This is long, but perhaps on this Good Friday it might be meaningful to you. It's a set of meditations on the Stations of the Cross.
1. Jesus is condemned to death
He who knew no sin became sin for us. When condemned our natural instinct is to transfer blame to another, to try to avoid the penalty handed down. No wonder we count it noble when someone suffers for another’s sake by choice. Yet to calmly hear the death penalty handed down for oneself for another’s wrong and not resist is truly another way of thinking and being. It reflects incredible power. A show of force reveals the power one has. To control one’s force shows yet greater power over one’s force. To give up power for another is yet greater still. This alone is the power of love. There is no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend. He has called us His friends.
2. Jesus takes up His cross
The ordeal of redemption always begins by taking up an impossible burden, one that will stretch us beyond our known capacities. Humanity has been on this kind of ordeal since the fall in Eden, but to no avail. Jesus joins humanity, taking up the cross on which He will die. Yet it is not really His cross, it is ours, for there we should be. Yet we do not, we seek instead to lay it on the shoulders of another—any other. And so He takes it, for his He came, and for this He lived. He has claimed our cross as His own, and in carrying it He will accomplish what we could not, showing us just how limitless is His love and stretching us beyond our broken small-mindedness.
3. Jesus falls the first time
The Word made flesh falls. He knows what falling is. Falling requires going beyond the limits of balance, of homeostasis. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God…all things were made through Him. Creation requires an omnipresent God to pull back the edges of His limitlessness and allow something else to occupy what was once full of nothing but Godhead. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, has already limited Himself this way, casting into existence the time-space continuum and setting creation on a march toward its end—the end established by the will of the Creative Son, but influenced by the choices of humanity. In doing so He allowed for the most terrible of mistakes to happen—that we might choose evil. This is, of course, exactly what happened, and the first fall was complete. The redemption of this first consequence now sets Jesus on a march toward Golgotha. No wonder He falls now.
4. Jesus encounters His afflicted mother
Creator become creation meets His afflicted mother. Why do you look for me? Did you not know I had to be about my Father’s business? Joseph’s fostering was borrowed parenting of the One who made Him. Mary’s body is the creative vehicle for a body for the One who created her. As any mother would, Mary anguishes over the visible end of her Son, yet her anguish goes deeper. Anguish is the pain caused by the crashing together of conflicting desires and experiences. Her Son, going to die, tears at her mother’s heart that desires life and peace for Him. But He goes to die for her, and for the Church her faithful response to Him represents, and for the creation her body represents, that they might be in life and peace. That the price of our redemption is so incredibly high is humiliating, even crushing. Anguish always accompanies conversion, the change in the heart—yet no anguish over Christ is ever without redemption.
5. The cross is put on the shoulders of Simon of Cyrene
The Soldier did more than provide for a moment of weakness, he revealed the truth. Simon was so common a name that his place of origin is needed to identify him. Yet that is really unnecessary. All of us are Simon, and in Simon, the Almighty has shared the load of redemption with us. And it is rightfully so. Redemption is not forced upon us without our consent—we must open our hands and our hearts to receive it. And once received, it must be lived out. Living it out requires that we pick up our cross and follow Him. Just as in the fall Jesus joins us, so in Simon we join Him on the path to Golgotha, to His death and ours, that as He is raised, so we might also be raised.
6. A woman wipes the face of Jesus
Tradition has identified this woman as Veronica, and legend has it that the face of Jesus was imprinted on the cloth she used. It was known as a relic into the 9th century. The key to understanding this station is in the woman’s name: Veronica, from two parts. Vero- from the same root from which we get the word, verities, reflects truth. Ica- feminized ending on the word “icon,” means an image that partakes of the reality behind it. Veron-ica is the true image. What is this true image? The face of the suffering Christ on the way to die for us. This is the true image behind the face of suffering humanity, dying, often, where we should die to our appetites. This is the true image behind the face of the anguished soul on his death bed. This is the true face behind all our anguish, and what our pain is intended to drive us to behold. Often times merely knowing that God walks through our anguish with us makes all the difference.
7. Jesus falls a second time
The Godhead limited itself in creation, and then again in the Incarnation, “falling” into our createdness Himself and becoming one of us. Paul describes that fall in Philippians 2 as refusing to grasp onto the fullness of the glory of heaven that is rightfully His, and instead, condescending to become one of us, even to the point of dying. Death creeps up on us over time, robbing us of faculties and capacities until finally it takes the very body. Every fall we experience is an anticipation of that last and great loss. The Son of God was not so removed as to avoid that process, even though it is the consequence of sin. He joins us in our falling, even our falling into death itself.
