Jesus said, "If you want to follow me, deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me." Many believers follow the way of Jesus this time of year by participating in the Stations of the Cross. Fourteen stations depict the journey Jesus took to his death. Station one is his trial, the next is carrying the cross, and then falling the first time. The stations go on from there - he sees his mother, he falls again, Simon helps him carry the cross. And he falls a third time. Jesus talks to people along the way; a woman named Veronica wipes his face and he speaks with other women who gather to mourn.
It is an emotional and moving experience for anyone who participates. During Wednesdays in Lent, some followers of Jesus choose to gather at Saint John's as the sun sets to walk the Stations inside the church. The practice they follow is repeated across the world during this season of penitence and remembrance. Followers of Jesus from Hamburg to Johannesburg, Hong Kong to Sydney, gather to walk the way of the cross and remember Jesus' journey.
Recently, our Middle School students participated in the Stations. I assembled a slide presentation with images from stations of the cross from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Norwalk, Connecticut. They are depictions of Jesus with modern backgrounds. The first one is clearly Nazi Germany. The one pictured here is from the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, where women were left widowed and children, fatherless. Another background is from the Civil War in Tunisia. As Jesus is carrying his cross, you can see the Tunisian people picking through the ruins of their homes searching for anything of value and meaning. The images show me that Jesus is present in times of suffering - any time, any location.
A news story recently declared Syria the most dangerous place in the world for children. As I look at faces of Syrian children, and see their dwellings made of scrap plastic pieces and sackcloth, I see Jesus carrying his cross through their neighborhood. Our Postulant, Phil, visits a local ravine where homeless men and women have made temporary shelters. He sits with them and prays. I see Jesus winding his way through the scrub brush, around their cardboard shelters, talking with the homeless people and carrying his cross. On the muddy and ruddy street that led us to the Russian orphanage where our daughters lived for too many years of their lives, along that unnamed road, I see Jesus, carrying his cross. And, as family members wait in Malaysian and Chinese airports for any news of their loved ones, there is Jesus, walking amongst them, carrying his cross.
The cross tells me that Jesus knows what true suffering is. And, where there is suffering, his presence and grace is there too, reminding us: "I am with you always."