Some years ago, I was privileged to make pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The first six days were spent at Galilee, in a lovely hotel with tranquil grounds on the shores of the lake. The second part of pilgrimage took us to the heights of Jerusalem, a city bustling with life.
We visited so many holy places, churches and basilicas, gathered at dawn in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, the quietest time of the day, and so very different from just a few hours later when crowds gathered and queued, pushing their way to the places made sacred by Jesus.
When we made the Stations of the Cross, though, we were outdoors, walking the Via Dolorosa, a street which winds through the city and outside of the old city walls. We squeezed by busy shops, passed other pilgrim groups who projected their prayers above the noise of the crowds. We watched our steps on the cobbled paving, every now and then made wrong turns as we sought out the next Station stop, looked out for pickpockets, dealt with street traders who tried to place their wares in our hands. “If you touch, you buy,” we had been warned by the pilgrimage guide!
It’s a very different experience from the Stations of the Cross experienced in the silence and serenity of our churches, void of hustle and bustle.
The Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross are fourteen or fifteen stops along a journey, each stop focussing on an incident that happened on the Via Dolorosa, from the moment Jesus is condemned to death in Pilate’s palace to the moment his body is laid in a borrowed grave.
Many churches, our own included, have various images – carvings, paintings, or sometimes a simple cross, which mark out for us the stops along the way. Some Stations have a 15th Station of the Resurrection. It completes the journey.
Most of the Stations are taken directly from the Bible, so that the Stations of the Cross are a meditation on Scripture. Through our devotions we grow closer to Jesus , enter into a deeper understanding of his sacrifice on the cross.
A personal way of the Cross
Many years ago, a parishioner of mine at the time was talking about her time on a holiday cruise when the group stopped off at Jerusalem, and her tourist trail turned into a pilgrimage one. She spoke of how moving it was to walk the Via Dolorosa, to walk those sorrowful steps of Jesus. Moments later, she was talking about her husband’s ill-health, and asked why God let it happen. “He’s a good man,” she said. “Why him?” Although she couldn’t see it, she and her husband were walking the Way of the Cross on her own life.
To make the devotional Stations of the Cross is not an activity separate from our lives. The devotion is rooted in our lives and living, in our struggles and suffering, in our sacrifice and service.
Within the peacefulness of our church buildings we make the journey in spirit, and through the journey, are able to see how The Stations of the Cross is something we often experience in our own lives. Sometimes, certain stations speak most clearly to us: perhaps because, through our own circumstances, we can relate to the particular experience of Jesus and those who feature with him on this difficult journey.
A mother of a sick or dying child may be drawn deeper into the sorrow of Mary. Someone who has a burden thrust upon them may associate with Simon of Cyrene. Someone who has lost a job, their home, their family may be drawn close to the Station when Jesus is stripped of his clothing.
We may be a far cry from the busy streets of Jerusalem but in our own hustle and bustle or when life has slowed down, we can be drawn deeper into the saving love of Christ, bring our sorrows to his sorrows, our pain to his pain, our love to his love.
Throughout Lent, we make the Stations of the Cross at St Mary’s on Tuesdays at 6.30pm. However, the Stations can be made anywhere, and we’ve produced a number of resources to help you do this.