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Station 12 – Jesus dies on the cross

From the planks of the cross Jesus quotes the psalmist’s lament, echoing the cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In the moment of his deepest pain and sorrow Jesus utters a lament of abandonment and disorientation. We cannot allow this cry to affirm that Jesus was ever forsaken, out of touch with the Holy, and left alone. When we do so we remove the presence of God from pain and claim that God is absent in the hurting of others and in the hurt that we experience ourselves. Nor can we leap to the opposite extreme and affirm that the death of Jesus was divinely demanded by God. The act of Incarnation planted the Divine deep within the soil of creation so that God experiences life with us in all seasons. Denis Edwards writes:

The Holy Spirit is with Jesus in his suffering and death, transforming suffering into redemptive love and bringing life out of misery and death. This line of thought can be taken further. I believe it is important to insist that the cross itself cannot be thought of as directly willed by God. God does not plan or want the evil act of crucifixion. This was an arbitrary, ugly, and sinful act performed by a number of human beings against one who was innocent. In this way it was like many other murders and executions then and now. God does not will any such horrors. This is why Edward Schillebeeckx can say that “first of all, we have to say that we are not redeemed thanks to the death of Jesus but despite it.” He insists that it is only in the overcoming of the evil, in its transformation by God that we can think of being saved through the execution of the innocent one. The Spirit of God transforms the brutal and wicked act of crucifixion into an event that brings healing and liberation. God brings new life, freedom, and healing through the cross, because the destructive act of crucifying Jesus is transformed by the power of the life-giving Spirit into the vehicle of resurrection life.[1] 

Prayer: May I never assume You have forsaken me. May I see you in the darkness and hear you in the silence. May my life be transformed by the act of suffering You endured on the cross. 

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1. Denis Edwards, Breath of LifeA Theology of the Creator Spirit (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2004) pages 82-83

Station 11 – Jesus is crucified

We’ve followed Jesus on the Via Dolorosa and have made it to the top of the Golgotha–the place of the skull–where Jesus will find himself being executed between two criminals. The Gospel of Luke recalls the harrowing scene:

The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine and vinegar and said, “if you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

The mob mentality has carried the momentum of the violent procession from its inception at the sentencing of Jesus to its climax as soldiers hammer nails into his hands and feet, fixing him to the cross. Jesus became the scapegoat for the crowd. Richard Beck writes:

A Scapegoat for the collective misfortune was identified. And in that moment of identification, group solidarity miraculously reappears. Once-fractured individuals now stand together against the scapegoat. The violence of the group is brought to bear upon the One to save the Many, and the sacrifice occurs. And in the wake of the sacrifice the blood lust of the now-unified group is sated. Peace returns.[1]

It is against this backdrop which Jesus utters the words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” The Gospel accounts draw to a tense close with the delusional inversion of justice: the man who healed, empowered and gave life to many is broken, disempowered, and robbed of life.

On Good Friday we cannot afford to look away from the cross, but must stare into its brutality and recognize the depths to which God’s love will descend. We recognize our faces in the crowd surrounding Jesus. The mob takes the form of a culture addicted to consumption, to comfort, luxury, and entirely self-oriented. We idly stand by and watch the horrors before us, paralyzed in the face of power, collectively negating the pain because it is not our own. The cross as the center of the Christian faith demands that the darkness of our world be looked upon and brought into light. I don’t know how to do that, nor do I claim to be a light in such darkness. However, as we push back the darkness in our lives we reveal the light which we carry into dark places. We follow Jesus into the dark. This is terrifying and disorienting and difficult beyond belief. This is taking up our cross and following Jesus. There are many days that I do not have the strength or the will to do so.

Prayer: Jesus, may I see you in the darkness and approach you. 

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1. Richard Beck, Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), page 96.

Station 10 – Jesus is stripped of his clothes

When the procession finally reached its destination, Golgotha, Jesus’ humiliation continued as he was stripped of his clothes. The dehumanization embedded in this act reaches beyond Jesus and grasps at the hands and ankles of everyone surrounding the scene. It is often difficult to imagine the brutality and cruelty involved in the torture and execution of Jesus. Beyond that, our aversion to stare into the face of pain causes us to jump over the suffering of God, or justify the suffering by elevating it to become the will of God and a necessary component of the carbon, human Jesus; we tell ourselves that he had to suffer in this way to mend the chasm and rift between humanity and the Divine.

