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Social Justice Stations of the Cross

Good Friday - Social Justice Stations of the Cross

Epworth UMC, Berkeley, CA

Rev. Kristin Stoneking


Today, Good Friday, is the day on which we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus. I do not believe that Jesus came into this world to die. I believe he came into this world to show us how to live, to offer us an opportunity to live with love and justice in ways that would repair us and our broken world. But our ancestors in faith could not accept what he was offering, could not fully let go of their brokenness and attachments, and this resulted in Jesus’ death.

Of course, the meaning of the resurrection is that the gift never dies, that the offer is always there. We have been promised that he will come again and I believe that he will not come again until we stop crucifying him.

So today, on this day when we commemorate the crucifixion, we pause to consider all the ways that we are hanging on to our brokenness. Ways that we participate in suffering. And the ways that we perpetuate the crucifixion. As the body of Christ now on earth we are both crucifiers and crucified. As humanity suffers and our earth suffers, we the body of Christ suffer, too.

May this walk make us conscious of the brokenness that still exists in the world, the signs of hope that surround us, and our responsibility to finish the work of bringing the new heaven and new earth to fruition which Christ inaugurated.

[Scroll down for descriptions]

Walking Map:

Station 1: Jesus is condemned to death

Location: Epworth steps under rainbow flag

Epworth’s motto is “Welcome, everyone, to the love of God.” We have flown the gay pride flag proudly for many years. We know that 20-25% of LGBTQ persons experience hate crimes within their lifetimes with queer people of color being even more likely to experience violence. A portion of these hate crimes end in death.

A 2017 survey of LGBTQ youth by the Human Rights Campaign found that these teenagers are not only experiencing heartbreaking levels of stress, anxiety and rejection, but also overwhelmingly feel unsafe in their own school classrooms. LGBTQ young people who participated in the survey also made crystal clear that supportive families and inclusive schools are key to their success and well-being. Though this particular survey did not ask about faith communities, other data shows that a supportive and inclusive faith community is highly correlated with lower risk of suicide and more positive outcomes for our LGBTQ young people.

May we continue to seek the well being of LGBTQ persons. Christ have mercy.

Station 1: Jesus is condemned to death

Station 2: Jesus carries His cross

Location: Peace Pole in front of Epworth on Hopkins

As we walk these first stations, let us feel with Jesus the weight of not just the cross, but the betrayal by his closest friends, the disillusionment of what was hoped for fading away, and the physical pain of each barefoot step. To seek peace, true peace, which is peace in our hearts, in our relationships, in our communities, in our nation, and in our world, we must be willing to endure disappointment, disillusionment, especially if we are rich-the giving up of comfort and security. In turn, we must seek peace through prayer and action, the sharing of resources, and the radical letting go of systems that rank and subjugate, and oppress and utilize persons for their labor but fail to honor their humanity. Many of us have become de-sensitized to the presence of violence that pervades our lives.

Research on peace has measured four key indicators of peace: the number of refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide, the perception of criminality, the impact of terrorism and the escalation of violent demonstrations. All four of these factors have increased in the last 10 years. May we seek peace and be peace following the one who was known as the Prince of Peace.

Station 2: Jesus carries His cross

Station 3: Jesus falls the first time

Location: Bicycle Boulevard Sign

Throughout Berkeley, a network of streets and paths known as “Bicycle Boulevard” make it easier for cyclists to navigate streets and travel safely. Cyclists cite many reasons for taking to two wheels including a desire to fight climate change, to increase their level of physical health, and to spend more time enjoying God’s creation. Cycling can also have a direct impact on the quality of our air. When air pollution reaches unhealthy levels, our siblings with asthma and other health sensitivities can stumble and fall.

Research shows that air pollution can worsen asthma symptoms. A study of young campers with moderate to severe asthma showed they were 40 percent more likely to have acute asthma episodes on high pollution summer days than on days with average pollution levels. Another study found that older adults were more likely to visit the emergency room for breathing problems when summer air pollution was high. And just a few days' exposure to ambient air pollution was associated with increased risk of death from asthma. Cycling reduces air pollution, noise pollution and contributes to strong communities.

As Jesus falls for the first time, we consider those who stumble, fall and falter as a result of air pollution and other effects of climate change.

