Much like going to the Israeli Museum or visiting the Western Wailing Wall, walking the way of the cross began as just another item on my “things to do in Jerusalem” list but it ended up being much more than a tourist activity. Although my empathy for what Jesus went through grew with each station, I could not possibly prepare myself for what I was to experience at the end.
Let me begin by explaining that, except for a brief period of time in the 4th grade in the private Catholic school my parents had enrolled me in, I have never considered myself a Christian. Being raised Quaker I was encouraged to both explore and respect all religions, but given that I attended Catholic school for nearly 6 years, I’ve always felt that I knew much more about Catholicism than any other world religion.
And so I began walking the Way of the Cross very much in my head, trying to remember as much about what I had previously learned about Jesus as I could, hoping it might add to the significance of the experience. I was not expecting this relatively short journey through the narrow uneven streets of Jerusalem, however, to be anything but historical.
After picking up an information guide and map for 5 sheckels ($1.25US) at the Christian Information Center near Jaffa Gate, we walked to the first station. To explain our behavior at the first two stations, allow me to provide a little back story. While traveling through Europe Mindy and I, as a way of protesting the Catholic Church’s openly anti-gay stance, always made it a point to kiss in every cathedral we visited. And so when we discovered that there were small churches built on the first two stations of the cross our natural response was the give each other a little kiss. Then and there we decided to kiss at each station.
While the first two stations were right next to each other, reaching the third required navigating our way carrying a backpack through small jagged streets lined with touts announcing their wares for sale in the hot summer heat of July. If I replaced the yelling vendors with angry citizens and the backpack with a heavy wooden cross it was not difficult to imagine Jesus struggling along the very path our feet touched.
When we successfully located Station Three we pulled out our information sheet and read that here Jesus had fallen. “Oh”, I remember exclaiming with diminished excitement that showed itself as my raised shoulders sunk. Mindy and I did not feel like kissing anymore. We decided out of respect we would abandon that idea.
Journeying on we arrived at Station Four, where Jesus met his mother. The thought of such an event deeply saddened me as I considered the pain of both Mary and her son. I wondered if Mary was proud of him.
As we walked I always kept Jesus’ suffering in mind, wondering how he negotiated each corner with his bulky cross. We cried a little at Stations Five and Six when we read that followers of Jesus helped him carry his cross and wiped his face, respectively. Our eyes teared at the presence of such generosity during a time that Jesus needed it most.
As we continued I found myself, perhaps for the first time, seeing Jesus as a man instead of “the son of God”…
…and with each station both my empathy for and admiration of Jesus grew, having undergone so much suffering.
I surprised myself at Station Nine by whispering words of encouragement to Jesus, “You can do it. You’re almost there. You’re suffering is almost over.” Little did I know that my biggest surprise was yet to come.
The final stations are all at the same location, which proved a little bit difficult to find. When we walked in, however, at this point I had been carrying Jesus’ pain with me for awhile and the first station seemed so far away. Seeing the location of where his clothing was ripped off him, where he was nailed to the cross he had just dragged through the streets and ultimately suffered a horribly painful death, I fell to my knees and burst into tears.
I walked away from this experience having attained two lessons: the power of conviction and the power of kindness. Jesus envisioned a better world and although he could have abandoned his beliefs to relieve his suffering and save his life, he persevered through people yelling and throwing things at him, whipping and beating him, and ultimately, literally dying for what he believed in.
Through this harrowing ordeal Jesus, when he needed it most, was greeted with small acts of kindness from others, wiping his sweaty and bloody face and even carrying his burden for a small part of his painful journey. To me this is proof that a little kindness can go a long way even under such tremendous circumstances. I had never understood the significance of what Jesus did until walking in his footsteps.