During these seven weeks of Lent we have invited you to stand with us at the foot of the Cross as we have listened to the 'Seven Last Words' spoken by Jesus. Now, during this Holy Week we shall listen to his final words in the context of the Scriptural Way of the Cross as we walk with Jesus during his final hours from the Garden of Gethsemane, through his last words, “It is finished”, to the laying of his body in the tomb. The Scriptural Way of the Cross, formulated by Blessed John Paul II, provides a version more closely aligned with the biblical accounts than the traditional Stations of the Cross.
First Station: Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, "My soul is sorrowful even to death. Stay with me and keep watch." And going a little further he fell on his face and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine." (Matthew 26:36-41)
Reflection: Each of us here today has been offered a cup by God. Like Jesus, our cup can make us feel sorrowful to the point of death; we too can look around at our lives and be filled with intense terror and anguish. And we, like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane can be overwhelmed by our human emotions and can ask for our cup to be taken away. When life seems unbearable for you, when you fear for the future and you struggle to make sense of God’s will, do you ask for your cup to be taken from you? Or do you trust in God and say, “Let Your will be done, not mine”?
Second Station: Jesus is Betrayed by Judas and is Arrested.
Judas drew near to Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?” And when those who were about him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Then all the disciples forsook him and fled. (Saint Luke 22:47-50 and Saint Matthew 26:52.56)
Reflection: We may sit here and say, “I would never betray or forsake and flee from Jesus” and yet his disciples did. Many of us here today have betrayed or abandoned husband, wife, family member, friend. Jesus knows the frailty of the human form; and with this knowledge he chose and entrusted his first disciples to found his Church and to carry his message. So it is, that notwithstanding all our shortcomings Jesus chooses and entrusts you and I, here today, to be his Church and to carry forward his message.
Third Station: Jesus is Condemned by the Sanhedrin.
When day came the council of elders of the people met, both chief priests and scribes, and they brought him before their Sanhedrin. They said, "If you are the Messiah, tell us," but he replied to them, "If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I question, you will not respond. But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God." They all asked, "Are you then the Son of God?" He replied to them, "You say that I am." Then they said, "What further need have we for testimony? We have heard it from his own mouth." (Luke 22: 66-71)
Reflection: The elders, chief priests and scribes wanted rid of Jesus who questioned the established social and political order through his belief in a non-hierarchical, non-political, non-power based Church community, and challenged the comfortable status-quo that they were accustomed to. Today, many who wish to maintain the present status-quo unjustly try and convict those prophets who send out a message which questions the established structures. In today’s trials do you listen to what you want to believe is Jesus’ message. . . . .or do you have ears to hear the real message of Christ?
Fourth Station: Jesus is Denied by Peter.
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. One of the maids came over to him and said, "You too were with Jesus the Galilean." But he denied it in front of everyone, saying, "I do not know what you are talking about!" As he went out to the gate, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This man was with Jesus the Nazarene." Again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man!" A little later the bystanders came over and said to Peter, "Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away." At that he began to curse and to swear, "I do not know the man." And immediately a cock crowed. Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: "Before the cock crows you will deny me three times." [And] he went out and began to weep bitterly. (Matthew 26: 69-75)
Reflection: Peter, the rock on whom our Church is built, denies Jesus. This same man, on being invited to follow Jesus at the shores of Galilee, fell on his knees, saying, “Leave me Lord for I am a sinful man”. Jesus knew that Peter had all the weaknesses that we all experience as humans; He knows these and sees past these; He sees into the inner capacity of our hearts and our souls. Jesus’ message is that he does not expect us to be perfect; he calls us each individually not in spite of our imperfections, but because of our imperfections, because we are human and loved.
Fifth Station: Jesus is condemned by Pilate.
Jesus was handed over to Pilate who questioned him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus said to him in reply, "It is you who say it." The chief priests accused him of many things. Again Pilate questioned him, "Have you no answer? See how many things they accuse you of." Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.... Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas... [and] handed [Jesus] over to be crucified. (Mark 15: 1-5, 15)
Reflection: Jesus was a man unjustly condemned but who did not defend himself with words. He gave to Caesar what was Caesar’s and to God what was God’s. Today, when our Church stands, often rightly, accused and ridiculed by the state and the crowds, how much more our response must come from the example of Jesus. It is by our actions that we will be redeemed, not by our words.
Sixth Station: Jesus is Scourged and Crowned with Thorns.
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged. And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, and they came to him and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!" And they beat him repeatedly. (John 19: 1-3)
Reflection: The scourging, mocking and beating of Jesus was merely a passing moment – his message eternal. Today, as our Church is scourged, mocked and beaten our confidence and trust in its eternity must be abundant. Like Jesus, we must trust that this is merely a passing, albeit brutal, moment in the life of our Church. Our message must be stronger than the torment and brutality we experience.
Seventh Station: Jesus Bears the Cross.
