The Way of the Cross
In November I was in Jerusalem. It was the end of two-and-a-half weeks of touring through Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. I was getting tired of traveling on buses, living out of a suitcase in a series of hotels, eating hotel food, and mostly I was missing my wife and kids and home. So the sites and experiences of Jerusalem didn't have the same kind of impact they might have had if it had been the first stop on our tour or if the tour hadn't been quite as long.
One of the things we saw and did in Jerusalem, something that every Christian pilgrim to that holy city probably does, is walk the Via Dolorosa, the ancient "Way of Sorrows" walked by Jesus on his way to his Crucifixion. The streets through which we walked are lined with small shops and stalls like any other market street. The streets through which Jesus walked were likely very similar.
Now the route is marked out by 14 "Stations of the Cross," linked with events that occurred on Christ's last, fateful walk. Some of the Stations are commemorated only by wall plaques which can be difficult to spot among the market and souvenir stalls. Others are located inside buildings or commemorated by small chapels. The last five stations are all within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built around what is believed to be the site of Christ's Crucifixion, burial and Resurrection.
The 14 Stations of the Cross are not all biblical. Some have been added by Christian tradition over the centuries. But one Lutheran resource I have provides a liturgy with prayers and readings and suggested hymns for the 8 stations that are mentioned in the Bible. It's traditional to meditate on these events in the last day of Jesus' life on the Fridays in Lent and especially on Good Friday. I obviously won't put the entire liturgy in this newsletter but I will list the 8 stations and the biblical references to them and perhaps on Good Friday you might read them and ponder just what our Lord went through on that holy day.
First Station: Jesus is Condemned to Death
Mark 15:1, 12-15Second Station: Jesus Takes Up His Cross
John 19:17; Hebrews 5:8; Isaiah 53:7b; Revelation 5:12Third Station: The Cross is Laid on Simon of Cyrene
Luke 23:26; Matthew 16:24; 11:29a, 30Fourth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
Luke 23:27-28Fifth Station: Jesus is Stripped of His Garments
Matthew 27:33-35; John 19:24bSixth Station: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
Luke 23:33; Isaiah 53:12bSeventh Station: Jesus Dies on the Cross
John 19:26-27a, 30Eighth Station: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
As we approach the joy of Easter let us not ignore or skip over the sorrow of Good Friday. Good Friday reminds us that God's love for us came at a great price. But there is Good News on Good Friday. Jesus is our triumphant king who reigns from the cross. It is not a day of mourning but a day to celebrate the sacrifice of Jesus that give us life. His death transformed the cross from an instrument of death and torture into the tree of life.
God bless you this Holy Week and Easter Season.
Easter Dogma (not a scary word)
To begin with, a joke.
A Lutheran gentleman died and approached the pearly gates to heaven. St. Peter met him there and refused him entry to paradise, pointing instead to a long staircase going down. The man descended the stairs and at the bottom of the stairs his worst fears were realized as he arrived in hell.
As he entered hell he saw many other Lutherans, people he knew from his congregation. He asked them "What’s going on? Why are we all here?" All they did was point to another set of stairs.
He climbed down another flight of stairs and found a gathering of Lutheran pastors and bishops, some of which he also knew. He asked them "What’s going on? Why are we all here?" All they did was point to another set of stairs.
He climbed down another flight of stairs and saw another group of men. He recognized one of them as Martin Luther. The others were Luther’s fellow reformers. He asked them "What’s going on? Why are we all here?" All they did was point to another set of stairs.
He climbed down another flight of stairs and met St. Paul. He asked the apostle "What’s going on? Why are we all here?" St. Paul shrugged his shoulders and replied, "Maybe it was works."
Now, most people who aren’t Christians wouldn’t understand this joke. Even many Christians might not get it unless they were Lutheran. But I’m guessing that there might be some Lutherans who don’t even get the punchline. What it comes down to is dogma. Dogma is not a scary word. Dogma is, simply defined, a set of principles that we believe to be true.
For Lutherans the single great proposed dogma is "justification by grace alone through faith alone, without the works of law." The Lutheran reformers proclaimed this as the doctrine by which the church "stands or falls." We are made right with God
- by grace alone, a pure gift that we did nothing to deserve, that we can do nothing to deserve.
- through faith alone, the utter and unmixed dependence on God.
- without the works of the law, not by keeping the commandments, not even by choosing to believe or by accepting God’s gracious gift.
This is the gospel in a nutshell. The gospel, rightly spoken, involves no ifs, ands, buts, or maybes of any sort. It does not say, "If you do your best to live a good life, God will fulfill that life," or, "If you fight on the right side of the great issues of your time...," or, "If you repent...," or, "If you believe...." It does not even say, "If you want to do good/repent/believe...," or, "If you are sorry for not wanting to do good/repent/believe...." The gospel says, "Because the Crucified lives as Lord, your destiny is good."
How is this Easter dogma? Jesus’ life and ministry embodied self-giving love. To those who were seen as nothing, the last, the least, the lost, he demonstrated love and caring even though they did nothing to deserve it. Pure grace. But this association and identification with lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, cripples, and all the other dregs of society incurred the wrath of the religious and political powers. Jesus’ death demonstrated that this kind of life could never be excused or justified.
But then came Easter. By all social and religious standards Jesus got what he deserved. By the rules of society Jesus ought to have been eternally damned, but instead God raised him from the dead. If Jesus had not been raised then the obvious would be proven: Fools who give themselves to the poor get what they deserve. But he didn’t. Because of the resurrection we can no longer see him as just a good person, just a prophet, just a radical advocate of the poor. We can’t even think of him as just a sacrifice for our evil.
Jesus Christ, the crucified one, is alive! He is present today and his presence is for us. Faith is the real presence of Christ. Christ is really present in his body the church, in the feast of Holy Communion, and in his disciples. Christ continues to be crucified whenever opposition to his gospel and his witness tries to snuff out love and liberation. But Christ continues to be resurrected. Crucifixion is the beginning of new growth and new energy in the Spirit. In the end, death will have done its worst and be defeated utterly. The hymn of all creation will ring out: Death is swallowed up! Where, O Death, your victory? Where, O Death, your sting? Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, Lord of all creation!