Palm Sunday: "The Way of the Cross"

The Revd Robin Sims-Williams

Stations 1 & 2

Condemned to be Crucified
Jesus Accepts the Cross

Mark 14:20

The mother stood sorrowing
by the cross, weeping
while her Son hung there;

Perspectives - the Gospel is full of perspectives. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each give us their account and Paul does too. Each of them retell other peoples version of events. Those belonging to disciples and friends, to John the Baptist
and teased out this evening in the Stabat Mater, the perspective of Jesus’ mother, Mary.

But this isn’t just some historical event from long ago. The passion is a narrative which belongs to each of us. This Lent we have been remembering the First World War. A war to end all wars which led to an unstable Europe and more war, there are a set of sculptures commissioned for St Paul’s Cathedral which the creator says draw out the link between the dividing up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the last century of war. In recent weeks we’ve seen embers of democracy in Afganisthan and the beginning of the election in India. Yet even democracy struggles to bring justice and peace, with Afghan voters asking not to be marked in fear for their lives, and with the incredible events in Ukraine, the overthrow of an elected president, the questionable referendum in Crimea. Indians, in the largest democratic movement in history, look set to elect a man responsible for a massacre. Let me be clear, I’m not saying we should give up on democracy and return to a pure monarchy, but democracy, like any human governance is limited by the fallen nature of the world, the most honourable of endeavours can at best point towards the perfection of God’s Kingdom.

Pilate, with all the authority of the Roman Empire, appears helpless when he wants to set Jesus free. In John’s gospel, the evangelist plays with the reader, having Jesus sit in the seat of justice to be condemned. Who is judging and who is being judged in this station? But Jesus tells us he came to save the world, not condemn it. We are all on trial with Pilate,
but by Christ’s willingness to take up the cross, we are assured of a type of judgement which will restore us, not condemn us.

Stations 3, 4 & 5

Falls under the Heavy Cross
Helped by Simon of Cyrene
Speaks to the Weeping Women

Mark 15:21; Luke 23:27-31

Let me carry Christ’s death,
the destiny of his passion,
and meditate upon his wounds.
Let me suffer the wounds
of that cross, steeped
in love of your Son.

Originally it is thought the stations of the cross was a pilgrimage in Jerusalem, walked by Jesus’ followers after his death and resurrection, to remember and to share the story. In the middle ages the practice of erecting stations in local churches developed across Christendom. Images were used to show the reality of our presence at the passion, monasteries like San Marco in Florence show medieval monks at the foot of the cross. The message being that the crucifixion was a singularity that crosses between the eternal and the temporal. In this image, Christ is present here with us, suffering and in need of help. We are invited to imagine ourselves in the shoes of the weeping women or of Simon of Cyrene. Perhaps you can picture your own moments of bearing the burden of the world’s failings. The moments when whatever we do, however we respond to the homeless man in the street, or the ongoing massacre of Syrians, there is no good which seems to come from any effort we make.

I’m reminded of reading Into Thin Air, a book about the various people who attempt to climb Everest, particularly in one fateful season. The author expressed his shame that while a man sat out in the snow with fatal injuries and hypothermia that nobody even went and held his hand. There was nothing could be done to save his life but by simply holding the hand of a dying man it would have acknowledged his humanity and our need for company at those most desperate moments. When it is that we are asked to bear these burdens is often unknown and even badly timed, they are the times when it feels like whatever we do we cannot make the situation better, but by doing something we are making it more bearable.

Stations 6 & 7

Mark 15:25

Luke 23:39-43

Stripped of his Garments
Nailed to the Cross for Us

Mark 15:25

Luke 23:39-43

Ah Mother, fount of love,
let me feel the force of grief,
that I may grieve with you.

The cross has lost its impact over the years. The Cross has become a sign of aid, humanitarian and medical, but then we know what’s coming… Perhaps a set of gallows or an electric chair would be more moving perhaps one day the concept of execution will be so foreign to us we won’t be able to imagine what this experience was like for Christ. The cross is a sign of the humiliation being born by Christ. His acceptance of this humiliation comes to the fore as we see his clothes being stripped from him and split up between his executioners and as everyday criminals jeer at him. How forsaken, how lost his disciples and his mother must have felt to see him treated like this. What of the redemption of the world? But Christ accepts his lot. and so must they, and so must we. The reality of their situation, their being lost without God must have been pretty present to them in that moment. Jesus is being treated like an animal, but stripped bare he is ready for that redemptive act.

As we come together in this place and prepare for worship each week, there is an opportunity to strip ourselves bare, to confess our faults and our hopes, to come before God as we really are, not just the way we want other people to see us. It’s painful, even humiliating but it is part of our preparation to be transformed, to be brought into a closer and more life giving relationship with God.

Station 8, 9 and 10

By Death Redeems the World

Mark 15:34-37

Lest I burn, set afire by flames,
Virgin, may I be defended by you,
on the day of judgement.
Taken down from the cross
Laid within the sepulchre

Mark 15:46

When my body dies,
let my soul be given
the glory of paradise.

It is finished. The body is buried. We have stood at the cross with Mary and John. The messiah, forsaken by God, is no more. In his last words in Mark’s gospel we have heard him call out in anger.Anger which leads to depression and despair and death. For the disciples, Jesus’ attempts to prepare them have failed. The anger of Jesus on the cross is now the sentiment of his followers as they hide together waiting for the end of the sabbath.

Jesus had tried to tell them about the resurrection. The reality of their redemption would be made visible in the resurrection of Christ, but that was two days away. We know that part of the story and it still seems impossible to live with the confidence and hope of eternal life. Even knowing the whole story, so much of our lives feel like they are lived on Holy Saturday. The day between Christ’s burial on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. We know Christ came to save us, that he died for us, that he sought to heal the world, and bring compassion to those in need.

But the saving act of God is still not realised, the redemption of the world may have started, but it is not complete, and we live with the reality of that each day. The body of Christ has been buried, it is as if it is un-human and inanimate as an empty jar. But we stand here in hope, a hope we know we can take to the darkest places in our lives, that this inanimate and empty jar will be the source of all life.