TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

01 March 2017

Stations of the cross: Remembering how Jesus suffered for us.

One of the ways we remember, and appreciate, Jesus’s death.

In Jerusalem, Israel, Christians remember Jesus’s death by actually going down the route he traveled the day he died. It’s called the Way of Jesus, the Way of Sorrows (Latin, Via Dolorosa), or the Way of the Cross (Via Cručis). When I visited Jerusalem, it’s part of the tour package: Loads of us Christians go this route every single day, observing all the places Jesus is said to have suffered. Really solemn, moving stuff.

For Christians who don’t live in or near Jerusalem, or can’t possibly get there, St. Francis of Assisi invented “the stations of the cross.” In his church building, he set up seven different dioramas. Each represented an event which happened as Jesus was led to his death. The people of his church would go to each diorama—each station—and remember what Jesus did for us all. And pray.

Yeah, this is a Catholic thing, ’cause St. Francis was Roman Catholic. But not exclusively. Many Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists use stations of the cross too. Be fair: If a Protestant invented it, you’d find Protestants doing it everywhere. ’Cause it’s not a bad idea.

So it’s why I bring it up here. The stations of the cross are a clever way to meditate upon Jesus’s death in a more visual, tangible way. And lots of Catholic churches (and a growing number of Protestant churches) keep the stations up year-round. Could be paintings, carvings, or stained-glass windows. Christians can “travel the Way of Jesus” any time we wanna contemplate his death, and what he did for us.

If you’ve ever seen Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, he made sure to include all of ’em in his movie. As do Catholic passion plays, reenactments of Jesus’s death. Protestant passion plays too, though we tend to skip the events we don’t find in the gospels. ’Cause as you’ll notice, some of Francis’s stations came from the then-popular culture. Not the scriptures.

The 14 stations.

Francis arranged seven stations. Sevens are really important in medieval Christian numerology: Days of the week, years between sabbath years, the sevenfold Spirit of God. Supposedly the number represents something complete, like God’s creation week. Christians are still really fond of sevens. Since Francis couldn’t think of 14 separate biblical events, you’ll notice he padded things: It’s why Jesus kept falling down over and over again.

When you move to each station, custom is to pray a little something at each. Catholic congregations tend to go like so:

Leader. “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.”
Everyone. “Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”

Here are the stations of the cross Francis initially came up with.

  1. Jesus is given his cross.
  2. Jesus falls down.
  3. Jesus encounters his mother.
  4. St. Veronica wipes Jesus’s face off.
  5. Jesus falls down again.
  6. Jesus is crucified.
  7. Jesus is laid in his tomb.

No, the gospels don’t mention Jesus falling down. Nor do they describe him encountering his mom till he’s on the cross, giving her to his beloved disciple. So it’s a little out of order. And of course the St. Veronica legend—where she let Jesus wipe his bloody face on her veil, and this miraculously became a photographic image of him—isn’t in the gospels at all. But it was a really popular story in Francis’s part of Italy, so in it went.

Various different churches fiddled with the stations, their order, and their number. Some of ’em created thirty different stations. The current “standard set” consists of 14 stations—two sets of seven, just because. Sometimes they add a 15th station, representing Jesus’s resurrection. Anyway here they are.

  1. Jesus is condemned to death.
  2. Jesus is given his cross.
  3. Jesus falls down.
  4. Jesus encounters his mother.
  5. Symon of Cyrene takes Jesus’s cross.
  6. St. Veronica wipes Jesus’s face off.
  7. Jesus falls down a second time.
  8. Jesus speaks to the “daughters of Jerusalem.”
  9. Jesus falls down a third time.
  10. Jesus’s clothes are stripped off.
  11. Jesus is nailed to the cross.
  12. Jesus dies.
  13. Jesus’s body is removed from the cross.
  14. Jesus’s body is put in the tomb.

Jesus falls down thrice likely because three is another important number in medieval Christian numerology. (You know, the trinity.)

A lot of Christians—myself included—figure the bible is more historically accurate than tradition. So we’d kinda prefer to stick to the stories in the gospels, ’cause we know they happened to Jesus. For our sake, St. John Paul, then pope, came up with scriptural stations of the cross in 1991. Personally I like this list better. It’s more thorough.

  1. Jesus prays in Gethsemane. Mk 14.32-42, Mt 26.36-46, Lk 22.39-46, Jn 18.1-2
  2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested. Mk 14.43-52, Mt 26.47-56, Lk 22.47-54, Jn 18.2-12
  3. Jesus is condemned by the Jewish senate. Mk 14.55-65, Mt 26.59-68, Lk 22.63-71, Jn 18.19-24
  4. Jesus is denied by Peter. Mk 14.66-72, Mt 26.69-75, Lk 22.54-62, Jn 18.15-18, 25-27
  5. Jesus is judged by Pilate. Mk 15.1-15, Mt 27.11-26, Lk 23.1-25, Jn 18.28-40
  6. Jesus is flogged; crowned with thorns. Mk 15.16-17, Mt 27.26-29, Lk 23.16, Jn 19.1-3
  7. Jesus is mocked; led out to be crucified. Mk 15.18-20, Mt 27.27-31, Lk 23.11, 25, Jn 19.4-16
  8. Simon of Cyrene takes Jesus’s cross. Mk 15.21, Mt 27.32, Lk 23.26
  9. Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem. Lk 23.27-31
  10. Jesus is crucified. Mk 15.22-26, Mt 27.33-37, Lk 23.32-38, Jn 19.16-25
  11. Jesus speaks to the repentant thief. Lk 23.39-43
  12. Jesus speaks to his mother and beloved student. Jn 19.25-27
  13. Jesus dies. Mk 15.33-39, Mt 27.45-54, Lk 23.44-49, Jn 19.28-30
  14. Jesus’s body is taken down and entombed. Mk 15.42-47, Mt 27.57-61, Lk 23.50-56, Jn 19.38-42

These bits are also in The Passion of the Christ—and for that matter, most of the other, less-gory Jesus movies.

For Easter I intend to write a few articles about some the stations from John Paul’s list. It’s important to look at what Jesus did for us. And not just during the Easter season.

Let’s not skip over it because it’s so horrible, because we don’t want to dwell on sad things. The reason Easter is so awesome is because Jesus conquered his horrible death. In dying, he took our sins to the grave with him. That, at least, is something to celebrate about Holy Week.