As crowds amassed around the hill where Jesus would be put to death, the onlookers were stunned and struck with fear at the power of the authorities. This was the price for acting out, for speaking up, for protesting, for siding with the under privileged and unprivileged. In the face of injustice, I am constantly stunned and numbed and unsure of what I can do to make a difference. Often times I resign to ignorance and pretend that I am unaware so that I can continue in habits of consumption that are damaging to people and the earth. This is the way in which we cope. I am an onlooker and a participator in oppression to the extent that I prefer to consume and satiate myself rather than serve others and risk my status and reputation and comfort and luxury for the sake of others and for the earth. 

The mob mentality struck Jerusalem on the day that Jesus was murdered. The thirst for violence and the quest for a scapegoat took over. Upon the ones whom it did not completely take over, a paralyzing silence and numbness fell over them. We remember Veronica who bravely stepped out into the procession and wiped Jesus’ face. This simple act was one of desperation that signified her resentment of reality and was a small action of protest demanding great courage.

As we reflect on Jesus encircled by crowds who do nothing to stop the violence unfolding, I am torn by the memories of the news story from Richmond, California that made national headlines. On October 24, 2009, a fifteen-year-old girl was brutally beaten and raped by a group of men outside of the homecoming dance at her school. This act of inhumanity, cruelty and depravity lasted more than two hours. Police and news reports state that there were as many as 10 men involved in the attack and another two dozen people stood on the sidelines and watched. One of the young people who witnessed the event made this statement:

“They were kicking her in her head and they were beating her up, robbing her and ripping her clothes off; it’s something you can’t get out your mind. I saw people, like, dehumanizing her; I saw some pretty crazy stuff. She was pretty quiet; I thought she was like dead for a minute but then I saw her moving around. I feel like I could have done something but I don’t feel like I have any responsibility for anything that happened.” [1]

The eyewitness account is heartbreaking and disturbing. The indelible imprint of violence shakes, stuns, and disrupts us. The events that took place that night completely disrupt our senses and elicit outrage. In light of Jesus entering into humanity and suffering alongside us, we must say that Christ suffered tremendously on October 24, 2009, and we must also say that Christ suffers tremendously with all victims of violence (as well as with the perpetrators of violence). What is our reaction to violence? Does it disrupt and disturb us? Does it do so more if the victim’s skin looks like ours? If they were one of us? How does the cross influence the way we look at violence?

The suffering of Christ on the cross demands our attention, as does the suffering all around us. It can often be difficult to relate to and be moved by the idea of Jesus dying on the cross. It is not real to us. It has been spiritualized and has lost the capacity to disgust and disrupt us. But when we look into the depth of humanity’s oppression and violence and ability to remove any shred of humanity from another, we look into Christ crucified.

Prayer: May I not be numbed and ignorant of the injustice and suffering of my neighbors, but see, weep, and wage peace with my life.

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1. http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local/east_bay&id=7111732

Station 9 – Jesus falls the third time

At the ninth station before the cross we again see Jesus’ knees buckle beneath him as he falls to the ground to a chorus of weeping and cheering. As he falls for the third time, we are painfully aware that Jesus could have chosen an easier path with far less resistance. We are drawn toward the path of least resistance–the path with the least levels of friction and discomfort. Jesus willingly chose the hard way. In Matthew 7, Jesus tells the crowd that has gathered to listen to him:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Jesus never invited masses of people into his orbit by promising them comfort in life and bright days ahead. Instead, he talked about difficulties, narrow roads and opposition from friends and family as what was ahead for those who were crazy enough to take him seriously and live like he lived. AJ Swoboda writes about this difficulty of deciding to live in a way that takes Jesus seriously:

If they say yes, we look at them with a sense of genuine compassion, and then with all of our strength, we should punch them square in the face. Then we should say, “Welcome to the kingdom of pain. This thing sucks. Hope you’re ready.” And we should do that because following Jesus is hard.[1]

The third temptation of Jesus in the desert contrasts this third time that he falls to the ground in exhaustion on his way to Golgotha. In the desert, Jesus has been drawn out into the wilderness and is left in deep vulnerability, humanity and weakness. The Gospel of Matthew chronicles this experience with three temptations. The third temptation of Jesus is as follows:

Again the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

Power and weakness are in stark juxtaposition here. In the desert, Jesus reorients our understanding of power and the political realm by resisting Satan’s offer. Jacques Ellul is worth reading here at length:

Jesus does not represent a-politicism or spiritualism. His is a fundamental attack on political authority. It is not indifference concerning what politics can be or can do. It is a refusal of politics. Jesus is not a tender dreamer gliding in the sky “above politics.” He challenges every attempt to validate the political realm, and rejects its authority because it does not conform to the will of God. Indeed, this is given precise confirmation by the account of the Temptations. The third temptation in Matthew’s account is the one in which the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and tells him, “I will give you all these things if you prostrate yourself and adore me.” Jesus responds with a refusal to adore him.

