I walked the Via Dolorosa – the traditional walk of the faithful recalling the steps Jesus took from his condemnation by Pilate to his crucifixion and placement in the tomb and thus the site of his resurrection – when I was in Jerusalem. It is a moving (literally!) devotional marked by pausing at 14 points – the stations of the cross. We were a small group of about 12 and getting some tourist pamphlets complete with pictures, readings, and a sug-gested prayer we walked in Jesus’ footsteps and each of us was asked to make a comment or reflection at each station.
Accepting that the historical evidence isn’t definitive about the route and noting that the last four stations are within the Church of the Holy Sepulchure and that the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem continued as we walked and paused and reflected and prayed, I found the time interesting. One quickly becomes absorbed in the story – the details, one’s imagination of feelings and experiences (until you stop and remember that Jesus is – and isn’t (he who was in the likeness of sinful flesh) – like us). What comes to the fore is the physicality of this sort of death – the pain and the suffering – what one’s body might be going through. All death, of course, is physical – the body stopping, ceasing to function, becoming cold.
And that’s the mystery of the Christian faith – that in Jesus, God died for us – so that we might live even when death comes to us. That is why the cross is central to everything – no cross, no salvation; no death on the cross by this Jesus (sadly in the history of the planet there will have been untold numbers of crucifixions), no life for us. But if all we concentrate on is what we see – pain and suffering – then we might certainly appreciate the sacrifice made but underestimate the depth of the reason for it.
It struck me as I tried to imagine what Jesus went through that this could be a rather self serving exercise – to arouse my emotions, my pity, my empathy, my solidarity (one human to another) with the sufferer – whereas what I see or imagine with Jesus’ crucifixion is only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, for I have no idea how Jesus didn’t call on the angels for help, why he did-n’t secretly give himself an analgesic, what it was like to be cut off from his Father (to be sin for us), what was happening in the demonic world (they didn’t see their defeat coming!). People are perplexed by all the violence in the Bible – horrified all the blood in the Old Testament or at a so-called ‘heavenly child abuse’ of Father sending Son to die – all the physicality but what the cross tells me is that my sin is something that is so caustic, deceptive and deadly that I’m the last one to understand it and I’ll always want to minimise it, excuse it, quantify it, blame it on someone else.
Jesus on the cross tells me otherwise. My sin is serious. It also tells me so is God’s grace.
No wonder Jesus’ resurrection greeting was and still is: Peace be with you. Hidden behind his death is the depth of our sin and the height of God’s love. Hidden behind words, water, bread and wine Jesus still comes to people doing the same thing – dealing with our sin and giving us his life. What we do with such a gracious gift is certainly the question we can ask ourselves each day. — GS