preventing catastrophic climate change, and in advancing economic, social, and racial justice?

Nine: His third fall

Jesus fell a third time on his way to crucifixion, according to the Stations legends. He had lost his strength, his power, his reputation: many of his followers had abandoned him.

MEDITATION: What have you lost along life’s way? In what way are you cursed by these losses, and in what ways are you liberated? If you could have anything back that you have lost, what would it be, and what would you do with it if you had that second chance? What do you have to lose now — dignity, pride, position — and what would it be like to lose it? 

Ten: He is stripped of his garments

In Jesus’ time, it was extremely humiliating to be seen naked. His robe or cloak was taken by the Roman soldiers, who further humiliated him by drawing lots to see which of them would get it.

MEDITATION: What part of your life do you want to keep “under cover”? When have you been painfully exposed? In what ways have you made light, downplayed, or disrespected the sufferings of others?

Eleven: He is crucified

His last words were “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was the moment of Jesus’ worst suffering, but it was also the pivotal moment of the gospel myth. The writers and the readers of the gospel would have recognized these words as the opening line of Psalm 22. And they would have remembered the rest of the psalm, which says: “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.”

MEDITATION: What ideas or definitions or theologies about God have you forsaken, or have forsaken you? What experience or understanding of God has taken their place? 

Twelve: He dies on the cross

The sacred myth of the gospel says that Jesus died on the cross and three days later was resurrected. The resurrected Jesus lived and breathed and walked and talked again, but he still had the wounds of the crucifixion on his hands and feet and torso. After he died, he wasn’t the same. 

MEDITATION: What part of you is dying? What part of you has died? In what ways will you never be the same?  Do you embrace this change, or regret it?

Thirteen: His body is taken down from the cross

The gospels tell us that one of the rulers of Israel, a man named Joseph of Arimathea, secretly admired Jesus and asked to remove and bury his body after his crucifixion. This surely must have exposed him to danger from the Romans as well as from the other members of the Jewish Sanhedrin. (According to medieval legends, Joseph later came to England to establish the Christian church there, and in England he placed the Holy Grail – the cup used by Jesus in the Last Supper – in a well at Glastonbury.)

MEDITATION: When have you been served profoundly by people who have helped you in secret, with no thought of reward or even thanks? What thankless, hard tasks are you asked to do for the sake of others? Are you willing to do them without recognition or reward? When is it appropriate to expect thanks and reward for your good work, and when does public acknowledgement just get in the way of being of service?

Fourteen: His body is laid in the tomb

Jesus’ death was shameful, but he was buried respectfully and honorably. Joseph of Arimathea wrapped his body in a shroud and placed it in a new tomb with herbs and spices, in the traditional manner.
The tomb was the cocoon, the womb, in which the story of Jesus the historical person of first-century Palestine gestated and transformed into the sacred myth of the universal Christ – the manifestation of God, who is unconditional love. Each of the three days in the tomb was a “trimester” in that gestation period…. ending with the resurrection we celebrate at Easter.

MEDITATION: What part of your life is entombed — on hold, unseen? What kind of “gestation” or transformation is underway within? What new life might await you when the stone is rolled away from your tomb?

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