A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to walk a Stations of the Cross path for the first time at a local abbey. Stations of the Cross is a path made up of a series of images depicting the story of the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. Each station has an image and an accompanying prayer to read as you contemplate what Jesus experienced in his last moments before death. Many Christians walk through the stations during Lent because they focus on the suffering and sacrifice of the Lord leading to the celebration of the Resurrection.
When I visited the stations, I hadn’t known much about them and I didn’t know what to expect. Some of my reflections were surprising, others humbling, but the whole experience left my spirit quieted by Jesus and what he did for us. Here are a few of the reflections I made on my journey.
Sometimes it’s difficult to picture how Jesus suffered. But as I stood at the fifth station and saw the picture of Simon helping Jesus carry the cross, I was reminded of the gruesome nature of Jesus’ death because of his humanity. Jesus was tired. He was exhausted. He was dirty. He had a human body, and that body was quitting on him. At some point, he nearly gave up—he needed help to carry his own cross.
Before his death, he was thirsty, and he had to drink wine from a sponge on a stick. We don’t always think about it, but Jesus got thirsty. And he got hungry, too. When Jesus came to earth he became like us—small and weak.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:5-7, ESV)
Many of the images made my stomach clench because of the horror of how Jesus died. Then I thought about the prophecies from hundreds of years before. Jesus was not surprised by how he was betrayed or how he was mocked or how it was finally finished. The blood and dirt did not shock him. God the Father was not surprised, either, as he turned away.
Everything that happened those last days from Gethsemane to Golgotha was known by God. He knew that Jesus would suffer, and that the suffering would ultimately lead to salvation.
Knowing it was planned doesn’t make the scene any less brutal. But it does remind us that God’s hand is in everything—even the things that make us cringe.
“For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:9b-10, ESV)
At the last station, I was very emotional because I could imagine the feeling of loss among the disciples. Their friend had just died and they were left alone.
I bet they felt abandoned. I bet they knew it would all be worth it, but I bet they were filled with sorrow. Even knowing they would see him again would not be enough to fully ease the pain of loss. But after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, God sent the Spirit to guide us. We are not left alone, and that truth brings us peace.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, ESV)
These are words of peace Jesus leaves with his disciples before his journey to the cross.
Each station’s image was covered in a glass case, and as I stood at each one, I often found my eyes wandering to the reflection of my own face in the glass. I tried to avert my focus, to turn my eyes away from myself and onto Jesus.
But as I stood there, my face reflected at the feet of Jesus as he hung on the cross, I was struck with the reminder that this story is for us, too. Just as Jesus died with the full weight of our sin on the cross, so we “[die] to sin” daily so that we can be “alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11, ESV)
Jesus died because all of us are sinful and we can’t amend that on our own. Jesus died because he has such deep love for us and he truly wants to spend eternity with us.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18, ESV)
Jesus’ death shocks us. It humbles us and baffles us. It changes us. It brings us to our knees and reminds us of the greatness of God. We can live because Jesus died. What a wonderful paradox.
In the middle of Lenten season, I encourage you to reflect on the journey Jesus took so that we might have life because of death.