2017-03-16 / Faith

Finding spiritual strength by walking in the Way of the Cross

Roots of Faith
Sally Carpenter

People with ashes on their foreheads, special midweek soup and salad study groups, eating fish on Fridays, rehearsals for the Easter cantata—yes, Lent is here.

Lent, the 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter, is often viewed as the dismal time one suffers through to get to the glory and candy baskets of Easter. But instead of regarding Lent as “punishment” and “what must I give up,” let’s look at the season as special days of introspection, learning and prayers.

A popular devotion during Lent is the Way of the Cross. This practice began among the pilgrims who walked Via Dolo- rosa (“way of tears” or “way of suffering”) in Jerusalem. This route is traditionally held as the path Jesus trod from his sentencing at Pilate’s praetorian to his crucifixion on Golgotha, a hill outside the city walls.

This devotion traditionally has 14 “stations,” or events, that occurred during Jesus’ passion, beginning with Pilate’s condemnation and ending with the burial in the tomb. Some practices add the resurrection as station 15. Each station marks a time for meditation and prayer.

What I find curious is that among the stations, Jesus falls not once, but three times: stations three, seven and nine. Three? Why the repetition? This must mean something important.

Jesus falls the first time: He is weak after a severe whipping and beating by the Roman soldiers (John 19:1-3). He hasn’t eaten that day. Jesus understands our human frailties and can provide strength when we stumble.

“For we do not have a high priest (Jesus) who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

He falls the second time: Jesus was physically exhausted and spiritually spent. He was not only carrying the heavy wooden crossbeam of his cross, but also bearing the weight of the sins of the world.

“Yet it was our pain that he bore, our sufferings he endured. We thought of him as stricken, struck down by God and afflicted, but he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).

He falls the third time: Jesus never gave up! Despite the pain, he stood up and kept moving toward his destiny.

We may stumble in our walk with God, but perseverance pays off. We can return to God again and again for mercy and comfort, no matter how much we mess up.

St. Paul suffered from some kind of illness or difficulty, which he called a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7), and he prayed three times to have it removed, but God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

We’re told to “rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us” (Hebrews 12:1b). Faith is not a one-time occurrence, but a daily renewal.

And we can always turn to the Lord whenever we’re weary. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves” (Matthew 11:28-29).

During Lent and beyond, let’s continue to walk with God with persistence, vigor and love.

Sally Carpenter has a Master of Divinity from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and is a member of Holy Cross Catholic Church in Moorpark. Reach her at sallyc@theacorn.com.

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