Friday, April 6, 2012

Before the Cross was Empty - It Was Occupied

As a former United Methodist, we were never focused on what is known as the Stations of the Cross.  To be honest, I think we were missing out on something very powerful.  It is known as The Stations of the Cross, Via Dolorosa, Via Crucis, Way of Sorrows and Way of the Cross.  It is a depiction of the final journey of Christ carrying his own cross to his crucifixion.  In 2007 Pope Benedic XVI approved the following as the official Via Dolorosa, although various forms still exist and are used today.
  1. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane,
  2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested,
  3. Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin
  4. Jesus is denied by Peter
  5. Jesus is judged by Pilate,
  6. Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns,
  7. Jesus takes up His cross,
  8. Jesus is helped by Simon to carry His cross,
  9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem,
  10. Jesus is crucified,
  11. Jesus promises His kingdom to the repentant thief,
  12. Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other,
  13. Jesus dies on the cross,
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.
Concordia University Chapel of the Christ Triumphant
One of my earliest experiences with the Way of the Cross did not take place until I was taking classes at Concordia University in Mequon, WI.  I was in the Chapel of the Christ Triumphant one evening practicing the organ and afterwards decided to walk around the chapel to see what was on the walls.  That is when I noticed small stations of the cross.  Sometime in that same year I journeyed to Holy Hill Basillica and walked the stations of the cross down the steep hillside, pondering each one and trying to look in to the stone eyes of Christ, imagining what he must have been thinking.  It was a moving experience and one that I have journeyed many times since then.  It was an in-your-face reminder of every step that took place...and each step was made for me.

There are stations of the cross in the main chapel of Holy Hill as well and since then I have seen dramatically ornate depictions, sometimes in gold and marble, of the Via Dolorosa.  But perhaps one of the most moving and dare I say AUTHENTIC ways I have never seen in person but hope to one day can be found in Daleville, Mississippi.  It has its beginnings in 2012, yes, that's right - this year.  Daleville Anglican, under the leadership of Pastor Vicki Gladding, meets in a yard and it is in this area that a true space of worship was created.  Look first at the cross, a simple structure with a wreath of thorns.  It is not very tall and it leans against the staircase, a watering can to the left (I wonder if that was left on purpose to remind us of the baptism of the Lord and our own Baptism by water).

Perhaps my favorite image is this one, the third station of the cross.  So incredibly humble yet powerful in its simplicity.  You have to approach the tree (the symbolism is not lost here!) to actually see the image and then to spend time in that space to think on and pray on that moment in history. 

I have included a few other images of that moment but there is a point I'm trying to make.  I truly think that faith traditions who leave out this journey, this Via Crucis, may perhaps be missing a very important experience in Christianity.  In many traditions the crucifixion is not displayed, yet in its place is the empty cross as a way of reminding us that He is no longer hanging there.  But every year during this time it is vital to our faith and our understanding of salvation that we remember that first the cross was not empty - first the cross was carried on His shoulders, then the cross contained the body of our Lord - and THEN the cross was emptied.

I pray that you will take time to remember each step of the cross.  Each significant act that our Lord endured in order to fulfill his divine purpose on earth.  Whether you use ornate, gold and marble representations or the authentic simplicity of an image nailed to a tree like that of our Daleville brothers and sisters - it is vital that we do not forget each painful and agonizing step that led to the death and ultimate resurrection of our Lord.  The cross is empty now - we rejoice for that - but before it was empty, it was occupied. 

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