Stations of the Cross

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
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Palm hostel

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Friday, March 21, 2008

With Carlos, who was from Boston and also staying at the Palm Hostel, we left for Via Dolorosa to walk the Stations of the Cross for Good Friday.  At 10:30 the large morning procession past all fifteen stations began.  A group carried a large wooden cross down the sorrowful road.  Carried with the crowd and the energy of the scene, Carlos ended up under the cross and carried it all the way to the Holy Sepulchre.

Later, we read through the Bible scenes together and tried to piece together what was written with what would have been here two thousand years ago.  Today, the narrow streets were full of Muslim vendors, Hasidic Jews, and Christian pilgrims.  Two thousand years ago, Christians and Muslims did not exist.

Going back in time, wipe out most of the buildings, add the large Second Temple on the Foundation Rock in place of the Muslim Dome of the Rock, destroy the Ottoman City Walls and build older, smaller city walls, add Romans and Pilate and temple priests, and shepherds and pastures outside the gates.  Most of the Via Dolorosa would have been through pasturelands outside the city walls ascending up to Golgotha, a skull-like rock overlooking the city and surrounding countryside.

Most of the stations of the cross, Carlos and I found, were not part of the Bible and are just further guesses as to what might have happened.  How far, if at all, did Simon carry the cross?  Who is Veronica, who wiped the face of Jesus?  Did Jesus fall three times?

But like Tibetan pilgrimages, these details are important to think about, but their exactness isn't what is important.  What is important is that these events help us to picture how difficult this day would have been for Jesus and helps us to understand the nature of suffering within ourselves, others, and Jesus.  The feelings were personal, made all the more powerful as crowds were all experiencing the Via Dolorosa and Holy Sepulchre together, with people singing and praying on the way.

What I believe doesn't matter here: it's what you believe.  And if you look at people's beliefs associated with Jesus, they span the entire spectrum, all of them boiling down to Good Friday and Easter.  What is the nature of Jesus' divinity, if any?  Did Jesus die on the cross?  Was he raised from the dead?  What was the human part of Jesus?  Are the divine and human natures of Jesus separate or inseparable?  Where is God?  Is God a Trinity or a Unity?

But even if you believe that Jesus is mythology, his story is one of the most amazing and mysterious ever.

Below is a quick synopsis of what thousands of people were following as they walked.  The Pope and others acknowledge that several of the stations are not written in the Bible, but are merely symbolic.

Station One: Jesus is Condemned to Death
"Crucify him!" yelled the crowd of Jews to Pilate, egged on by the temple priests.

Station Two: Jesus is Given His Cross
This part is not clear and depends on which Gospel you read.  Did he carry the burden or was another man there to help, as if saying that we all must carry the burden and help others with their burdens, especially since we aren't divine.  At this point, crowds began to move down the Via Dolorosa with the cross, singing and praying.

Station Three: Jesus Falls for the First Time Under His Cross
Assuming he's carrying the cross here, it's heavy, he's been beaten and whipped, and wears a crown of desert thorns.  This is his human aspect suffering.  As Carlos can tell you, the cross was heavy.

Station Four: Jesus Meets Mary, His Mother 
This isn't in the Bible, but it's likely she was there.  Was she happy to see her son dying for the salvation of mankind?  Or was she saddened to lose her son (not her only son; Jesus had brothers!). Or both?

Station Five: Simon Helps Jesus with the Cross
We weren't sure how far he carried the cross, of course, as it's not even mentioned in all the Gospels.

Station Six: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
At this point, the Jesus would have been bleeding from the thorns and sweating under the weight of the cross.  Veronica shows her compassion and caring for Jesus.

Station Seven: Jesus Falls a Second Time
More suffering.

Station Eight: Jesus Speaks to the Women of Jerusalem
"Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children...  For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' They will say to the mountains, 'Fall on us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!' For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?" (Luke 23:29-31).

Station Nine: Jesus Falls a Third Time
Here, the way is progressively more steep and difficult.

Station Ten: Jesus is Stripped of His Clothes
At this point, the crowd has reached the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where all the Catholic and Orthodox churches share space.  This isn't always peaceful: while we were in Jerusalem, the Armenians stormed Jesus' tomb and locked themselves inside, apparently wanting more rights to use the tomb.

Station Eleven: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
Stairs ascend to the right inside the church, climbing Golgotha to this station.  The church naturally follows the contours of the land from room to room.  Feel the nine inch nails pound through the hands and feet of Jesus.

Station Twelve: Jesus Dies on the Cross
A hole marks this spot, which is extremely exact.  The man Jesus no longer exists at this station, if you are Christian.  If you are Muslim, this part did not happen, beginning the separation of ideas.  If you are Jewish, Jesus is a false prophet.

Station Thirteen: Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross

Station Fourteen: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
Carlos and I waited in a long line to enter the tomb.  It was well worth the experience.

The full moon rose over Jerusalem.  A group of us from the Palm Hostel climbed on the roof of the covered markets and played guitar and sang and watched the moon and talked, as Jewish children walked by dressed in Purim costumes (including one dressed as an Arab with a machine gun!).  One little girl watched us for a while, wanting to join us as her mother waited patiently.  Boys set off firecrackers.  We contempleted what just happened today on the Via Dolorosa.
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