Skip to comments.The Cross as a Journey: The Stations of the Cross for Protestant Worship (Christian Caucus)
Posted on 04/04/2007 3:44:52 AM PDT by markomalley
The Stations of the Cross has two related meanings. In one sense, the Stations of the Cross refers to the liturgical practice of using various events in the final hours of Jesus’ life as a structure for prayer and meditation (also called the Via Crucis or Way of the Cross). These events encompass Jesus’ journey carrying his cross from the Hall of Pilate where he was condemned to death to the site of his execution on Golgotha (Calvary).
As part of their acts of devotion, early Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem retraced the route of Jesus as he carried his cross to his death. Early pilgrimages varied considerably with different starting places and different routes. As the practice developed in the medieval period, the starting point for this journey through the streets of Jerusalem began in the ruins of the Fortress of Antonia that originally housed Pilate’s Judgment Hall, now incorporated into the Ecce Homo Convent. It concluded at the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher that marks the traditional site of Golgotha and the tomb of Jesus. By the sixteenth century, the route this pilgrimage took through Jerusalem came to be called the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrow. Along the Way, certain points on the journey (stations) were associated with specific events recounted (or implied) in the Gospel accounts
The modern practice of the Stations of the Cross was most likely popularized in the Western church by devotional writers. This act of reverence and devotion has been preserved through the centuries, although the actual practices associated with it have changed considerably. Still, its origins in pilgrimage provide the shape and content of the practice. The Via Dolorosa and the Stations of the Cross are still a popular pilgrimage destination in Jerusalem. Each year during Lent and especially on Good Friday, thousands of Christians retrace the route of Jesus through the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, many carrying small or large wooden crosses.
There are presently Fourteen Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa, some with chapels or places to pray and meditate.
1. Christ condemned to death; 2. the cross is laid upon him; 3. His first fall; 4. He meets His Blessed Mother; 5. Simon of Cyrene is made to bear the cross; 6. Christ's face is wiped by Veronica; 7. His second fall; 8. He meets the women of Jerusalem; 9. His third fall; 10. He is stripped of His garments; 11. His crucifixion; 12. His death on the cross; 13. His body is taken down from the cross; and 14. laid in the tomb.
In another sense, the Stations of the Cross refers to a series of depictions, usually either paintings or sculpture, that coincide with the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem. Since many people could not make the arduous pilgrimage to Jerusalem, in the medieval period there developed the practice of using depictions of these Stations in local cathedrals to allow worshippers to make the same devotional journey. They came into general use by the seventeenth century and are present today in nearly all Catholic churches. The popularity of the Stations of the Cross as a devotional exercise has been fostered by these traditional depictions.
In the form of paintings or sculpted plaques, they are usually spaced around the walls of Catholic churches, or are located in a prayer garden. In Protestant churches that use them, they are usually located in a prayer chapel. While historically these depictions have been paintings or sculptures, they can be anything from banners to various kinds of art or plaques in most any medium. The number of scenes (stations) in the series can vary from eight (the events specifically mentioned in the Gospel accounts) to fifteen (including a final Station for the resurrection). Some of the Stations vary in different traditions. The Significance of the Stations of the Cross
In much of the modern Western world past events are seen primarily in terms of "happenedness," a certain action happening at a certain time and place. Events can be described by the data-based mode of thought that answers the questions of what, when, who, where, and how, and often only incidentally addresses the question of why. And yet that question of why, the question of the enduring significance of events, is usually far more important. Especially when it comes to remembering events in terms of the Faith, the event is not so much about the facts and the data as it is recalling the role of that event in a larger ongoing story, in God's story and in our own story. It is not that the "happenedness" is irrelevant. It is more a matter of how to appropriate the event in terms of its ongoing significance for the continuing community, for us.
Throughout Scripture, in both Old and New Testaments, God's people are called to remember (for example, Psa 105). But they are not called to remember events for the sake of the event. They are called to remember because those events are part of who they are, and what they will become. It is in this mode of remembering, of re-presenting the events of the past as part of a living story that has not yet ended, a story in which we still participate, that the events become more than dates and places. They become markers of a journey as those who were no people become a people (Ex 6:7, 1 Peter 2:10), as those who grope awkwardly in the darkness come into the light of God's presence (Isa 9:2, John 8:12), as those who were far off draw ever nearer to God and his grace.
