Throughout Lent we had been working our way through the Gospel of Matthew; each Sunday taking one chapter, and journeying with Jesus towards Jerusalem. We started with Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ in Chapter 16, and arrived at the gates of the city for the big showdown with the Pharisees and priests on Palm Sunday. Throughout Holy Week I asked our congregation to read a chapter a day, bringing us to Chapter 26 on Good Friday.
My key scripture for our worship on this day was verse 31; "I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered." How, I asked, could this be our experience of Good Friday? And this lead me to the idea of a form of worship which we could participate in together – but also separately; a revised form of the Stations of the Cross.
I took chapters 26 and 27 of Matthew’s Gospel, and made a station for each section. Some stations were purely reflective, giving the scripture and asking a question. Some were more active, inviting the worshippers to perform some action in response to the scriptures. The words were printed out onto A3 sheets and pinned up around the auditorium with the various symbols and elements of the stations. The auditorium itself was divided into a form of a labyrinth by black weed-matting and polythene, and by standing screens, so that people wound their way up one side of the church then back down the other to the final station of the cross (click here for photo.) The exit was through the tomb where a floral ‘body’ lay. Immediately outside the tomb were some bible society leaflets and a bright hand-out inviting people to come for the final chapter of the story on Resurrection Sunday.
What follows is the script for the day. Each station starts with the scripture (I’ve only given references here as a hyperlink for space reasons) and is followed by the reflection notes / questions and any activity instructions. Where I have photos of the stations the station title is shown as a hyperlink…
Station 0ne, The Call to Discipleship
Walk today with Jesus as one of his disciples.
As you travel the path laid out inside, you will follow the story of the crucifixion as told by Matthew.
At each turning along the way you will be invited to pause; to meditate on what is happening – maybe to take some action.
We pray that this slightly different form of worship will help you to draw closer to our Lord and God
Station 2, The Annointing
Is there a time when you have tried to do something for another
and your efforts have apparently failed? Been misinterpreted? Derided?
Be comforted; God sees not just the effort, but the intent of your heart. He receives every gift with joy.
Is there a time when you have been irritated, annoyed, or angered by another person’s attempt to do the right thing?
We are warned not to judge each other’s acts of service.
Take the bottle of oil, and anoint each other with the sign of the cross.
Thus we receive God’s grace –
and thus God receives our gifts.
Thus we repent of our judgementalism.
Thus we prepare
to walk with Christ
the way of the cross.
Station 3, Betrayal
Have you ever been betrayed?
Have you ever betrayed another?
Take the bag of silver. Hold it and feel its weight.
What is gained from betrayal? Does the reward ever match the damage? Jesus said, “What profit do you make if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?”
As you put down the bag, put with it two things:
any desire for the rewards of betrayal. Make this an opportunity to reject the rewards that tempt you to betray those you love, yourself, or your God.
any bitterness you yet hold towards one who has betrayed you – they are already more damaged than your anger could wish.
Station 4, Communion
Communion with Christ and one another is the centre of Christian worship. The cup of God’s wrath and Christ’s sacrifice is also the cup of celebration and promise.
What hopes do you bring to your communion with Christ? What do you want the Father’s kingdom to be like? Will those hopes and desires survive the path of the cross?
What sins do you need forgiveness for?
Write a word or draw a picture symbolising this, tear it into small pieces, and leave it in the cup.
What are you looking forward to in the kingdom of heaven?
Write a word or draw a picture symbolising this and leave it on the plate!
Station 4a, False promises and scattering sheep
When have we ever been certain of our own strength only to find it less than we thought?
We are a scattered people of God.
Pause and repent of those barriers of nationality, culture, class, or doctrine that weaken and separate us from each other.
Pray that God will reunite us after our betrayal of him.
Station 5, Gethsemane
To pray is to believe that someone is listening. To take our deepest needs and worst fears into prayer is to trust that the God who hears us loves us. To be willing to hear a ‘no’ in response and still stay in prayer is to have the deepest faith in the goodness of that God, despite all appearances.
