Taking Up the Via Crucis

Homily, Taking Up the Via Crucis
Second Sunday in Lent (2021)
Santa Fe Episcopal Church
San Antonio, TX

The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF

Today’s Lectionary Readings:

*See the beautiful accompanying paintings by Adolfo Pérez Esquivel in the video above or in PDF form here.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” 

“Si alguno quiere ser discípulo mío, olvídese de sí mismo, cargue con su cruz y sígame.”

En el nombre del Padre, y el Hijo, y el Espíritu Santo. Amén.

¿Ustedes lo han experimentado alguna vez?  Have you ever experienced it? La aspereza de la madera en los dedos. The rough wood on your hands. The surprising weight of it on your shoulders. El peso que tiene sobre tus hombros. The sense of relief as it passes to someone next to you. El alivio cuando pasa a alguien a tu lado. I remember walking it with adults and college students down the street of an Appalachian plateau, and with small children in a rural Georgia town, and with parishioners in the nave of a 200 year old Nashville parish. Recuerdo caminar con muchos de ustedes en Cursillo en una fría noche de noviembre en Texas. “Take up your cross,” the scripture says, “Cargue con su cruz” and in a very literal way, we carried the cross from station to station following el Via Crucis—the Stations of the Cross. 

This practice of tracing the footsteps of Jesus’ last moments in prayer originated centuries ago in Israel where Christians from around the world made their journey to the Holy City on pilgrimage, and after having experienced the gospel story step by step on the streets of Jerusalem they returned to their families, friends, and neighbors around the world and recalled their memories moment by moment, step by step, station by station. And while the cross they carried may have been a symbol of Jesus’ cross, in a very real way, by taking up the memory of Jesus’ cross they began to live into this passage from Mark today, taking up their own crosses too, and following Jesus. We, too, are called to follow Jesus in their footsteps. También nosotros, como los que han pasado a través de los siglos, estamos llamados a seguir a Jesús en el Vía Crucis.

Station 1: Jesus is condemned to die

En nuestra lectura del Evangelio de esta mañana encontramos un momento íntimo entre Jesús y sus discípulos cuando les confía que pronto será rechazado por muchos de los suyos, asesinado y resucitado. En Marcos, el anuncio es la primera de tres veces que Jesús les dice esto a sus discípulos y es demasiado para Pedro, el seguidor más entusiasta y fiel de Jesús. En su conmoción, miedo y confusión, Pedro se pone de pie y reprende a Jesús, negándose a aceptar la realidad de sus palabras. Si Jesús es el Mesías, piensa Pedro, será levantado en un trono y no en una cruz, será un tiempo de gozo y no de sufrimiento. Pero Jesús lo reprende por eso.

In our gospel reading this morning we encounter an intimate moment between Jesus and his disciples when he confides in them that soon he will be rejected by many of his own people, killed, and raised again. In Mark, the shocking announcement is the first of three times Jesus tells his disciples this and it is just too much for Peter, Jesus’ most enthusiastic and faithful follower. In his shock and fear and confusion, Peter stands up and rebukes Jesus, refusing to accept the reality of his words. If Jesus is the Messiah, Peter thinks, then he will be lifted up on a throne and not a cross, he will be the catalyst for a time of joy and not suffering. But Jesus rebukes him for it.

Station 2: Jesus carries his cross

We don’t want to admit it, but we are a lot like Peter, aren’t we? We will do whatever we can to avoid the cross—to avoid suffering. And not just because we like to be comfortable and entertained, but because we already experience so much suffering. Yes, life has its many joys, but day by day we also experience the pain of heartache and fear and uncertainty. Whether it be the fear of sickness and the loss of loved ones in a pandemic, or the suffering in mental illness, o la ansiedad de cuidar a nuestros hijos en una tormenta invernal, o el gulpe del abuso domestico, or the bite of systemic racism, or the hopelessness of generational poverty. Like Peter who lived under the brutal occupation of Rome’s military might, we are already a suffering people—ya somos un pueblo que sufre—and Jesus’ command to take up cross is just too much—y el mandamiento de Jesús de cargar la cruz es demasiado.

