I wish to make a complaint, one of our stations is missing

I wish to make a complaint, there’s something missing in this station.

Have you ever seen something, read something, heard something and thought, there is something missing? It might be a news account, a half heard song or an experience which left you underwhelmed.

On Good Friday we explore those harrowing and horrific scenes of the death of Jesus on that most brutal of implements of death, the cross. We follow the journey from the court of Pilate to the place of the Skull, Golgotha. For centuries, christians have followed that journey through biblical readings, passion plays or pilgrimage. These scenes now adorn many of our churches in painting or stained glass and have been enshrined in the Stations of the Cross.

A quick history lesson, and a promise it will lead to the point.

Early pilgrims to Jerusalem desired to walk the way of Christ by reproducing the ‘Via Dolorosa’, the Way of Sorrows. This was interrupted in 1187 as Saladin’s forces captured Jerusalem. After 40 years, Franciscans were able to enter Jerusalem and pilgrims returned, following the ‘Via Sacre’, the sacred way; in 1342 Pope Clement VI made the Franciscans custodians of Jerusalem. It wasn’t until the mid 1500’s that an Englishman, William Wey, described the footsteps of Christ  by pilgrims, and over the next century, the Franciscans started to place shrines to mark these stations. In 1731, Pope Clement XII allowed Catholic Churches to erect or depict the ‘Stations of the Cross’ and fixed the number at 14. Then in 1857 English Bishops were allowed to erect these in their churches; but there was still something missing.

The original stations were:

  1. Jesus condemned to death
  2. Jesus carries his cross
  3. Jesus falls the first time
  4. Jesus meets his mother
  5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross
  6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
  7. Jesus falls for a second time
  8. The women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls for a third time
  10. Jesus clothes are taken away
  11. Jesus nailed to the cross
  12. Jesus dies on the cross
  13. The body is taken down from the cross
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb

Now these are the traditional stations but at least five have no basis in the Bible, stations 3, 4, 6, 7, & 9, so in 1991 for Good Friday, Pope John Paul II redefined these and produced the ‘Scriptural Way of the Cross’.

  1. Jesus in the Garden (Matthew 26: 36-41)
  2. Jesus is betrayed & arrested (Mark 14: 43-46)
  3. Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin (Luke 22: 66-71)
  4. Jesus is denied by Peter (Matthew 26: 69-75)
  5. Jesus is judged by Pontius Pilate (Mark 15:1-5,15)
  6. Jesus is scourged at the pillar & the crown of thorns (John 19: 1-3)
  7. Jesus bears the cross (John 19: 6,15-17)
  8. Jesus helped by Simon of Cyrene (Mark 15:21)
  9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem (Luke 22: 27-31)
  10. Jesus is Crucified (Luke 23: 33-24)
  11. Jesus promises the kingdom to the good thief (Luke 39-43)
  12. Jesus speaks to his mother and the beloved disciple (John 19:25-27)
  13. Jesus dies on the cross (Luke 23: 44-46)
  14. Jesus placed in the tomb. (Matthew 27: 57-60)

These stations in various forms are followed both by pilgrims and by those who travel the events of Good Friday. They have been a cultural inspiration, Franz Liszt wrote ‘Via Crucis’ in 1871, Davis Bowie recorded ‘Station to station’ in 1976 and Mel Gibson used the stations to frame his 2004 film, ’Passion of the Christ’.

But for me there is still something missing and it is something also missing from our culture, the Lament. On the cross, Jesus cries out a lament in the words of the opening of Psalm 22, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34). Hebrew culture is familiar with Lament, there are a number of Psalms that reflect both personal and national Lament, the book of Job is a story of one person’s suffering and his struggle with lamenting. Then there is the book of Lamentations which is wholly dedicated to this most human of instincts. Being able to cry out to God is a part of our DNA which so often we repress as we feel unworthy to trouble God with our problems, or that God is not listening to us, or that we feel so hopelessly abandoned. The Psalmists followed a pattern, they brought their complaint to God, asked for God’s presence in their experience, then expressed their trust in God.

The German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, ‘No individual can repeat the Lamentation Psalms out of [their] own experience; it is the distress of the entire Christian community at all times, as only Jesus Christ has experienced it entirely alone’. Bonhoeffer, who saw the horrors of Nazi German, and was himself in-prisoned, tortured and executed, is not telling us that we should not cry out but that when we do, it is to a God who fully and completely understands what it is to suffer and to lament. The writer of Hebrews puts it, ‘During the last days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his revert submission’ (Hebrews 5:7 cf. Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9).

So whatever you are finding missing or difficult this Easter; maybe not attending church services, not visiting relatives and friends or just missing those who we see no more, may you be able to call out to God. May you know the presence of Christ, the one who knows both suffering and resurrection, who went to the cross trusting his Father’s will, but still being able to honestly express his pain.

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