He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (NRSV)
In Mark 8, Jesus uses the imagery of crucifixion to call people to follow him sacrificially. If they want to experience the life of the kingdom of God, they must die to themselves as sovereign over their own lives and live each day under the authority of God.
Many Christians throughout the ages have used the Stations of the Cross to deepen their gratitude for Christ‘s sacrifice and to augment their commitment to following him sacrificially. Traditionally, the Stations of the Cross included fourteen representations of the passion of Christ, beginning with this condemnation and ending with his being laid in the tomb. The original Stations of the Cross, also known as the Via Dolorosa (way of grief), are in Jerusalem on the path Jesus walked to his death. But many churches throughout the world include artistic stations that help people reflect on the meaning of Christ’s death.
Half of the traditional Stations are found in Scripture, while the other half come from ancient Christian tradition. In 1991, Pope John Paul II created a new series of fourteen stations, each one based on Scripture alone. These biblical stations have been attractive to those of us who base our piety more on Scripture than on church tradition.
I have found that reflection on the biblical Stations of the Cross has helped me to experience more deeply the love of God in Christ. Moreover, I have been encouraged to take up my cross and follow Christ more faithfully.
Beginning tomorrow and continuing for fourteen days until Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, the Daily Reflections will follow the new Stations of the Cross. My prayer is that, by “walking” the Stations with me, you will come to a deeper understanding of God’s love and grace, as well as a greater desire to serve him with your whole life.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What has helped you in the past to take up your cross and follow Jesus? Have you ever experienced the Stations of the Cross? How did this affect your relationship with the Lord?
PRAYER: Gracious God, as we come closer to Holy Week, we yearn for a deeper experience of the cross. We seek to know your love and grace in a fresh way. We want to hear again the call of Jesus to take up our cross and follow him.
As we focus on fourteen passages from the Gospels that highlight aspects of Jesus’ passion, may we be drawn into the scene. May our hearts be captured by the horror and the wonder of his sacrifice. May we be encouraged to take up our cross and give our lives in sacrificial service to you. Amen.
P.S. from Mark: Several years ago, some folks at Irvine Presbyterian Church, where I served as pastor, decided to offer the Stations of the Cross as a devotional experience for Holy Week. For obviously Protestant reasons, we opted for the Pope’s biblically-based version. My wife, Linda, offered to paint fourteen watercolor pictures that illustrated the passages upon which the revised stations are based. These were displayed in our church sanctuary during Holy Week, and people were invited to come, to read Scripture, to reflect, and to pray. For many members of my church and community, this was a precious time of drawing near to the Lord in anticipation of Good Friday and Easter. (For the past several years, I have offered the use of Linda’s paintings for churches and Christian ministries without charge. Her paintings have appeared in literally thousands of places of worship on six continents. They are permanently installed in a number of churches. If you would like to use her paintings, all I ask is that you contact me and ask permission. You can view Linda’s paintings here.)