Stations of the Cross Twelve – Jesus Dies on the Cross

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Image source: photographed at the San Gabriel Mission Museum.

John 21:31-34
Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.

In the painting, there are the three women, the three Mary’s (mother of Jesus, wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene) who grieve the death of Jesus. The spear is driven into the side of Jesus that confirms his death. The “INRI” is above the cross refers to the Latin phrase, “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum” that means Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. Interestingly, on the upper left appears to be the sun and on upper right what looks like the moon. The light that dominates the day and the lesser light that rules the night are personified and they appear sad – Jesus, the light of the world, has died.

Most of us have all seen death at some point in our lives. In some cases, our loved one is taken suddenly. In some cases, death is anticipated and we can gather for those final moments. But even anticipated, the moment and the moments afterward takes our breath away and there is sorrow.

For those who are followers of Jesus, we know that there is the victory of Easter Sunday and the glory of Resurrection that is the guarantee that those who trust in him though they inevitably die, will live again!

Nonetheless, we sit with the feelings of the death of Jesus at the Cross. Jesus entered this world to dwell among us. He lived, laughed, cried, did good works, and taught truth and embodied grace. He lived a fully human life and he died. When we arrive at that moment in our lives, we will know that Jesus has walked through it and will walk with us.

Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 Symphony of Sorrowful Songs

Words to the first movement translated from Polish
My son, my chosen and beloved
Share your wounds with your mother
And because, dear son, I have always carried you in my heart,
And always served you faithfully
Speak to your mother, to make her happy,
Although you are already leaving me, my cherished hope.

Stations of the Cross Eleven – Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross

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Image source: photographed at the San Gabriel Mission Museum.

Mark 15:25-32
It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him. (NRSV)

Derided him … mocking him … taunted him …

Some claimed they would “see and believe” if he would come down from the cross. That was not the plan. Instead, Jesus would die on the cross and be buried and a bigger miracle would take place: resurrection! He would not come down from the cross he would come out of the grave and up to the right hand of God in victory!

But before all that, he would be derided … mocked … taunted him … and suffer physically from crucifixion. We get our English word excruciate from crucifixion.

excruciate

The artist’s depiction of the scene is sparse. Six people conducting the crucifixion. Three witnesses to the scene.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Ohh, sometimes it causes me to tremble tremble tremble
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Ohh, sometimes it causes me to tremble tremble tremble
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?

Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Ohh, sometimes it causes me to tremble tremble tremble
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
likely composed by African-American slaves in the 19th century

Stations of the Cross 10 – Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments

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Image source: photographed at the San Gabriel Mission Museum.

John 19:23-24 (NKJV)
Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His garments and made four parts, to each soldier a part, and also the tunic. Now the tunic was without seam, woven from the top in one piece. They said therefore among themselves, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be,” that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says:
“They divided My garments among them,
And for My clothing they cast lots.”
Therefore the soldiers did these things.

In the previous paintings, the artist gave the sense of motion toward the left as Jesus carries the Cross to Golgotha. In this painting, the visual cues of movement are gone. Jesus has arrived at the place where he will be nailed to the Cross.

Golgotha also known as “the place of a skull” as it was a small hill reminiscent of a skull is thought to be just outside of Jerusalem’s city walls, hence the artist has provided a simple shape on the left to let us know the destination has been reached. We aren’t sure of the exact location in the modern environs of Jerusalem.

In case you are curious where some of these locations are and what they look like today, check out this blog post by Mark D. Roberts where he organized various photos of his own and of others in and around Jerusalem and along the route of the Via Dolorosa – the sorrowful way.

However, back to the painting and the moment it is urging us to reflect upon. What we see is yet another indignity suffered by Jesus as they take his clothes and divide them up. Crucifixion was not just a way the Romans could kill people. The method is meant to be a public spectacle where the victim is can be mistreated and humiliated.

When we reflect on Jesus’ teaching that we are to take up the cross, this call is for us to surrender our agenda and take up Christ’s agenda. It also means the willingness to bear the shame and indignities that will go along with that choice. Jesus does not ask of us anything he hasn’t endured.

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suff’ring and shame,
And I love that old cross where the Dearest and Best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
— Isaac Watts

Stations of the Cross Nine – Jesus Falls the Third Time

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Image source: photographed at the San Gabriel Mission Museum.

Isaiah 53:1-6 (NASB)
Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

Jesus, the son of a carpenter, lived much of his life in a remote part of northern Israel. So obscure, one of his eventual followers would wonder, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”

He has no stately form or majesty …..

In the painting, the artist has all of the soldiers looking down at Jesus …..

He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Jesus falls down. The physical toll is enormous and the spiritual burden incomprehensible.

