Today we are continuing our reflection on the Stations of the Cross (see part one here). Recalling once again that there is far too often a tendency to gloss over these events because we feel that we know them so well. Let us remember that we are here attempting to dig deeper into the mysteries of the via crucis.
The Eighth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
As Jesus wound His way toward the place of His execution, He encountered the women of Jerusalem, who wept at the sight of Him. “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me,” Jesus said (Luke 23:28). Why were they filled with such sorrow? Did they know this Jesus? Were they disciples of His? Did they fear the wrath of the authorities on the followers of this man those authorities deemed to be a criminal deserving of death? We don’t know for certain, but we can certainly understand the pain and fear and sorrow that they felt at the sight of Jesus, broken and bloodied, inching His way toward death.
We should remember here that Jesus was no stranger to the pain that these women were feeling. He Himself felt deep sorrow at the death of His friend, Lazarus, and the Gospel of John relates to us that, upon hearing of the death of His friend, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). We share in the pain of the women of Jerusalem, as they watch Jesus walk to His own death, carrying on His blessed shoulders the instrument of His execution. Jesus felt this pain with them, and He feels our pain with us.
The Ninth Station: Jesus Falls the Third Time
For a final time, Jesus crumbles to the ground. The weight of the cross on his ravaged body proves to be too much. Nearing the end of the journey, He succumbs once again to the pain and exhaustion, the weakness from loss of blood, and collapses. What did this look like to observers? For His followers, this Jesus was the Messiah, the long-awaited savior of God’s people, and He was dejected, defeated, being forced to participate in His own execution for the “crime” of admitting who He was – what sort of fear must they have felt? They expected this person to carry Israel on His back, to lift them from bondage and bring them to splendor. Instead, they watched Him fall to the ground once again, unable to withstand the weight of the burden that had been placed on His shoulders by those whom He was supposed to defeat.
From our perspective, we can understand that it was in Christ’s death and Resurrection that the victory lay – but to be standing by while He slowly died before your eyes, diminishing further with every step, must have been truly disconcerting, to say the least.
The Tenth Station: Jesus is Stripped of His Garments
Jesus has now reached the place where He is to be put to death at the hands of the Roman soldiers. In one final gesture of ignominy and shame, He is stripped virtually naked, so that when He is hanging from the cross, slowly suffocating to death, there will be nothing shielding any of the spectacle from the eyes of the observers below.
Not only were His garments removed, the Roman soldiers wagered for them, to see who would get some of the ill-obtained loot. “The soldiers divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take” (Mark 15:24). We can safely assume that these soldiers likely had no idea with whom they were dealing. Had they known that they were contributing to the execution of their Creator, He through whom everything was created, perhaps they would have behaved differently. Perhaps, being in possession of the garments of the Passion, those clothes which were worn by Jesus Christ as He walked His dolorous way of death, they would have come around to the truth.
It could be that these soldiers were profoundly changed by coming in contact with these garments, and seeing firsthand the vanquishing of death through the death of Jesus Christ. We are told that, “When the centurion who stood facing him say how he breathed his last he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39)! Perhaps this centurion was one of those Roman soldiers who held a part of the garments of Jesus.
The Eleventh Station: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
Most of us have spent the majority of our lives surrounded by crucifixes. If we were raised in the Catholic Church, crucifixes are part of the general aesthetic of our religious lives. It is quite likely that we almost look past them when we see them, because they have almost reached the point of being mundane, due to their extreme familiarity. This is a tragedy; the crucifix is meant to be a reminder of the immense physical suffering that Jesus endured for our sake, and when we no longer see what the crucifix is showing us, it is time to take stock and really meditate on what is there.
Jesus was nailed to the cross. Think about that: nails were driven through His flesh, through His body’s tissue, in order to secure Him to a piece of wood from which He was to hang and slowly suffocate. His body was pierced several times, in one side and out the other. Whether the nails went through His hands or His wrists, or through His feet or His ankles, is not the most important thing to understand. What must be remembered is the fact that He was nailed to the cross. After the scourging, after the crowning with thorns, after the walk to Golgotha where He suffered even more torture and brutality, now He is nailed to the cross, and lifted up for all to see.
What pain! What unimaginable agony, not to mention shame. As His followers looked on, along with casual observers and those who wished for the sentence to be carried out, we can only imagine what they felt – and what we would feel in their place.
The Twelfth Station: Jesus Dies on the Cross
Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, “God is dead.” Had he been speaking on that dark day in the first century on which Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, He would have been right. The ultimate offense had been committed – deicide. The killing of God. The creatures had murdered their Creator. As He hang on the cross, dying, “Jesus cried with a loud voice: ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’, which means: ‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?’ And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last” (Mark 15:34, 37). This cry of Jesus, in seeming desperation and abandonment, is a cry that many of us have felt, and all of us will feel at some point. In His death, Jesus connects intimately to the fullness of humanity – God experienced death, truly and completely.
Here is the ultimate irony, which many of us have likely heard before, but perhaps not reflected on as deeply as it deserves: out of this greatest crime comes the greatest gift God has ever bestowed on man. This is the crux of our salvation – here is the mystery of Christ defeating death, saving His people from their sins, breaking the bonds that once enslaved us. Through His death and subsequent Resurrection, Jesus was to bring man back into the light of Life, and He is the Light of the World.
The Thirteenth Station: Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross
Jesus was dead. His followers did not know what to make of this, or what to do next. One thing they knew: as the Sabbath was approaching rapidly, they needed to take His body down and inter it, to protect it from scavenging animals and other shame. “And when evening had come, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, bought a linen shroud, and took the body of Jesus down from the Cross” (Mark 15:42-43, 46). The body of Jesus, lifeless and limp, beaten and bloody, stabbed and scarred, was taken down from the instrument of His execution.
Before being placed in the tomb, we understand that Jesus’ body was placed in His mother’s arms. Here we see the final fulfillment of the prophecy of Simeon when the child Jesus was presented in the Temple, that “A sword will pierce through your heart, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:35). She cradled her son, paradoxically at the same time her creator, and her heart bled on behalf of all those who place their trust in Jesus, all those who passionately confess that He is Lord – her heart broke at the thought that He had to suffer so greatly, so unfathomably greatly, for transgressions which were not His own.
But the true wonder and splendor of the work He was doing was not yet known. And would not be known for three days.
The Fourteenth Station: Jesus is Placed in the Tomb
Jesus’ followers wished to inter the body before the Sabbath began. “Joseph of Arimathea wrapped the body of Jesus in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb” (Mark 15:46-47). Here was where the body of Jesus, separated at death from His soul, was to lay until the third day. No one knew what to expect – in fact, it seems from the Gospel accounts that no one expected anything. Jesus was dead. They did not know what this meant for them. It flew in the face of everything they had come to understand about the Messiah. But we, with the benefit of hindsight, know better. We know that after the Cross comes the Resurrection.
As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in his 2003 meditations on the via crucis, “Though our planet is constantly being filled with fresh tombs, though the cemetery in which man, who comes from dust and returns to dust (cf. Gen 3:19), is always growing, nonetheless all who gaze upon the tomb of Jesus Christ live in the hope of the Resurrection.”