On Good Friday, Jesus Christ reaches the culmination of his way on earth as a human being. It is the day that he actually came for, the day he has lived towards. But it is not simply his death, but the way that he enters into the depth and complexity of the human experience of death: he is crowned with thorns, and wrapped with a purple cloak; he is mocked, and beaten and decried. And even though no guilt is found in him, the people cry out for his crucifixion. It is in this utter depth and humiliation, that Pilate calls out: Behold: the human being! Jesus Christ has reached what we might call the essence of the rock bottom experience. He gives himself over to it in full power, entering willingly into the depth of human misunderstanding of our own true nature. We all share this misunderstanding still, and we all share responsibility for the Crucifixion.
Christ goes the Way of the Cross. This way has long been devotionally practiced in this time of year by Christians who want to connect with the Lord as he walked into the darkest depths of human suffering: the human spirit mocked and beaten, its sovereignty taunted, and its nobility spit upon; and finally our very humanness violently taken from us on the Cross. The Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, the actual way that Christ walked to the place of his crucifixion, has been walked by pilgrims since the early centuries of Christianity. It became a practice then to pray the Stations of the Cross in pictures and scripture wherever you were. In this practice, we can accompany him inwardly as he each year enters more deeply into the human being’s suffering.
But if we wish to follow Christ, he instructed that we must take up our own cross daily, and follow him. In this we are asked to ponder what in our life creates the most suffering—for us, or for those around us. We are asked to face the truth of our existence, of our challenges, of our longings, of our limitations and even of our gifts which we have not yet found a way to give. How can we accept the truth of who we are and also give ourselves fully to who we are to become? And then in doing so, find a new relationship to those aspects of who we are?
It might be that for the modern human being, to truly open to the Spirit, and to Christ, we have to not only look at his suffering, but have the courage to go through our most personal suffering in order to liberate ourselves in relation to it. To take up one’s Cross asks that we see all of our own struggles as ours, and yet also as separate them from our truest, most eternal self. The experience that so many have today, that we are actually constantly struggling within ourselves, as Goethe expressed it in Faust: “Two souls, alas, are housed within my breast, And each will wrestle for the mastery there.” This conflict in the soul is painful, but it is also an opening, a potential to be able to both experience our life and see it from a distance, to bear our sorrows and burdens and imperfections upon our back and carry them, and ourselves, forward. To live in both the horizontal and the vertical at the same time.
To accept the fact of death in our lives as a necessary ending that allows a transformation to take place is to face the truth. We go the way of the Cross, and this way follows Christ through truth to the new life that he finds on the other side of the Cross. We can too.