By Wendell Barnett

The Way of the Cross

Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.—Matthew 16:24


For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
—I Corinthians 2:2


I can hear my Savior calling,

I can hear my Savior calling,

I can hear my Savior calling,

“Take thy cross and follow, follow Me.”

—“Where He Leads Me” by E.W. Blandy


As we are now on the downside of Lent (how has your Lenten journey been going, by the way?), I thought I would bring us to Easter with a series of posts based on “The Way of the Cross.” The Way of the Cross is also called the “Stations of the Cross.”  This is predominantly a Roman Catholic devotional practice, though popular with liturgical churches such as the Episcopal Church, and it is virtually unknown in most Protestant churches. I find it attractive because it is very helpful in the days leading up to Easter in focusing one’s attention to Christ’s passion. I hope you will find it helpful as well.


As with many Christian practices, the origins of the Way of the Cross are lost in time. Catholic tradition holds that Mary, Jesus’ mother, “began” the practice as she reputedly revisited the places that marked Christ’s passion (the Via Dolorosa-“Way of Sorrow”) each year. There seem to be prototypes dating as far back as the 500s A.D. The 1300’s marks the first time we see anything with a close resemblance to the modern form. An Englishman, William Wey, who visited the Holy Land in 1458 and 1462, is the first person to refer to the stops on the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem as “stations.” The number and names of the stations varied quite widely, but in the late 1700s the form most often seen now came into being.  

When the medieval pilgrims returned home, they told others (of course) about their experiences, and so these pilgrims created a desire to re-create scenes from the Holy Land so that those unable to visit the holy places firsthand could share the experience in some way. When the Turks closed access to the Holy Land, European replicas of the sacred sites became increasingly popular.

The modern form of the Way of the Cross is composed of 14 stations—devotional stops along a prescribed route. These stations may be marked by a sculpture, a bas-relief plaque, a painting, or even a poster depicting a scene from the Passion. These stations are as follows: Jesus is condemned to death; Jesus takes up his cross; Jesus falls the first time; Jesus meets his mother; Simon of Cyrene carries the cross; Veronica wipes the face of Jesus; Jesus falls the second time; Jesus meets the daughters of Jerusalem; Jesus falls the third time; Jesus is stripped of his garments; Jesus is nailed to the cross; Jesus is crucified; Jesus is taken down from the cross; Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb. These stations are based on the Gospel accounts and Catholic tradition.

On Good Friday in 1991, Pope John Paul II introduced a new variant called “The Scriptural Way of the Cross.” As the name indicates several of the stations based only on tradition were removed and replaced with an event described in the Gospels. The stations in the Scriptural Way are: Jesus in Gethsemane; Jesus betrayed with a kiss; Jesus before the Sanhedrin; Peter denies Jesus; Jesus before Pilate; Jesus is scourged; Jesus carries His cross; Simon the Cyrenian helps Jesus carry the cross; Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem; Jesus is crucified; Jesus and the thieves; Jesus commends his mother into the care of a disciple; Jesus dies; Jesus is entombed.  Many observers have added an unofficial fifteenth station: Jesus’ resurrection.  The Scriptural Way of the Cross is what I’ll be using as a basis for this series of Lenten devotions.

A note about the art work used in this series: The paintings (as seen in the header collage above) are digital reproductions of original paintings by Michael O’Brien. He has kindly given permission for them to be used in this blog. You can learn more here (and other locations in Mr. O’Brien’s web site):


For further reading:


You can get a cheap ($2.50) pamphlet at Cokesbury:


© 2020 St. Luke UMC
Follow us: