Easter is on the horizon and, as I look ahead on my calendar, I am reminded of the history tied in with this beautiful holiday and the prayers it inspires. You may already be very familiar with the Stations of the Cross, but I wanted to take this space to really reflect on Jesus’ walk to His death, the moments He experienced along the way, and the moments of grace we can find in His journey.
You may already have the Stations represented in the nave or main section of your church through pictures or high relief images depicting the different moments. You may have learned about them in bible school or just read about them.
The Stations have gained that rare status of being both special and everyday, seeping into the air around us and becoming history as well as legend. They touch my heart because I see my own struggles in those of our Lord and Savior as I go through each day. The story of His walk up the hill to Calgary is one that embodies the struggle and pain of each human being, as well as our daily triumphs.
Let’s take a walk through some of what are, to me, the key moments in the Stations of the Cross.
1. Jesus Is Condemned to Death
The man who eventually gave Jesus a death sentence was Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate. Pilate's story fascinates me because even those who recorded his life and words admit that Pilate was not against Jesus but rather bending to public will. In fact, he gave the angry mob who had carried Jesus to him the opportunity to release the son of God and punish another prisoner and known criminal, Barabbas. However, even when they were presented with a choice, the crowd screamed for the criminal to be set free. When he countered with the question of what to do with Jesus, they called out “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:23)
Now, it is worth taking into consideration that it required an angry mob and a team of elders and leaders pleading for some time just to get Pilate to agree with public opinion. He was against killing Jesus, as was his wife, and pushing for the actual criminal to be executed. What happened?
No one is entirely immune to pressure from the public, not even those in power. Standing up to our betters, our friends, and our family is truly a trial—one that many of us choose not to face. Anytime someone disappoints me or leaves me feeling alone, I think of Pilate. He had the chance to save the son of God, and he didn’t take it. He chose the easy option even though he knew it was wrong. Can I forgive Pilate? Can I pass along any grace to those who have left me disappointed or alone?
2. The Agony in the Garden
This station is the heartbreaker. Just after Jesus is condemned to death, he gathered his disciples and asked them to wait patiently while he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. This is the place where Jesus feels the true heartbreak of knowing he will be leaving the world of men, where he must submit to his father’s will, where his sweat becomes drops of blood.
It is in the garden where Jesus relents to the will of God. It is also a time when he asks for help from three of his disciples, asking them to stay with him as he goes through such a sad night. I love this story for its deep sadness and revelation, but I also love the moment when Jesus lets those around him know that he needs them. How often do you reach out to others in times of need?
3. Jesus Falls Under the Weight of the Cross
Seraphia, also called Veronica, appears about 200 steps into Jesus’ journey to his final moments.
After Jesus’ death sentence had been declared, he had a crown of thorns placed on his head, which caused blood to stream down his face. Then, the cross was laid across his back, and he had to walk up to the peak where he would be put to death. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be in the crowd as a bleeding, weak, and suffering Jesus walked through the street. Many people avoided him on his journey, while others ran to him to take pity. One of these was Seraphia, her small daughter in tow.
Seraphia was no common woman. She is described as being dressed very beautifully, having spiced wine to present to Jesus, as well as a fine veil—the type that would be presented to those who were ill or suffering at the time. She waited for such a long time in the street for Jesus to pass that, eventually, she just waited inside.
She didn’t do this to give up; she simply wanted to sit and rest during her wait, as Jesus had such a long and slow road ahead. Her patience paid off. After a long wait, she and her daughter stepped out and managed to stop the procession with their presence, giving Seraphia the chance to fall on her knees in front of Jesus.
According to the stories, (there is no official bible verse about Seraphia), she begged to be allowed to give Jesus her veil so he could wipe the blood and sweat from his face. Though the Roman guards were against it, they relented, and Jesus thanked her for her kindness. He gave the veil back to her, and it is said that Jesus’ face remains on this sacred cloth to this day. Not long afterward, Seraphia’s name was changed to Veronica, (meaning True Icon), in recognition of the event.
I love Veronica because she recognized her privilege. She was a woman of high standing who used her position in society to help someone she had no reason to help. She simply wanted to offer mercy and give him a moment’s respite from his terrible climb and, the moment she did, her life changed.
4. Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross
This is easily one of the most recognizable images from the story of Jesus. There are references to this moment in both the gospels of Luke and Matthew, though the story is well-known.
Well, let’s dwell a little bit on the choice that Jesus made. Jesus, we can only assume, could have saved himself. He was the Son of God, the man who fed a crowd with minimal bread and fish, the man who walked on water. Surely, he could have found some ability within himself to get down from the cross? Like Veronica, Jesus chooses the moment of his death to turn away from his privilege and face mortality just like the thieves on either side of him.
Two of the verses that really stand out to me are about the crowd and the soldiers. Luke 23:35 says, “And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.” There is also a description of the Roman soldiers who mock Jesus by putting a sign reading “King of the Jews” on top of his cross.
By Jesus choosing to suffer at this moment, when he doesn’t have to, he takes on a very profound responsibility; he lets himself feel pain to express his love for the same people screaming for him to save himself, mocking him, and watching him die. I try to meditate on this moment and even the act of visualizing it in my mind is extremely painful. To die is one thing, but to do it slowly, publicly, it is extremely hard for a mortal to endure.
The part I relate to best is Jesus’ choice to suffer. How often do we say to ourselves, “I will take this pain so you don’t have to carry it? I will sacrifice this object, this money, this food to let someone else have what they need.”
Certainly, the comparison is a cavalier one and, of course, I understand that Jesus’ sacrifice of his own life makes anything I do a mere microcosm of giving, but wasn’t that his intention? He died for our mistakes and did so publicly and grandly so we could suffer on a much smaller scale. We all owe him a great debt. Perhaps we can pay him back, little by little, through our own acts of sacrifice.
5. Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb
This is an odd one to reflect on, I realize, but it’s a moment that has always resonated with me. The bible doesn’t have much to say about this moment, but we have just enough to imagine it clearly.
“And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre. And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.” (Matthew 15:46-47)
I have been to many funerals but never one where the burying of the body was not well attended. When someone passes away, normally it brings us together. Jesus, however, had created such a rift with his life and his faith that only three people, all of them friends, no family, stayed to acknowledge his dead body.
Imagine the scene; the crowd has scattered back to their homes after witnessing the death of Jesus of Nazareth, the Roman soldiers have wandered away, their job done, and none of them interested any longer. The night is quiet, the stone still and cold, the man who changed so much suddenly gone.
Loss is something we all suffer far too often and, unfortunately, some of us, like Mary, have lost children. Others, like Mary Magdalene, have lost a friend who truly understood them. No matter whom you have laid to rest, it never gets easier, and surviving another’s death is a true test of our faith.
One of the most difficult things to remember as a Catholic is that death is a doorway, not a wall. While we only step through once, and always alone, it is a passageway to something too sacred for this world. It seems dark and lonely because we only view it from one angle, but, like Jesus’ mother, we soon learn that this is an illusion, just as Jesus’ mortal death was only temporary. Eternal life is just one final breath away, but we must be brave enough to face the end with open arms when our time comes.