Station 3 Jesus falls the first time

Station 4: Jesus meets his mother

Location: Neighborhood Crime Watch Sign

When we think of Jesus meeting his mother Mary while carrying his own cross on they way to Calvary, we are confronted with the ways that mothers and sons are torn apart not just by crime but the criminal justice system of policing, profiling, and racial bias. This dysfunctional system leads to mass incarceration and the tragic separations of mothers and sons including: Michael Brown and Leslie McSpadden, Philando Castile and Valerie Castile, Freddie Gray and Gloria Darden, Eric Garner and Gwenn Carr, Stephon Clark and Se’quette Clark. All of these sons died at the hands of police. All of these mothers loved their sons, had hopes for their sons, now mourn the loss of their sons.

Instead of a system of suspicion, crime and punishment, we as communities can embrace systems of care, repentance and restoration.

Practices of care such as meditation practices in schools have noticeable benefits. In a San Francisco School implementing meditation practices saw suspensions decrease by 79 percent and attendance increase by over 98% as well as academic performance noticeably increased. Restorative Justice programs in a West Oakland Middle School pilot project eliminated violent fights and expulsions, and reduced suspension rates by more than 75%.

For the sake of all mothers and sons, let us embrace systems based on compassion and respect that lead to healing and life.

Station 4: Jesus meets his mother

Station 5: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross

Location: Little Free Library

We all need help to learn, to grow and to thrive. And we are especially in need of help when we experience life’s deepest trials. The fifth station commemorates the action of Simon of Cyrene who came to Jesus’ aid in carrying the cross. The Little Free Library movement was founded by Todd H. Bol, who believed strongly in the power of individuals to change the world through acts of kindness. Those who create and maintain these boxes which are all over Berkeley are called Stewards of the program and work tirelessly to strengthen the sense of community in their area.

Little Free Libraries also contribute to literacy, and provide a place where people are encouraged to slow down, notice their surroundings and experience the power of a random act of kindness, generosity and compassion.

It has been said that books are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, the most patient of teachers the quietest and most constant of friends. How can we help carry other’s burdens?

Station 5: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross.

Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Location: No Parking, Street Sweeping Sign

Veronica, a mostly anonymous woman of Jerusalem, was moved with sympathy when she saw Jesus carrying his cross. She took her own cloth and offered him comfort, wiping the dirt, sweat and perhaps blood from his face.

Most of us notice these signs for what they say cannot happen—parking on this side of the street on a particular day at a particular time. But what we may not think much about is the reason for this—the streets are swept on a regular rotation, providing clear passage and healthy environments. To most of us, the persons who sweep our streets are anonymous.

Anonymous workers take on tasks that are dirty and dangerous and are a part of making every day smoother, cleaner, safer for all of us. There are persons who clean buildings, hotel rooms, and homes whose names we do not know. There are persons who sweep streets, pick up garbage and maintain public restrooms.

The United States generates 254 million tons of trash every year; without regular removal we'd all be drowning in garbage. ... According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fatal injury rate in this business is 33 per 100,000, which is higher than those of miners, construction workers and police officers.

Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Station 7: Jesus falls the second time

Location: steps to Henry Street

Though the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990 guaranteeing access in all areas of public life to persons with disabilities, we are still struggling to make that guarantee a reality. In accessible walkways, steps and even high curbs can prevent someone with mobility difficulty or who uses a wheelchair from being able to proceed on their path.

As we consider Station 7 where Jesus has fallen for the second time, let us be conscious of the many barriers to free passage for those with mobility challenges, and the how we can clear the way for these siblings and for Jesus.

Station 7: Jesus falls the second time

Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

Locations: St. Mary Magdalene Parish Sign

Saint Mary Magdalene, sometimes called simply the Magdalene, was a Jewish woman who, according to the four gospels, traveled with Jesus as one of his followers and was a witness Christ’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection. She is mentioned by name twelve times in the canonical gospels, more than most of the apostles Mary's epithet Magdalene most likely means that she came from the town of Magdala a fishing town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Though it is thought that Mary Magdalene was a woman of some economic means, this was rare for women. Today, women continue to be among the world’s poorest citizens. Of the world's estimated 1 billion poor, 70% are women. Women own less than 1% of the world’s titled land.

Women across the world are subjected to physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence, regardless of their income, age or education. Such violence can lead to long-term physical, mental and emotional health problems. Around one third of women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives.

But women’s health, well-being and contributions to communities and our society are essential. When women do have the freedom to contribute and make choices about their own lives, well-being for all is increased.

When women participate in peace processes, the resulting agreement is

35% more likely to last at least 15 years.

