Baptist Stations of the Cross (G.W. Carlson)

For Holy Week I’d like to share a unique devotional experience from Central Baptist Church in St. Paul, MN: “An Invitation on the Pathway” by Mike Widen and G. W. Carlson is a Baptist version of the Stations of the Cross, blending fourteen original works of art with fourteen original reflections.  You can walk these stations in the sanctuary of Central itself, or click the following link to read the PDF version (An Invitation on the Pathway)The booklet is for personal and educational use only. Should you use any portion of the booklet it is essential that you acknowledge artist/writer Mike Widen and Central Baptist Church of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Below is an explanatory essay by my friend G.W. Carlson, who also contributes the fourteenth and final reflection to the project.

I have celebrated this service many times, but each time it brings me into a fresh encounter with the journey of Jesus into death. In every step of that journey I carry with me my Lenten experience and my commitment to change from a servanthood to the evil one into living in the likeness of Christ. When Jesus is condemned to death, then nailed to the cross, and finally placed in the grave, I experience my sins being placed upon him, nailed to the cross with him, and finally buried with him in the grave. In this way, the Stations of the Cross service readies me more intensely for an internal experience of the resurrection soon to come. (Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time)

Central Baptist Church over the past thirteen years has sponsored an art show in conjunction with the celebration of Easter. Artists from the church and the community have helped Christians prepare themselves for intentionalizing the Easter experience.

Widen, The Station of Jerusalem
Mike Widen’s sculpture accompanying station 9, “The Women of Jerusalem” – All images on this page used by permission of Mike Widen and Central Baptist Church and are meant for personal and educational use only.

Mike Widen has played a significant role in the art exhibits, gracing the church with two recent murals: “My Name is Not Those People” (based on the poetry of Julia Dinsmore) and “Brokenness: Mirrors.” They have been featured in the July 2013 and March 2014 issues of the Baptist Pietist Clarion.

Several months ago Mike suggested that he would like to create a Stations of the Cross for Central Baptist Church. He asked me to assist in the project. The original intent was for Widen to develop all fourteen pieces of art and ask members of the church to reflect on their meaning for the Lenten experience. After some discussion we decided on a different model. Mike would request fourteen different artists and fourteen different writers to create expressions around one of the Stations of the Cross. Although some would be from the church, many would not. The writers and artists are from diverse Christian traditions and differing ethnic heritages.

The result of this is a moving collection of expressions that appear around the outside walls of the sanctuary and a well-designed booklet which allow people to continue to engage the Stations of the Cross away from the church proper. Already there are possibilities of showing the exhibit in other settings. As I have looked at various presentations of the Stations of the Cross on the Internet, I find that this collection of materials will become an excellent addition.

History of the Stations of the Cross

By the fourth century there were efforts in the church to formalize the pilgrimages of early Christians to visit the sites of major events in the life of Jesus. Of particular interest was to reenact the last days of Jesus, emphasizing major events in Jesus’ death and resurrection. By the fifth century there were Christians who wanted to reproduce the holy places in gardens and churches so that people did not have to travel to the Holy Land.

In 1342 the Franciscans were given the responsibility of taking care of the major sites in the Holy Land and to formalize the process. William Wey, an English pilgrim, is often credited with the use of the term “stations” to define the manner in which the pilgrims would follow the footsteps of Christ. The term station means “to wait” and suggests a need to “stop and be still” and to “wait upon the Lord.”

In 1731 Pope Clement XII established a set number of fourteen stations and encouraged churches to create opportunities to walk the Via Dolorosa (“way of sorrow”) in all churches. Later there was an effort to encourage unique art work, reflections, and prayers to accompany the stations.

The original set included six non-scriptural stations, such as station six (“Veronica wiping the face of Jesus”). Sometimes a fifteenth station is used, entitled “Jesus rises from the dead.” Pope John Paul II shifted the stations away from legend to a solely scriptural foundation. It is these stations that are used in Central’s Stations of the Cross.