The journey of our Faith as modern Christians is not only a journey through history that can be marked by events in the past. It is also a journey of our own personal commitment to God, of our own growth as a community of Faith and as individuals maturing from self-centered children into faithful servants. It is a journey that we need to remember just as deeply and profoundly as we remember the journey of God's people across 3,000 of human history, or the journey of Jesus from Pilate’s Hall to Golgotha.
Most Protestants, especially in the West, are used to thinking of the crucifixion of Jesus as an event happening at a certain time and place. Of course, the crucifixion was such an event. But it is more than that. It is a truth about God and how he works in the world with human beings. It is that truth about God revealed in Jesus and his actions that provides us with an important touchstone for our own journey.
In our eagerness to celebrate Easter and the resurrection, Protestants often rush too quickly through Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. Too much of the week, especially as it draws to an end in Good Friday and Holy Saturday is much too messy for Christians accustomed to the language of triumph and praise to give much attention. In doing so, we miss the tremendous significance of the Cross as something more than a symbol of the crucifixion and death of Jesus as prologue to the resurrection, or as a symbol of a theological doctrine of the atonement. As Jesus himself taught his disciples on more than one occasion, the Cross symbolizes something far more profound than suffering and death, and perhaps even more significant than theologies of the atonement.
Beyond all the dogmas and the sentimentalism associated with the Cross, finally it is about faithfulness, servanthood, the commitment of One to another that will not abandon that commitment even when rejected. In a real sense, the cross is about the power of love, the commitment of God to humanity, the faithfulness and grace of God that knows no limits and will yield to no boundary, that will risk even death itself for the sake of new life.
The journey that Jesus makes to the cross is not easy. Most such journeys of faithfulness and servanthood are fraught with great risk. There is suffering, and the death is real. It is not the end of the story. But it is part of the journey. If we are to remember the cross honestly, we must remember the entire journey, honestly. There will be a Sunday morning, and we cannot forget that part of the story. But not yet. The journey of the Cross winds through Holy Week, from the singing crowds on Sunday to the darkness of Good Friday. Sunday will come. But not without the journey through Good Friday and the Cross. The journey from Sunday will have little meaning without the journey through Good Friday.
The Stations of the Cross is a liturgical way to reenact that journey as a meditation of worship, an act of devotion to God. To think that the event of Jesus’ journey to the Cross was a one time event in history is to misunderstand the role of remembering. For in remembering this event by walking the Stations of the Cross we are not just reenacting a 2,000 year old event. We are making our own journey, and in the process confessing our own dependence upon God.
Most of us, if we are honest, must confess that we do not live in the triumph of Easter Sunday all of the time, or even most of the time. Life simply does not work that way. No matter what victory we claim as Christians, the realities of life are too often difficult to bear even for people of Faith. We sometimes struggle on the journey, trying to understand the inequities of life large and small. Sometimes we are misjudged and misunderstood by others. We suffer physical and emotional pain as part of being human. All too often we experience painful endings. Marriages fail. Children make destructive decisions. Friends betray us. Loved ones die. Sometimes the world becomes dark and hopeless, like the world of Good Friday as Jesus journeyed to the Cross.
If we follow Jesus on his journey, we begin to understand that in Jesus’ sufferings we see our own journey mirrored in his. Oh, we are not likely heading to such a cruel and humiliating death. But in those somber hours of our own "dark night" we experience similar emotions of helplessness and sometimes hopelessness. To face such darkness we need some glimmer of light, some hint of hope beyond endings, some model of perseverance that comes from a faith that does not yet know the outcome but is willing to trust God with it.
In Jesus’ journey to the Cross on Good Friday, we see faithfulness in the midst of Passion (from the Greek word for "suffering"), perseverance in the midst of endings, and courage in the midst of hopelessness. As we trace Jesus’ journey we take up our own cross, the symbol of our own passion, and bear the imprint of his cross in our own. But in accompanying Jesus on the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrow, we also gain courage from his commitment to the Father in that journey, from his courage to face what comes, and finally from the realization of the truth that with God endings become the building blocks of new beginnings.
