My fist encounter with the Catholic devotion of Stations of the Cross was here, at the Basilica of St. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec. After being floored by the gorgeous mosaic inside the church and being pretty taken aback by all the Catholicness therein, we went outside behind the basilica. I saw several life-sized bronze statues depicting different events within the crucifixion narrative. As I followed the winding paved path up the side of a hill, I reflected on Jesus’ conviction by Pilat, his falling under the weight of the cross, Simon helping him carry it, the women of Jerusalem mourning, etc. Finally, I came to the last statue:
I look around. Surely this couldn’t be the final statue. Where is the giant bronze statue of a resurrected Jesus? Where is he revealing himself to Thomas? Where is he ascending into Heaven, for goodness’ sake! I was aghast that Catholics would go through the effort of displaying all these morbid statues without even hinting that the tomb Jesus was being laid in would soon be empty. Much like the author of this post, I thought this series of statues was just a reflection of Catholics’ overemphasis on Jesus’s suffering.
I was so wrong.
There are so many different strains of thought within Protestantism, so I can only really speak for myself here, but growing up, I always thought of the crucifixion as a tragic, sad thing that Jesus had to do for us sinners. Yes, he did it out of love for us, and I was truly grateful, but the thought of God the Father reigning down his anger on Jesus in order to be appeased for the sins of the world just never sat well with my soul. It was almost like witnessing a parent beating a child–utterly horrifying.
It wasn’t until a good ways into my conversion to Catholicism that I came to understand the crucifixion differently. As Christ hung on the cross in agony, he was doing literally the greatest thing anyone has ever done. It was a supreme act of love and a giving of himself fully to the Father, for us. Rather than looking down on his son in anger, God looked down with great love. He saw the Son pouring out his life for us–freely, fully, willingly. It was Christ’s great love for us, and his willing sacrifice of himself that covered over our multitude of sins, not God the Father using Jesus as a punching bag.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. -John 15:13
There is glory in the resurrection–of course!–but there is glory in the cross, too. It is there that Jesus did what we are all called to do–give of ourselves fully to God and for each other.
May we unite our sufferings to Christ this Holy Week, as we look forward to the Resurrection!
I feel like I should add a disclaimer: This post is not written by Pope Erica–there may be doctrinal errors here. I don’t think we fully understand the inner workings of our atonement. I do think (think!) that I am correct in saying that God wasn’t angry with Jesus on the cross though. I think!