Traditional Scriptural
1. Jesus on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:36-41; Luke 22:39-46)
2. Jesus, betrayed by Judas, is arrested (Mark 14:43-46;Luke 22: 47-48)
3. Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin (Luke 22: 66-71)
4. Peter denies Jesus (Matthew 26: 69-75; Luke 22:54-62)
1. Jesus is condemned to death 5. Jesus is judged by Pilate (Mark 15:1-15; Luke 23:13-25)
6. Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns (Luke 22:63-65; John 19:1-3)
2. Jesus takes up his cross 7. Jesus takes up the cross (John 19:6,15-18; Mark 15:16-20)
3. Jesus falls for the first time
4. Jesus meets his mother
5. Jesus is helped by Simon the Cyrene to carry his cross 8. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross (Mark 15:21-24; Luke 23:26-31)
6.  Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
7.  Jesus falls for the second time
8.  Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem 9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. (Luke 23:27-31)
9.  Jesus falls for the third time
10. Jesus is stripped of his garments
11. Jesus is nailed to the cross 10. Jesus is crucified (Luke 23:33-47)
11. Jesus promises his Kingdom to the good thief (Luke 23:32-43)
12. Jesus on the cross, his mother and his disciple (John 19:23-27)
12. Jesus dies on the cross 13. Jesus dies on the cross (Luke 23:44-46)
13. Jesus is taken down from the cross and given to his mother
14. Jesus is laid in the tomb 14. Jesus is placed in the tomb (Matthew 27:57-60; Luke 23:50-54)

What essentially began as a tradition celebrated in the Roman Catholic community has now been creatively adapted for other Christian communities around the world. Especially among the urban communities of Latin America it allows the Church to use the death and resurrection of Christ to speak out against economic and social injustice.

The Stations are part of an effort to intentionalize the Easter experience as more than Easter Sunday. As Carmen Butcher wrote: “Physically walking the Stations of the Cross during Lent, we receive the gift of embodied waiting.” This waiting allows us to reflect on our own Christian journey and see how it can reflect better the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

Reflections on the Central Baptist Church Experience

Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to teach a young adults Sunday School class. When Mike Widen first initiated the idea of the Stations of the Cross the class was significantly included in the development and implementation of the project. During the last seven weeks we have looked in depth at one station per week in order to explore how other individuals have reflected on the various Stations and what it might say to each of our own journeys.

Three themes have emerged from this engagement. First, the Stations of the Cross are for all Christians. In his book Brave Fish: Identity, Love and Faith, a doctor named Vincent Chough reflects on his move to Argentina to minister to poor neighborhoods that were often plagued with violence and crime.He coordinates Bible studies and prayer groups. He believes that it is the “fundamental right for all persons to have a space where they can fully express their faith.”

Schmidt, "Denial by Peter"
Jessie Schmidt’s “Denial by Peter” (station 4)

Chough participated in a walking Stations of the Cross where the participants went from door to door. He agreed to carry the cross. When he came to Station Four, which was Peter’s denial of Jesus, the focus was on the idea that “the Father is never ashamed of us.” The reflection stated that “Jesus, it hurts greatly when someone we know treats us as if they don’t know us especially in moments of need. And we know that sometimes we deny You when our neighbor needs us. Father, You never denied your Son and You never deny us either. You are never ashamed of us.”

Maybe Peter was willing to deny Jesus because he was ashamed of failure. Chough commented that his neighbors learned that though they have been treated as an unknown many times, God the Father is not ashamed of them. He is not ashamed of their humble home. Jesus stated “blessed are the poor in spirit, who know their need of God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs” (Chough’s paraphrase of Matt 5:3).

Second, it was clear that Jesus would be unable to carry the cross to the crucifixion site. It was clear that his opponents needed to make sure that he remained alive in order to experience the execution on the cross. Henri Nouwen asks whether we are willing, like Simon of Cyrene, to “take up the cross of Jesus.” He writes that Jesus “needed the help of a stranger to fulfill his mission.”

Simon was an outsider who was drafted by the Roman soldiers to help Jesus. He probably came from northern Africa with his two sons to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. Likely, he had heard about Jesus and his message. When he came across the Jesus procession he wanted to watch and see what was happening. He saw a badly beaten Jesus who was constantly falling under the weight of the cross. He was pressed into action.