The value in the Stations of the Cross lies in the simple twofold enacted confession. First, life is sometimes dark, painful, and brings endings. That reality will not go away even for the Son of God. Second, God does some of his best work in the darkness as we persist in the journey, even when that journey leads to Golgotha. Resurrection Sunday has no meaning without Good Friday. This journey reminds us of the darkness as a basis to celebrate the light.
In this sense, we need to remember that the Stations of the Cross are primarily a context for prayer and reflection. We can too easily go through the motions of the service without really allowing ourselves to encounter God. But as we open our hearts and minds to God in this symbolic journey, we are lead to communion with God that draws us closer to His love for us. It also allows us to identify with Jesus as he identifies with us. We are drawn to contemplate, not only the suffering and pain of our own journey mirrored in His, but as we follow the Christ we are compelled to identify with those around us who suffer in their own journey. Protestant Devotion and the Stations of the Cross
Historically, Protestants have tended to reject the practices associated with the Stations of the Cross, largely because they were associated with indulgences. In the late medieval period, a certain amount of spiritual merit, a sort of get-out-of-sin-free card, was associated with these acts of piety. However, as the Catholic tradition has itself changed, modern Protestants are not so much concerned with fighting the practice. And as the pressures of a modern secular world increase, more and more Protestants are looking for ways to reconnect with authentic and vital piety beyond the superficial emotionalism that tends to dominate much modern Protestant worship.
In increasing numbers, even evangelical Protestants are rediscovering the value of liturgically shaped communal and personal devotional practices. As a result, there has been an increasing interest from Protestants in the Stations of the Cross, especially as part of a Good Friday service of worship. Some churches combine the Stations of the Cross with a Tenebrae service, a Service of Darkness that climaxes the Services of Holy Week before Easter Sunday. However, the Stations are used, they can become a powerful, and for many innovative, means of worship.
Many Protestants prefer to use only eight Stations of the Cross, since those are the main events recorded in the Gospel accounts about Jesus’ journey.
Station 1: Pilate Condemns Jesus to Die Station 2: Jesus Accepts His Cross Station 3: Simon Helps Carry the Cross Station 4: Jesus Speaks to the Women Station 5: Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments Station 6: Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross Station 7: Jesus Cares for His Mother Station 8: Jesus Dies on the Cross
However, some Protestants use an expanded form of the Stations to maintain the traditional fourteen stations but still include only events with a biblical basis. This usually requires beginning the Stations with Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane.
1. Jesus Prays Alone 2. Jesus is Arrested 3. The Sanhedrin Tries Jesus 4. Pilate Tries Jesus 5. Pilate Condemns Jesus to Die 6. Jesus Wears the Crown of Thorns 7. Jesus Carries His Cross 8. Simon Helps Carry the Cross 9. Jesus Speaks to the Women 10. Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross 11. Criminals Speak to Jesus 12. Jesus Cares for His Mother 13. Jesus Dies on the Cross 14. Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
In most cases, especially if these are used in connection with a Tenebrae service, there is no mention of the Resurrection. There will be a place for that on Sunday morning. But to preserve the journey as a commitment to God in the darkness, the journey of the Stations should end at the cross and the tomb.
Some Protestants might be temped to use this solemn occasion as an opportunity to participate in Communion. However, this is not a proper use of Eucharist. Traditionally, for good theological reasons, Eucharist, Thanksgiving, is not offered on Good Friday. Eucharist is not primarily a sad occasion to remember death, but a "Thanksgiving" (which is what the word eucharist means) for grace, a celebration of God’s salvation and restoration. While Eucharist is often offered on Maundy Thursday because of its association with the Last Supper and Passover, or on Easter Sunday as a celebration of forgiveness and hope, Friday is not the time for celebration. That moves too quickly and too easily to hope without first confessing our hopelessness without God. The Service of Worship
This service of worship is intended to be used as a Good Friday evening service. It is usually combined with a shortened Tenebrae service immediately following, so that the Stations of the Cross become the meditative introduction to Tenebrae. In this service, banners are used for the Stations. They do not depict scenes but rather use various kinds of crosses as symbolic of the sequence of events. The banners are hung around the sanctuary during Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday, and then moved to a large room for the Good Friday service. In this service, the eight main events in the Gospels are used for the Stations.
