My family and I decided to attend the “Journey to the Cross” Good Friday event at our church, not fully knowing what to expect.
In the last few years, this type of observance seems to be becoming popular, replacing services in which we just sit, sing songs and pray. Those are good things to do but I’m glad people have used their creativity to come up with ways for people to physically walk through, smell, taste, hear and feel the story. The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection can become benign to those of us who have heard or read it year after year. It may even cease to really affect us or make us think harder about the gravity of what Jesus did and experienced.
The “Journey to the Cross” is the first experiential-type setting we’ve been through in first person as if walking in Jesus’ place, sensing a tiny bit of what it must have been like for him. We began by entering a room set up as the last supper, lit only by candlelight, the scent of olive oil burning and the taste of the bread and wine. Some even sat at the large table laden with pottery, plates, cups and cloth, as if joining Jesus and the disciples as He told them they were eating bread that symbolized his broken body and wine that represented the blood that would soon be spilled. From there we entered a room representing the Garden of Gethsemane: a beautiful, dark, quiet room with plants and rocks all around, the sound of flowing water, crickets and frogs, and the scent of flowers. As we walked in, however, we were instructed to put a drop of wine vinegar on our tongues to represent the bitter agony of Jesus in contrast to this peaceful, lovely place. I thought of Jesus, alone, pleading with God, the dread and fear of what was ahead consuming him, maybe with head and hands pressed down on a cold rock’s rough surface as he knelt to pray.
As we left the garden, we were arrested with rope tied tightly around our wrist. We were led past signs scrawled with large messy letters saying “Jesus who?” “I don’t know who you’re talking about” “I don’t know him!” to a camp fire, above which was a posted letter written from Peter, confessing his denial, apologizing in grief and shame for not standing up with Jesus at least saying “Yes, I know Him and He’s a good man. He’s done nothing wrong.”
We passed a big wooden stump with metal bands that bound the condemned while being flogged, then by a crown of long, sharp thorns. We walked between two rows of people shouting loudly at us in anger, “Crucify Him! He’s not our King! Kill Him! Crucify Him!” We passed Mary who stood quietly weeping and crying. We wrote sins, fears, or burdens on pieces of paper, took a hammer from someone who stood by a big wooden cross, then nailed our sin to it. The ringing sound of the hammering hurt my heart, especially after coming through all the anger and hurt of the room before. It was the final blow.
We entered the last room, the sanctuary, dark and quiet. Each of us was given a tealight candle, unlit, as we entered and walked down toward the front where a massive cross stood, draped with a sweeping dark cloth, the top wreathed by a huge crown of thorns, all of it bathed in fog and deep purple light. We lit our candles by the light of others that had gone before us and placed them at the foot of the cross. I knelt down alongside others in front of it and felt emotion wash over and through me. I cried, “I’m so sorry, Jesus. How did you endure all of that? How could you? It must have hurt you so much, in so many ways. I so don’t deserve you going through all of this for me. It’s overwhelming. Thank you. Thank you…”
When I watched the movie, “The Passion” a few years ago I had the same experience: deep sorrow over all my sin and realization that it was my sin that caused Jesus to have to endure that horrible experience. I remember all through the movie looking forward to the end when He would be finished and whole, risen from the dead. The evil, pain, betrayal and wounds behind him. Victorious. When that scene arrived and he stood clean and whole, a peace and relief filled me. It’s over! It’s over. He did it!
Before the “Journey” we took Friday night I had never realized the extent to which Jesus was isolated and rejected. From the last supper when He knew Judas was plotting betrayal, to the garden where his friends fell asleep instead of helping him pray and then ran away, to the arrest and abuse from the pharisees (his own people), to the time of outright denial by one of his closest friends, to the torture and brutal “punishment” of the Roman guards, to the walk through Jerusalem with angry crowds shouting and staring, to the excruciating pain of the cross where He hung alone, even forsaken by His Heavenly Father. How did he keep going? How did he not give up? How did he bear it all?
In Hebrews 12 it says that for the “joy awaiting Him” He endured. He was looking forward to the end. He knew beyond that two days of hell would be victory, redemption, rescue of all people for all time, payment for sin, an open door to God for all of us. God’s love was NEVER better illustrated to us than in the courage of Christ.
…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. Hebrews 12:1-4 NLT