How often would we rather sleep, than persist in prayer that demands such faith?
The spirit is willing. The flesh is weak.
Fortunately God requires only that we pray – he will act. All it needs is that mustard seed-sized faith to be open to God.
What are you most afraid God will say ‘No’ to? Take a mustard seed from the cupped hands. Is your faith this big? Then dare to leave your deepest anxiety here in these hands with Christ.
Station 6, Arrest
The sword and the club; the weapons of the military and the mob, are so often the tools of first resort.
Where in the world do you know of violence?
Jesus Said “Blessed are the peacemakers – they shall be called children of God.”
What can we do to promote peace between people who differ – in our own homes; our workplaces and neighbourhoods; our nation; our region; our world?
Pray for some situation of conflict that you know about. Ask yourself “How can I help make peace?”
Station 7, Law
Law is a good protection against evil, but is not itself the best expression of God’s goodness. When the keepers of the law face something outside their jurisdiction, there is the temptation to eliminate it as a threat. Law then becomes a tool of tyranny. In every nation laws have been used thus.
And those who protest the abuse of power have been imprisoned, tortured and executed.
The candle encircled by barbed wire is the international symbol for prisoners of conscience.
Take a candle, and light it from the central candle, before placing it within the barbed wire. Pray for those imprisoned by tyranny.
Station 8 Denial
When Peter was accused of being a Christ-follower, his life was at risk. The remarkable part of this story is not that he denied his Lord, but that he repented with tears, and was afterwards restored by Christ.
Could we be accused, like Peter, of following Jesus? Is it obvious in us?
When we have shuffled and ducked out of embarrassing situations, acted like everyone else so as to escape ridicule and harassment, have we repented in tears – or do we just shrug it off and carry on as though nothing has happened?
Have we allowed Christ to restore us?
If you need to repent your denial of Christ, kneel here, and pray “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Station 9, Judas
When a sinner repents, God wants to restore them. We want to ignore them. How many sinners have come close to repentance, only to be spurned by cold religion?
“Better,” said Jesus “to tie a millstone around your neck and cast yourself into the sea than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”
Too often the rope is around the wrong neck.
Write down here one way we, as a church, can be more welcoming of those who come seeking grace and forgiveness:
Station 10, Politics
The politician and the public. Popular politics depends on having the loudest voice, and doing what is expedient rather than what is right. Just like Pilate. Just like so many in power today.
Look at the list of portfolios; write to as many ministers or spokespersons you wish about any issue that you are concerned about, encouraging the politicians to act on principle, not expediency.
Fold your finished letter in thirds, with the writing within, then print the MP’s name on the outside, addressing it to:
We will send these off. Pray for our politicians and pray for thoughtful public debate as the elections approach.
Station 11, Torment
It is easy to torment someone who is alone and without protection – especially when you’re part of a crowd.
Hold the Crown of thorns and put the robe over your shoulders
Have you ever taken part in bullying or teasing someone who was ‘different’?
Feel the thorns and ask for Christ’s forgiveness.
Have you ever been bullied?
Feel the fabric that clothes you with Christ, and pray forgiveness for your persecutors.
Station 12, Simon
Matthew 27.32 "As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross."
Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
“To walk the way of the cross with Christ is to give up my life for the sake of others. For Christ.
“Am I ready for that?”
Ask God for the faith to be ready, then walk around the corner…
Station 13, Crucifixion
This is the cross.
There are no tricks or techniques.
Here God bled and died. It was ugly and wrong. And it is Heaven on Earth.
However you understand the sacrifice of Jesus, understand that it is God for us.
“What does God say to me here?”
If you are ready to be one with Christ, paint your name or initials on the Cross.
Station 13a, Witness
There are many witnesses to the work of God; some are marvellous – open tombs, earthquakes, and split rocks. Some are powerful and well-respected – a centurion. but most are ordinary, faithful followers, who give generously, and bear witness.
What is it I have seen of God’s work? To what do I bear witness?
There is only one way out of here; through the grave. We can go in alone or we can go in the company of our Lord.
Go in grace….