Simon must have been afraid, not knowing what the implications were for this forced labor. He watched the horrific execution on the cross that he had helped Jesus carry. He probably heard the soft voice of Jesus cry out to his Father “My God, My God why have you abandoned me” and left in agony after Jesus stated that “It is finished.”

There is reason to believe that Simon became a disciple and that his two sons, Rufus and Alexander, were active in the church.

What is important about this incident in Jesus’ last days is the recognition that he has called us to take up his cross today. Nouwen concludes that Jesus “needs people to carry the cross with him and for him. He came to us to show the way to his Father’s home. He came to offer us a new dwelling place, to give us a new sense of belonging to point us to the true safety. But he cannot do it alone. The hard, painful work of salvation is a work in which God becomes dependent on human beings” (Nouwen, Eternal Seasons, p. 110).

Ray Boltz wonderfully sings the story of Simon of Cyrene in the song “Watch the Lamb.” (See also Ray Foss’ provocative poem, “Simon of Cyrene.”)

Third, what would happen with Jesus’ brutalized body after his death? Would he receive a proper burial? Who would take care of it? Would one of his disciples come forward?

It seems that there was only one person who would respond to these questions and claim Jesus’ body from possibly being abandoned on the cross to decay. One of Jesus’ “secret” disciples, Joseph of Arimathea, a Jewish council member and likely part of the Sanhedrin, believed the words that Jesus spoke and inwardly, silently challenged the crucifixion decision.

Johnson, "Judgment by Pilate"
The painting accompanying station 5, “Judgment by Pilate,” by Dale Johnson, professor emeritus of art at Bethel University

Joseph was disturbed by the cruelty of Jesus’ death and believed that he needed to have a proper burial. He courageously requested an audience with Pilate to gain release of Jesus’ body. He probably used the tomb that he was planning for himself and called Nicodemus to help prepare Jesus’ body for burial. They wrapped the body in strips of linen and poured over it a mixture of myrrh and aloes. A stone was placed in front of the tomb. For many, Jesus’ life and message were finished.

Joseph probably lost his status in the Sanhedrin. He was willing to risk his position to identify with Christ. On Sunday, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to this tomb and found Jesus missing. The angel said to them “He is not here! He has risen, just as he said he would! Come and see the place where he was lying.”

What am I willing to risk as a follower of Jesus Christ? Do I often act as a “secret” follower of Christ? Will observing the brutality of the cross encourage me to respond to those who are unjustly treated today? Am I living the resurrection?

An Invitation on the Pathway

I trust that you will enjoy “An Invitation on the Pathway” and find it to be a meaningful way to prepare for Easter. The work challenges our Christian journey and makes sure that it remains informed by the “Jesus Way.”

One of my favorite Lenten books is Emilie Griffin’s Small Surrenders. One of the most important reasons we should do the Stations of the Cross is to encourage us to reflect on how our lives effectively reflect the values of people who have been touched by the cross. She writes:

It may be that Lent, this particular Lent, is a chance to make a certain choice over again. In our own stories we may find some issue, long festering, that can come into healing and forgiveness at last. Perhaps the main insight will be as simple as this: my story is linked eternally to the Jesus story. And I will walk with him to the end. (Small Surrenders, p. 61)

Selected Bibliography: Lent and The Stations of the Cross

Dennis Bratcher, “The Cross as a Journey

Carmen Butcher, Following Christ: A Lenten Reader to Stretch Your Soul

______, “Walking the Walk (of the Stations of the Cross)

Joan Chittister, The Way of the Cross: The Path to New Life

Vincent Chough, “Brave Fish: Via Crucis: He is Never Ashamed of Us

Emilie Griffin, Small Surrenders: A Lenten Journey

Adam Hamilton, 24 Hours that Changed the World

Alister McGrath, Resurrection

Henri Nouwen, Jesus: a Gospel

Eugene Peterson, Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life

Mark Roberts, “The Stations of the Cross

William Saunders, “How Did the Stations of the Cross Begin?

Walter Wangerin, Jr., Reliving the Passion


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