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Stations of the Cross

2014 March 11
by Gordon Reid

On Friday, I will be leading the Devotion known as Stations of the Cross, processing round the inside of St Clement’s, stopping fourteen times to meditate on some incident of our Lord’s Passion, in front of each of  fourteen pictures on the walls of the church. It is a lovely devotion, and leads us from the condemnation of Jesus by Pontius Pilate to the laying of his body in the Sepulchre after his Crucifixion.

I have always been intrigued by the seeming lack of imagination in whoever it was who invented the devotion, since three of the fourteen stations are “Our Lord falls”. You would have thought it would have been possible to recall other moments of that last journey. But the more I have conducted the devotion, the more I have seen the justification for this repetition of stations. The crushing message of Stations of the Cross is to make it    absolutely clear that the humanity of Jesus was utterly real. This was not God play-acting as a man; this was God the Son totally and utterly incarnate in human nature, and experiencing the depths of suffering shared by all humanity.

In other Stations, Jesus is shown as  rising above the  pain and comforting his Mother, or Veronica, or the women of Jerusalem. But when I announce: “Jesus falls for the third time” there is almost nothing one can add to the glorious fact of the Lord’s total and repeated identification with suffering humanity.

But my favourite  Station is when the Cross is laid on Simon of Cyrene. Here was an African Jew who had fulfilled a life’s ambition to worship at the Temple on Passover just once in his life. And now, he was seen to be a stranger, picked out of the crowd by  a soldier and forced to help Jesus carry the Cross, as he was by now too weak to carry it himself. And suddenly all Simon’s life seemed to be in ruins. He could not now enter the Temple, being made unclean by handling an instrument of execution. This must have seemed the worst moment of his religious  life.

But it turned out to be  the   best and most glorious moment. For here, he learned later, he met his God on his way to his saving self-sacrifice. The Gospel writer casually refers to Simon as “the father of Alexander and Rufus” names which Mark expected his first readers  (probably in Rome) to recognize, and Rufus, we know from Paul’s letter to the Romans was an early leader of the church in Rome. So Simon of Cyrene, looking back, would see that the moment when he had to carry the Cross was the moment God laid his hand on him and revealed his love to him, the best moment of his life. He turned to the crucified and risen Messiah and taught his sons to do the same, and so what seemed to  be death to his religious hopes turned to the glorious resurrection life of the Body of Christ.

Most of us can look back to moments when a cross was laid on our shoulders, and we thought the future was black. But often that  cross we were asked to help carry turned out to be the hand of God, changing our life with his love, giving us the strength to carry it, and making it the instrument of joy and peace of mind that nothing else could have brought. We too can be Simons of Cyrene.

One Response leave one →
  1. March 11, 2014

    Thank you for this. I too have wondered about Jesus falling three times. This has really helped.

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