[Then] they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. (John 19:17)
Reflection: Jesus carries the cross of the agony that every person at some time has felt. Jesus knows the isolated feelings of men and women who are divorced, of women who have terminated a pregnancy, of people who have deadened themselves with alcohol or drugs, of the most vulnerable who have been abused, live with illness or disability, suffer bouts of depression, or who have lost or been abandoned by loved ones. Few of us here will have ever endured such utter desolation as Jesus, but there may have been moments when carrying our cross we have felt it to be too undeserved, too cruel, too torturous, too humiliating. When our cross is heavy we must gather ourselves spiritually and make an 'act of trust' in God. We must not give in to anxiety. Like Jesus, we must acknowledge the mysterious link connecting the brokenness of our surroundings and the presence of God.
Eighth Station: Jesus is Helped by Simon of Cyrene to Carry His Cross.
They enlisted a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross. (Mark 15: 21)
Reflection: Simon was a foreigner who probably knew very about Jesus. And yet, standing as a spectator he was forced by the soldiers to share in Jesus’ cross. Today in Ireland, we host many foreigners who probably know very little about Jesus. Like Simon, they are spectators to the trials of the present Church. What can you do to introduce non-nationals in this country to the real Jesus and not the Jesus and the Church as portrayed by the onlookers, by the media, by those outside the Church? Simon played his part in fulfilling the Word; what is your role?
Ninth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem.
A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, 'Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.' At that time, people will say to the mountains, 'Fall upon us!' and to the hills, 'Cover us!' for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?" (Luke 23: 27-31)
Reflection: As was Jewish custom at the time, these women wept for the crucified without even knowing them. But Jesus asks us to truly know him if we are to mourn over him. He does not ask for sentimental piety but for a living faith supported by a conversion of heart. Our living faith in the living Jesus is the green wood He speaks about. Like this green wood our faith must be kept alive and nourished so that, as Jesus warns, it does not become dry.
Tenth Station: Jesus is Crucified.
When they reached the place called the skull, there they crucified him and the two criminals; one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”. Then they cast lots to share out his clothing. The people stayed there watching. As for the leaders, they jeered at him...There was also an inscription over Him, “This is the King of the Jews”. (Luke 23:33-35)
Reflection: Just as God forgave those who crucified His Son so too in present times does God forgive those who, like Judas, have betrayed His Church; who, like some of his followers, have abandoned His Church; who, like Peter, have denied belonging to His Church; who, like the Romans, would like to see the Church’s influence and works die;who, like Pontius Pilate, listen to the crowds without following their own hearts;who, like Thomas, question their faith in the Church. God forgives pride, anger, judgements, jealousies, resentments. His forgiveness is immediate, without reservation, bountiful and endless.
Eleventh Station: Jesus Promises Paradise to the Repentant Thief.
One of the criminals hanging there rebuked him saying: ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us as well’. But the other spoke up and said, ‘Have you no fear of God at all? You got the same sentence as He did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong’. Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’. Jesus replied, “In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23: 39-43)
Reflection: We have no reason to believe this man had been a follower of Jesus. He hadn't left everything behind to be Christ’s disciple. He wasn't suffering because he spoke the truth to those who refused to hear it, but rather because of his crimes. He even admitted that he had been justly condemned! The repentant thief’s faith was the size of a mustard seed, if that. And even though he came for forgiveness in the very last hours of his life it seems that his confession of guilt opened the way for forgiveness and salvation. Today, Jesus speaks these words to us. Like the repentant thief, we can be in God’s presence with all our sins, weaknesses and failures, and God still takes pleasure in our very existence, offers us mercy and promises us Paradise.
Twelfth Station: Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other.
Meanwhile standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Women, behold your son!’ Then he said to the beloved disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ and from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:25-27)
Reflection: The family, the living-church that Jesus commissioned from the cross, does not just exist in Rome, or Drumcondra, or Armagh, or among the Bishops, or the priests, or the brothers, or the sisters. Yes there, but not just there; Church belongs to every one of us and every one of us is Church – we, as disciples, sisters, brothers, and mothers of Christ gathered here today make up this Church; we are Church and are responsible for our Church as much as any other group of men or women. To be a Christian is to recognize that at the foot of the cross is born our family, from which no one can be excluded.
Thirteenth Station: Jesus Dies on the Cross
Jesus said, “It is finished”, and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)
Reflection: Jesus knew that the Words and Works of His life would continue through His disciples. We are these disciples today and we are forgiven and called to be his community of faith, his Church. We, the living hands and feet of Jesus, have each received gifts to use in the work of building up the body of Christ, the Kingdom of God on earth. We too are called to say, “it is finished” in our final breaths; confident that we have done what is ours to do and that the work will continue in our living community of faith.
Fourteenth Station: Jesus is placed in the Tomb
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over. Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it [in] clean linen and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed. (Matthew 27: 57-60)
Reflection: To the outside world Jesus and his message was dead. All his Words and Works had come to mean nothing; tainted by the torture, criticism and humiliation of recent events. Yet, his body was not just discarded. There were those who maintained hope; who believed in his works and in his message. Joseph placed Jesus’ dead body in a new tomb. He asked for the body, carried it, cleaned it, wrapped it, protected it, honoured it and waited with hope, expectantly. We must do the same with our Church today. Many see it and its message as being dead. During these dark times we must begin the process of carrying the Church with our hands, of cleaning the body of our Church, of wrapping it with our deeds, of protecting it with our love. And we must honour it. And we must wait, with hope, expectantly.
The posts for each of the Seven Last Words are as follows;
The posts for each of the Seven Last Words are as follows;