He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.

Man of sorrows what a name
for the Son of God, who came
ruined sinners to reclaim:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place condemned he stood,
sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
— Philip Bliss

Stations of the Cross Eight – Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

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Image source: photographed at the San Gabriel Mission Museum.

Luke 23:27-31
And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

In the painting, the grim looking soldiers continue to lead Jesus step by agonizing step. One of the soldiers is painted behind the Cross and his legs show up underneath the Cross. Perhaps, it is incidental but it hints at twin realities: (1) it is us who should be suffering the penalty of the cross for our sins instead of the innocent Jesus and (2) those who follow Jesus are told to take up the Cross meaning we need to surrender our wills and our agendas to following in the footsteps of Jesus whose life’s goal was to fulfill the will of the Father – Our Father who is in heaven, hollowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done ……

On the left are the “Women of Jerusalem,” four figures of which two are just barely in frame. Two appear to have cloths to dry their weeping eyes. Jesus tells them, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.

Here is a case where knowing the subsequent history of the Ancient Near East and a bit of Christian theology helps us come to understand what is a rather cryptic saying of Jesus – ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Interpreters suggest that this is a prophecy of what would befall Jerusalem about ~ 40 years later in AD 70 with the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.

When we think of Jesus and the Cross and his mission of restoration, we often think of the individual dimensions of whether I (or so and so) will trust Jesus’ work of incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. However, there is also a dimension of human history: the events of AD 70 along with turmoil in the Roman Empire occurred concurrently with the rise of faith in Jesus as the Christ.

As the women weeped, they only saw the sad death of one person. But a larger story was being initiated that would turn the world upside down when that crucified Jesus would resurrect on Easter Sunday!

Who breaks the power of sin and darkness
who’s love is mighty and so much stronger
The King of Glory, the King above all Kings
— Jeremy Riddle, Josh Farro, Phil Wickham

Stations of the Cross 7 – Jesus Falls a Second Time

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Image source: photographed at the San Gabriel Mission Museum.

As you can see in the artwork, the march toward the Cross proceeds as the soldiers continue to lead Jesus to Golgotha. Jesus under the weight of the Cross falls to the ground ……..

Flashback a few years earlier when Jesus went on the silent solitary path to the Wilderness for a fast after his baptism …..

Matthew 4:5-7
Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (NASB)

When the devil tempted him, Jesus could easily have leaped from the pinnacle of the temple and with a mere though brought angels who would have helped him stick a perfect “10” landing on the ground to the astonishment of the crowds. Jesus was never interested in the adulation of the crowd. And so he refused the temptation of the devil. He would choose a path that would take him to a different road.

A few years later, on the way of the Cross, on a crowded and noisy route, he falls down – no angels are called to bear him up. Jesus chooses the path of suffering. He chooses the path of death. However, in going through the way of the Cross, he is vindicated by resurrection. And in so doing this, he opens the door for us to regain life!

Crown Him with many crowns
The lamb upon the throne
Hark! How the heav’nly anthem drowns
All music but it’s own!
Awake, my soul, and sing
Of Him who died for thee.
And hail Him as thy matchless king
Thru all eternity
— Matthew Bridges

Stations of the Cross Six – Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

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Image source: photographed at the San Gabriel Mission Museum.

This station is drawn from church tradition and isn’t found in the Gospel accounts of Jesus. In brief, the story is that Veronica, moved by the sight of Jesus suffering, used her veil to wipe the face of Jesus. We shall set aside the question of whether the event actually happened or not.

In the art pieces, the central figures are of course Veronica and Jesus. Also, take a look around and see the other faces and figures observing the scene. Who is sympathetic? Who seem angry? Who seems indifferent?

Let’s put ourselves into the place of Veronica. On one hand, what she did was a small thing. But in context, it was a big thing. If her action was taken with no one seeing it, Jesus would know the compassion in her heart. But her small deed of compassion was done in full view of people among which were people NOT sympathetic and even outright OPPOSED to Jesus.

Does this remind you of one of the teachings of Jesus?

Matthew 25:34-40
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (NRSV)

We are to extend kindness and compassion to those in need regardless of whether they could pay it back or even pay it forward. In the Matthew 25 teaching, in the second half of it, there is a group of people who say, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ (v. 44). The subtext of their statement is, we would have done those things if we knew it was you O king! To which the king replied, Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me (v. 45).

And what of Jesus? What did he do for the least of these … for us … for me. Jesus died for us … for me while we were … I was yet a sinner.

I stand amazed in the presence
of Jesus the Nazarene,
and wonder how he could love me,
a sinner, condemned, unclean.

How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous! How wonderful
is my Savior’s love for me!
— Charles H. Gabriel