The Stations of the Cross have been an important part of the devotional experience of Catholics for many generations. This is an exercise in which a worshiper tries to follow Jesus through his final journey to his horrible execution — death by crucifixion. The practice originated in the actual experiences of pilgrims in the Middle Ages who visited¬† Jerusalem and walked along the Via Dolorosa (“Road of Sorrow”) that was believed to be the route Jesus actually followed. They returned home with stories of life-changing spiritual encounters as they followed the fourteen stations along the way that commemorated things that happened to Jesus as carried his cross. Many Catholic churches have spaces in their sanctuary or in a garden area where statues or paintings mark the fourteen stations for people who want to do personal meditation.

Since six of the traditional stations are not found in the Bible accounts and at least one has an odd superstitious element, Protestant Christians have usually not followed these practices. Catholics have had some of the same discomforts as well, so in 2007 Pope Benedict XVI approved of a new list of fourteen “Scriptural” Stations of the Cross. Dr. Mark D. Roberts, a Presbyterian minister and adjunct faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, has developed an excellent devotional guide through these new stations. I hope you will read his introduction and follow his readings at Patheos.

In last Sunday’s ABC worship service, people were invited to share prayer requests. I was struck by how many of the concerns were about sickness, suffering and death. It seems that many of us are going through dark and trying times. If we look for some distraction by turning on the radio or TV, we hear about school shootings, plane crashes, bombings of innocents and hungry children in refugee camps.

It occurred to me that this may be just the right time for us to learn from the agony of Jesus as we walk with him through the Stations of the Cross. If we are open and receptive, this journey will:

  • remind us that Jesus’ suffering was real;
  • help us accept the fact that our suffering is real;
  • show us that Jesus’ suffering gives us one of the most profound ways we can connect with him;
  • clarify for us that our suffering usually has nothing to do with our personal sinfulness;
  • reveal to us that our suffering may be the best avenue by which we can experience God’s grace, resurrection and renewal.

Each station of the cross can provide a window of understanding  into an aspect of our suffering, as well as an opportunity to embrace it in partnership with the suffering Jesus.

— Pastor George Van Alstine