It’s Lent—the six weeks leading up to a remembering of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I was at Mass at a local Catholic church and found myself seeing something familiar in a whole new way. Most Catholic churches have representations of the Stations of the Cross, a devotion that dates back to the mid-1400’s. In the late 1500’s, the form was set as follows.
- Jesus is condemned to death
- Jesus takes up his Cross
- Jesus falls the first time
- Jesus meets his Mother
- Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross
- Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
- Jesus falls for the second time
- Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
- Jesus falls for the third time
- Jesus is stripped of his garments
- Jesus is nailed to the Cross
- Jesus dies on the Cross
- Jesus is taken down from the Cross
- Jesus is laid in the tomb
Each of these images is depicted in a separate piece of artwork arranged on the church walls; making it possible for an individual to walk from station to station around the church; enacting the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrows).
The Stations depict significant moments in the lead-up to Jesus’s death and burial. The goal of the devotion is to enter into His reality as he underwent this so very human crisis. From first grade on in parochial school (1954-1966), we attended The Stations devotion every week during Lent. As time went on, for a variety of reasons, I relegated this devotional practice to history. That is why I was startled to suddenly see the representations in a new way. What was new?
I could see how each of these stations is an element in most every person’s journey toward life’s end. Here is what I saw:
- Sitting in a doctor’s office and hearing one has, for example, a serious cancer
- Choosing to do chemotherapy
- First onset of side-effects
- Letting the family know that death is in the house
- Needing the aid of others who might or might not be willing
- The acts of kindness from healthcare providers and neighbors
- Worsening illness and side effects
- Telling one’s wider community—their reactions
- Deciding to stop treatment; choosing hospice care
- Signing one’s will
- Confined to bed; struggling for life
- Taking care of the body; the journey to the mortuary
- Burial or cremation
What’s my takeaway? Seeing Jesus as Everyman; seeing His Journey as a journey each of us will take. At a time and in a culture where dying and death are topics to be avoided, there are churches that put these realities on the wall for everyone to see.
Each of us has walked or will be walking the Via Dolorosa, The Way of Sorrows, with someone. Someday we will walk it ourselves.