The service itself is not intended to be particularly solemn, but it is usually presented in a very simple and low-key way. The songs are all done a capella. For some songs, a single violin or flute provides an appropriate reflective interlude. The service should not be rushed. Leaders should not be afraid of short times of silence to allow personal prayer and reflection.
The service usually begins with the people seated or standing together in the center of the room as the initial Scripture and prayers are offered. Then as a group they move together to stand before the various Stations as the Scriptures and meditations are read. If the group is large and the room is big enough, there can be two or three groups moving independently to the different stations, as long as they are done in order. In most cases, it is better to designate someone to lead the people's readings to provide cues.
A powerful visual symbol for the service is to have someone carry a large rough hewn wooden cross on their shoulder as s/he leads the people during the entire journey of the Stations. S/he can wear a simple rough robe (or an alb* if it is plain) and no shoes. Leaders can also wear plain robes or albs, but should not wear stoles. The cross should be large enough to require some effort to carry. While it might be tempting to enhance this visual with a crown of thorns and simulated blood, too much visual effect begins to diminish the power of the symbol as a focus for meditation. Most such visual symbols communicate because they evoke reflection, not because they depict detail.
*An alb is an ankle-length robe or tunic in white linen, sometimes roughly woven, tied at the waist by a woven or braided white cord.
In some contexts, especially in evangelical churches that are not accustomed to such services, some introductory comments explaining the purpose and flow of the service are appropriate. Or a short explanation can be included in a worship folder.
And that’s just the beginning.
Which book are you reading? There are a number of biographies on Amazon.
“Forget Not Love,” by Andre Frossard. It’s sort of poetic.
I just ordered it. Thanks!
You’re welcome. In addition to being a good, fairly brief, treatment of his life and death, it also presents his mystical theology in sufficient depth to make it clear how deep it really is.
I’m looking forward to it. I also ordered “Hits” by Boz Scaggs. :)
Amazingly beautiful. As a Protestant, I have never thought much about the stations of the Cross. Just one of those things that other churches do. I can honestly say that I will never see the SOTC in the same light again. Thank you so much for posting this. God bless.
Ah - SuperSaver shipping!
One main reason why Catholics have the corpus hanging on the Cross is that we must never forget what He did for us. And that it's not so much the cross that did that, but rather Him hanging on that cross that accomplished our salvation.
One Sad But Holy Day
But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ
- Galatians 6:14 RSV
The world does not understand this, Lord,
why I should want to bring to mind that sad but holy day,
when You became the curse for us,
when You carried that horrendous burden
far heavier than the wood of Your cross,
the sin of the world on Your sinless, torn and battered back.
Such is the scandal of God in the eyes of the world,
That out of disgrace and misery and pain,
Hope is born.
How heavy the weight of the unrighteousness of others on You,
the Son of righteousness,
hatred and the selfish lack of love piled high on You,
You who are all love,
all that darkness
on the shoulders of You who are always the Light,
as You brought the redemption that a loving God offered —
by Your stripes we are healed.
O Lord, let me think of the crowd that gathered in front of the Roman judge,
pressing close and noisy that Friday morning,
thinking they were upholding the honor of the Father,
but caught up by the world who would not see You for who you are,
and know my sins were there as they screamed for Your blood.
Let me think of the whip and know that my sins were there,
driving the lead tipped leather to cut Your skin,
as You took the punishment that I deserved.
Let me remember how that my sinful hand joined the executioner hammering the nails
through all the times I have chosen to do wrong,
not counting the cost that you so willingly bore to the depths of death.
The world does not understand,
does not want to understand,
chooses not to believe this foolishness of God,
the one thing truly to glory in,
a cursed death that is a marvelous victory,
yet for us who love You,
the scandal of the cross is our one hope and salvation.
Let me never take for granted what You have wrought,
and contemplating that day with remorse and with gladness,
remember with a thankful heart how much I am loved,
now and forever.
Although the stations are not identical to the ones normally identified, I can't see how that would be from a "Protestant" perspective...it sounds very much like "the Passion" to me...
Wow, that’s beautiful! I’ll definitely have to gather my offspring around the computer later!
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