The liturgy for Palm Sunday invites us to follow our Lord this week “from the glory of the palms to the glory of the resurrections by way of the dark road of suffering and death”. In making that journey, we pray “united with Him in his suffering on the cross, may we share his resurrection and new life” (p 297, BAS)
One way of drawing near to Christ this week is through participating in an ancient form of devotion known as the Stations of the Cross. This holy practice dates as far back as 381 AD when a Spanish pilgrim, Egeria, made a pilgrimage from the Mount of Olives to the Church of The Holy Sepulchre, built over the place of Jesus crucifixion and burial. To the original six stations several more have been added through time. Since the 1700’s there have been typically fourteen. Nine come from the Gospels; five others from medieval European piety—Jesus falling three times along the way, Jesus meeting his mother, and Veronica wiping his face.
At each of these stations we pause to recall a particular moment in our Lord’s Passion and we keep silence so as to be drawn close to Him. Then we pray saying:
“We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you
because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”
We remember those whose lives are particularly touched by this moment in our Lord’s suffering and we ask his mercy upon them. We pray for ourselves that we may so know his patience and perseverance that it be reflected in our own lives.
Inevitably as we make our way from one station to another there will be images and words that trigger our emotions. Hearts are moved and eyes well up with tears. Indeed through a veil of tears we can sometimes barely see the words of our prayers, let alone give them voice.
I often find myself undone at the tenth and eleventh stations. Jesus is stripped of his clothing and then brutally crucified. We know of course that hanging from his cross; he is a sacrifice for sin, the sins of the whole world. As often as I come to this moment the words of an old evangelical hymn come to mind:
“Upon the cross of Jesus
mine eye at times can see
the very dying form of one
who suffered there for me;
and from my smitten heart, with tears,
two wonders I confess,
the wonder of his glorious love
and my unworthiness.”
As we come to the last two stations we recall Jesus’ body being taken down from the cross and prepared for burial. Then we enter into that Great Silence remembering Jesus dead and buried. In time of course our silence is broken by the message of an angel, “He is not here. He is risen!”
As His suffering gives way to his resurrection the cross, once regarded as an instrument of shameful death, becomes for us the very symbol of our redemption and that of the whole world. It is the very sign we trace upon the forehead of the newly baptized, marking them as His own forever. We do that with the oil of chrism, scented with balsam. It is indeed the sweet fragrance of our new life in Christ—crucified and risen.
With prayers for humility in walking the Way of the Cross this week, and every joy in this coming Eastertide!
Fred Hiltz, Archbishop and Primate of Anglican Church of Canada