He does not refute what Satan says. He does not tell him that these kingdoms and political authorities are not Satan’s. No. On the contrary, he is in implicit agreement. Satan can give political authority but the condition for exercising political authority is adoration of the power of evil. That is the consistent and unique teaching of the Gospels.[2]

Jesus’ life ends in such hands of political power and evil. How much easier Jesus’ life would have been had he simply given in while in the desert. One’s life gets increasingly difficult in correlation to the extent that one resists empire. Jesus makes it clear that his life is one of resistance to empire. His calls for non-violence, his actions in direct opposition to the religious establishment and his questioning of and non-compliance with authority would ultimately earn him an execution by the state in the ultimate denial of self. But Jesus did not do all these things as an end in themselves. His resistance was others-oriented. He resisted oppressive structures that he could have comfortably lived his life in spite of or in ignorance of.

As Jesus approaches closer and closer to the cross, we must ask ourselves what is really going on here? What, if any, are the connections between the move to deny ourselves and pick up our crosses and participation with empire and systems that hurt and dehumanize people, making them secondary to our pursuit of luxury.

Prayer: God, may I be aware of the systems of oppression or injustice which I am a part of or gain privilege from. May this awareness move me to action that is oriented toward a more just and equal earth community.

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1. A.J. Swoboda, Messy: God Likes it That Way (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012), page 39.
2. Jacque Ellul, “Anarchism and Christianity,” Katallagete 7, no.3 (Fall 1980), page 20.

Station 8 – Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem

As Jesus is nearing the top of the hill where he will meet death, Luke records the following scene:

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.”

Jesus endures his own suffering while directing our attention toward the suffering all around us, encouraging us toward empathy and intervention; to step into the messes of life and bring healing. Reflections on this passage in the 21st century require more of us. What is required of us is seeing that these messes go beyond humanity and extend to all of creation. Jesus’ words take on greater meaning when we reflect on the reality that environmental degradation disproportionally affects women in the two-thirds world. 

A few weeks ago I wrote about the blind man in Mark 8 who, partially able to see, says that he sees people but “they look like trees walking.” We often find ourselves with the same cloudy vision, unable (and perhaps unwilling) to see the reality of hurt and brokenness around us. We need a second healing or conversion experience in which our vision becomes clear and we start to see the injustices of inequality, exclusion, racism and patriarchy. We can and should indeed weep because it is such lament that motivates us toward healing the brokenness of ourselves, the earth and all the relationships in between.

Norm Habel writes:

Do you want to see Christ suffering? . . .First look at the cross. Then look at hundreds of stations of the cross scattered around the earth. At every station God suffers. To name just a few: Maralinga in Australia, Ok Tedi in Papua New Guinea, the Amazon Rain Forest, the saline farmlands of Western Australia, the Gulag of Siberia, or the lost soil from the Darling Downs. God ensoiled in this desecrated earth suffers.[1]

Language about God suffering is often avoided in many Christian circles. We prefer instead to preserve God as omnipotent and impervious to emotion and pain. This can no longer be the way that we relate to God, as one outside of human experience. The incarnation, and Jesus’ grinding stagger toward the cross tell us that God does not only suffer, but suffers alongside creation. In Jesus, God breathes and bleeds in divine vulnerability, risking the finitude and mortality of humanity for the sake of making divine love visible and tangible.

God inhabits carbon, permeating and pulsing through all life. Recognizing this is part of a second conversion that we must make in following Jesus. Sallie McFague uses the beautiful and striking metaphor of “the world as God’s Body.” The earth, creation, is not simply a backdrop for human history, or an instrument for human use, consumption or exploitation, but part of God’s self-revelation. We say along with Elizabeth Barrett Browning,

Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God: but only he who sees takes off his shoes – the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

It is when we see the presence of God unfolding in the emergence of life that we are able to see Christ suffering and enduring pain in depleted aquifers, fracked landscapes, toxic rivers, strip-mined mountains, and plains now victims of desertification.

Prayer: God, help me to see you embedded and en-soiled within creation. May I treat the earth and its inhabitants with love because you are present in them.

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1. Norman C. Habel,  “The Third Mission of the Church” in Trinity Occasional Papers (Brisbane: Trinity Theological College, 1998)XVII, I, pages 31-43.