Station 3: Jesus falls for the first time

Pero Jesús lo sabe. Jesus knows this. Watching him fall from the weight of his cross shows just how well Jesus knows suffering. And yet he gets back up and continues to carry it. ¿Por qué lleva Jesús la cruz? ¿Por qué Jesús nos pide que carguemos la cruz? Why does Jesus carry the cross? Why does Jesus ask us to carry the cross? 

I wonder if the answer is not in the suffering itself, but in what lies beyond it. I don’t think Jesus was a masochist. I don’t think he enjoyed suffering. I think in this command, he is a realist and pragmatist. He recognizes suffering is already there. In this command Jesus is not asking us to take on suffering, he is telling us what to do with our suffering. Jesús no nos está pidiendo que asumamos el sufrimiento, nos está diciendo qué hacer con nuestro sufrimiento. “Take it up, let go of yourself, and follow me.” 

See Jesus isn’t carry his cross aimlessly; he is carrying it to Golgotha where he will leave it and then find new life. Yes, the cross is a heavy burden to bear. Our own suffering and our own commitments to the way of Jesus—which will inevitably cause conflict in our lives—are heavy burdens to bear. But we are being invited as disciples of Jesus, to take up these burdens and bring them to Golgotha where they will meet Christ’s suffering and be laid to rest and our transformation will begin. The suffering isn’t what’s redemptive, its what lies beyond the suffering. El sufrimiento no es lo redentor, es lo que está más allá del sufrimiento. And so we take up our cross and press on. 

Station 4: Jesus meets his mother

If the promise of this passage from Mark is that by carrying our burdens along the Via Crucis we will find a resting place for them and new life beyond them, the good news is that while we walk, we will not be alone. No caminamos solos. Along Jesus’ way of the cross he encountered many of his friends and family whose love poured out onto him, giving him strength.

Station 5: Simon Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross

In fact when the cross became too much to bear, even Jesus found help in carrying it. It’s sad that often times this passage from Mark is used to justify suffering in isolation. People trapped in unfair or abusive circumstances at times say to themselves, “It’s just my cross to bear.” But if Jesus the Son of God had help carrying his cross—pero si Jesús el Hijo de Dios tuvo ayuda para llevar su cruz—how much more should we depend on one another for support in our suffering—cuánto más debemos depender unos de otros para apoyarnos en nuestro sufrimiento?

Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

How much more should we join together along the way, wiping one another other’s tears. Leaving marks on one another’s lives.  Following Jesus is not a lonely path.

Station 7: Jesus falls a second time

Even at times when it feels like we are alone,

Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

we are always accompanied by a great cloud of witnesses and most of all by Jesus himself whom we are following.

Station 9: Jesus falls a third time

The burdens we bear are painful. 

Station 10: Jesus’ clothes are taken away

And when we deny ourselves it feels as if we are exposed and vulnerable. 

Station 11: Jesus is nailed to the cross

Pero Jesús conoce nuestro sufrimiento. Jesus knows our suffering. His cross is our cross. His nails are our nails. We serve a God who knows our suffering and accompanies us in it. Jesus joins us in our struggle. Jesus sees you and knows you. Jesus understands your pain. Jesús conoce tu dolor.

Station 12: Jesus dies on the cross

Station 13: The body of Jesus is taken down from the cross

Jesus is asking us to take up our cross so that we can lay down our cross with him. Jesus is not calling us to suffering; Jesus is calling us through suffering. Jesús no nos está llamando al sufrimiento; Jesús nos llama a través del sufrimiento. Through suffering to something beyond—para algo mas allá. To something transformative. To something life-giving. Y cuando el cuerpo de Jesús desciende de esa cruz, también lo hace el nuestro. As Jesus’ body comes down from that cross, so does ours…

Station 14: Jesus is laid in the tomb

…where we are laid in a tomb and made ready for resurrection. Nos ponen en una tumba y nos preparan para la resurrección. “Those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it.” 

This morning if you are feeling the weight of your suffering—si sientes el peso de tu sufrimiento—take up your cross and follow Jesus—cargue con su cruz y sigue a Jesús. Follow Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem where you will find others to carry your cross with you. Follow Jesus to Golgotha, where though you will feel exposed and vulnerable, you will not be alone. Follow Jesus to the tomb where you will be resurrected and transformed to new life. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. Cargue con su cruz y sigue a Jesús. Amén.