8. Jesus encounters the women of Jerusalem
“The weaker sex,” us males call the womenfolk of our race, ignoring the testimony of doctors and nurses that tell us that the ability to withstand pain is generally greater in women than men. Perhaps, then, it is fitting that Jesus encounters humanity with a woman’s face. It is in our pain that we often reach out to God, and it is in our weakness that we bargain for His favor. Yet here He comes to us in weakness and pain—for He comes to join us before He redeems us. God from God, light from light, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. This is the omnipotent God who comes to save us. This is the God of whom Paul says, “I will glory in my weakness.” If in weakness God shows the strength of His love, then in our weakness we show the strength of His grace.
9. Jesus falls a third time
God “falls” in creation in limiting Himself. God “falls” in the incarnation in submitting to our broken created state, even to the point of dying like us. Now He falls one more time. How far can God “fall?” He falls all the way to the depths of broken creation. He falls on the road to Golgotha in our blaming and scapegoating of other Christians. He falls on the road to Golgotha when earthquakes and hurricanes and killer waves wipe out entire villages of unsuspecting and good people. He falls when we give our word and don’t come through. He falls when honest and noble soldiers lift up arms against one another for the sake of political agendas of those less honorable than they. He falls every time I lash out in anger rather than absorb the hurt and redeem it as He did. He will continue to fall until the crucifixion finds its fulfillment at the end of time. And He will continue to regain His feet every time we absorb the hurts of the world and redeem them.
10. Jesus is stripped of His clothes
God is stripped naked, open and vulnerable for all to see. Was such not the point of the Incarnation? To be known, inside and out, is one of the most terrifying things any human has ever undergone, yet, when mutual and un-abusing, one of the most healing. When un-mutual and abusing it is one of the most damaging. The irony of this moment is that we imagine that we are the powerful abusers, stripping down the God we reject. Yet it is in His plan. No one has seen God, but the only-begotten who was in the father’s bosom, has made Him known. Here we see God naked and unashamed. We, rather, are ashamed, for in stripping down God we reveal ourselves as untrusting and abusing. And even in this God’s plan is worked, for our stripping is what is necessary for our redemption. It is, in a sense, a crucifixion in itself, a death leading to life. Adam and Eve hid themselves from God, and sewed fig-leaves together to hide themselves from one another. Now, stripped to the core, we can be naked and unashamed before God!
11. Jesus is nailed to the cross
It does seem a little silly to imagine that we would have to, that we could even nail God down. But we often try. We box God up and sell Him by the pound in our churches. “I would like to buy a pound of God, please. Be sure to use a just weight and measure. Roasted and well ground, kept in a paper sack, the aroma is heavenly. Now don't give me too much so as to change my ways, but just enough to get me through the week. Yes, I would like to buy a pound of God, please.” (adapted from Wilbur Reese) Jesus told the mob in the garden, “You come with swords and clubs as if to catch a criminal. If it is me you want, let these others go.” Someone has said that the nails did not keep Jesus on the cross, but His love for us and His commitment to redeem us.
12. Jesus dies on the cross
The Roman accusation against Jesus was of treason—claiming Jesus as King of the Jews. The Jewish accusation was more accurate—He claims to be the Son of God. The Jews are us, for we reject Him precisely for who He is. The Son of God is dangerous. He can change you, make you do things you would find embarrassing or strategically damaging. He can get you to give money away, and love ugly people, and associate with people who can drag you down or ruin your image. Best He dies and goes away. This is good, this is convenient, this is proper. He was a bad man anyway. And so we throw at God the worst possible sin, and instead of rejecting it and fighting it as we expect, He merely submits and dies. What kind of treachery will this reveal? What greater, deeper wisdom have we not heeded? Instead of establishing our confidence, the ease with which the Son of God is destroyed undoes our confidence and ruins our poise. Best stab Him in the side to make sure. The earthquake and the darkness are merely external expressions of the storms within. What have we done?
13. Jesus is laid in the arms of His mother
What have we done indeed? We wish we could just imagine Him to be only and merely one of us, whose broken remains can be laid in the arms of those who loved Him foolishly to the end. She will surely clean up after us, take care of the garbage of our rage. She, whose loving acceptance has pierced her heart, whose godly tears stand in sudden contrast to our anger, leaves us wondering just who, in the end, is stronger. A treacherous part of us wants to run over and help her carry her awful load! Perhaps, just perhaps it is our own soul she carries there along with the broken body of God. Perhaps in some unknown way the breaking was necessary, and now the church she represents breaks bread—bloody bread—the body laid in her arms, as bread of heaven.
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb
It is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Obviously, Joseph is a truly amazing man, who, like Mary, accepts the detritus of our sin as evidence of redemption, and consigns his own final resting place, to this Body. “You have a guard,” says Pilate, “go and make the tomb as secure as you know how.” The great stone, stronger than the womanly arms that needed it rolled away, the guards, the seal, these things are the last ditch effort to be greater than, or at least like, God. We want to make the tomb final, not realizing that in doing so we would make our own tombs final, the end, no life from death, no Spring-times, no second chances—just judgment. Oh, how we overestimate ourselves and underestimate our Creator!