Station 7: Jesus falls the second time

Tradition says that Jesus succumbed to his physical degradation, falling three times on his slow and daunting slog toward the place of the skull where he would be killed. At the seventh station on our journey with Jesus to the cross we meditate on the second time Jesus falls.

As when Jesus fell for the first time, we so starkly confronted with his humanity, weakness, and the ways in which he is like us as he buckles under the weight of the wooden beams and dehumanizing spectacle.

In the same way that we recall positive experiences as anchor of hope, in Jesus’ weakest moments we can flash back to one of his strongest moments. We recall Jesus’ persistence in his pursuit of holiness, obedience, and embeddedness within the earth community through the act of God becoming human and the resistance Jesus meets in the desert.

Matthew 4:5-7

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against the stone.'”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Maybe Jesus remembered this encounter with temptation as he stumbled toward his execution. Much to the confusion of both those who followed him and those who despised him, Jesus never seemed to live into the expectations that others had for him. Instead, he embraced a life fully immersed in the Spirit and modeled a way in which humanity can beautifully inhabit the divine. St. Irenaeus wrote that “God became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.” Similarly, St. Athanasius wrote that “God became man so that men might become gods.” Everything Jesus endured in his humanity was for the sake of humanity gaining the ability to recognize, see, and participate in the activity and being of God. That was the only expectation Jesus had for himself and he lived into it fearlessly.

In his conversations with his disciples and others, Jesus is transparent about the difficulty in being a follower of the Way. He tells them that aligning their identity with his will sometimes bring you opposition and challenges to your convictions. Jesus has the uncanny ability to be all things to all people, and not always in a good way. Invoking Jesus can be both liberating or an act of quarantine. Sometimes the  challenges and oppositions experienced for following Jesus take the form of questions like, “Where do you find that in the Bible?” Or maybe statements like, “But the Bible says…”, and uncertainties regarding how biblical your actions or beliefs are.

At station 7 we wish for our falls, failures and disruptions to be at the expense of imitating Jesus: in trying to recognize, see and participate in God’s activity and being wherever it leads us. Jesus makes it clear that we will fall, but falling is part of the journey toward the cross.

Prayer: God, may I find strength in weakness. May my falls be the result of risking and denying myself in love for that which you love and call holy.

Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

At Station 6 we remember Veronica, the woman who courageously stepped out of the crowd and proceeds to wipe the face of Jesus and clean his wounds. She parallels Simon of Cyrene, but Veronica comes to Jesus’ side by her own will, moved by the inhumane drama unfolding before her. Perhaps she learned this form of nonviolent resistance from Jesus.

Jesus was considered a radical for many reasons, but one in particular is attributed to the ways in which Jesus breached the lines that divided what was clean and unclean. His community held quite traditional beliefs about people who were sick, disabled or diseased and intended to keep firm walls between those who were considered pure and those who were deemed impure. Jesus was not at all interested in these divisive delineations surrounding purity. He understood the healing power of community, intimacy and physical touch and defied norms and tradition by touching both men and women who were considered impure or sinners, thus making himself impure and sinful in the eyes of the religious elite. Richard Beck describes this sociological phenomenon as negativity dominance:

When a pollutant and a pure object come into contact the pollutant is “stronger” and ruins the pure object. The pure object doesn’t render the pollutant acceptable or palatable.[1]

By extending his touch to those whom no one would touch, Jesus was situating himself in the category of untouchable, impure and sinful. Jesus gave up his purity and reputation in order to affirm the humanity and experience of others. Richard Beck goes on to comment on the idea of negativity dominance,

The [religious elites] never once consider the fact that the contact between Jesus and the sinners might have a purifying, redemptive, and cleansing effect upon the sinners. Why not? The logic of contamination simply doesn’t work that way. The logic of contamination has the power of the negative dominating over the positive. Jesus doesn’t purify the sinners. The sinners make Jesus unclean . . . What is striking about the gospel accounts is how Jesus reverses negativity dominance. Jesus is, to coin a term, positivity dominant. Contact with Jesus purifies.[2]

Denying oneself and following Jesus means risking ourselves and the power we hold as we extend our hands to others in love and mercy, affirming their humanity and the reality of their experiences regardless of who may consider them unclean.

Prayer: Help me to resist seeing anyone as unclean and impure, and to see everyone as beautiful and equally deserving of love, respect, justice and human contact.

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1. Richard Beck, Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), page 28.

2. Ibid., 30.