Higher levels of gender equality are associated with a lower propensity for conflict, both between and within states.

The women who followed Jesus were some of the key figures in supporting and furthering his ministry.

Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

Station 9: Jesus falls a third time

Location: Doors of the Parish Chapel

When we come to Christ’s table at holy communion and receive of the bread and wine, the words said in distributing the bread that recall Jesus’ last supper are “the body of Christ, broken for you.” At the same time that we receive, we are reminded that we are Christ’s body on earth, meant to be his hands and feet. We are able to serve the broken because we know that we, too, are broken. Communion draws us into brokenness. As the great spiritual writer Sebastian Moore puts it, the crucified Jesus is no stranger. In Christ, God becomes familiar with our broken human condition. God is no stranger to shattered, scattered bodies.

While this broken condition certainly applies to us individually, it also has to do with our communal bodies: our congregations and our denomination. In his book A Precarious Peace, Chris Huebner helps us think about this reality: “The church [is] a kind of dislocated identity … a strange body that exists in a precarious state of unsettled tornness.”

As Methodists, our connection with Roman Catholics is through the church universal. We share one faith, one God, one savior, one spirit. We understand some pieces of our faith and tradition differently. This is ok. We all hold a piece of the truth and the untruth. But when we say that to one part of the body, I have no need of you, or attempt to banish or punish, we do harm to the body and we cause Jesus to fall. Station 9: Jesus falls a third time

Station 10: Jesus clothes are taken away

Location: Earthly Goods Clothing Shop

The clothing industry is rife with unethical production practices. Children are as young as 6 or 7 years old when they start working at a sweatshop for up to 16 hours per day. A shirt that sells in the United States for $60 can cost less than 10 cents in labor. The Department of Labor indicates that 50% of garment factories in the U.S. violate two or more basic labor laws, establishing them as sweatshops.

Think about the clothing you have on right now. If you have a national brand name, then there’s a good chance that your garment was created in a sweatshop from overseas. For a child who can make four of those clothing items per hour at $.20 per hour, the stark reality is that the retail price of your clothing paid that child five cents. What can you do with five cents? Not a whole lot. Even in developing nations, five cents doesn’t do much. This is why we need to support an end to sweatshops everywhere they exist.

Earthly Goods purports to sell more clothing products made with organic materials using ethical practices. The next time you purchase something to wear, consider its origins, and think of the way our Lord was stripped of his clothing on the way to the cross.

Station 10: Jesus clothes are taken away

Station 11: Jesus is nailed to the cross

Location: CVS pharmacy

The act of nailing Jesus to the cross was an act of power over personhood, greed over goodness, hate over health. The US healthcare industry and its delivery systems such as CVS, have prioritized profits over people. Pharmaceutical companies made $426 billion in profits from their US sales yet the cost of life saving drugs continue to escalate.

In 2015, the average price of a new cancer drug was $145,000/year. The price per year of life gained increased from $54,000 in 1995 to $207,000 in 2013, while real median American household income rose by 7%. Unlike in Europe and elsewhere, the prices of older drugs in the U.S. continue to increase by an average of 8-12 percent annually, allowing new cancer drugs to be launched at higher prices every year, in lockstep with the rising prices of older drugs.

High drug prices are harmful. Medical costs and out-of-pocket expenses result in high rates of bankruptcies, and 10-25 percent of patients either delay, abandon or compromise treatments because of financial constraints.

What will it take for us as a nation to prioritize and value all life? Until we recognize that healthcare is a human right, we continue to nail Jesus to the cross.

Station 11: Jesus is nailed to the cross

Station 12: Jesus dies on the cross

Location: Cross Walk at Yolo and Henry

A crosswalk is a metaphor for safe passage from one place to the next. It requires consciousness from both pedestrian and driver in order to ensure safety and care for all. But crossings can be dangerous, especially when there is no clear path.

According to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2006, 42 percent of pedestrian fatalities occurred on roads without proper crosswalks. Additionally, another 21 percent occurred in roadways in which a crosswalk was available, but the pedestrian wasn’t using it. All in all, pedestrian deaths that occurred on an actual crosswalk accounted for less than 9 percent of all fatalities.

As we come to the station that commemorates Jesus’ death on the cross, we are reminded of the path that he has given us as we face this transition for our loved ones and ourselves. Do we provide crosswalks for others through our love, our care and our invitation to Christian community?

Does our level of consciousness notice who is in need of assistance, not-too-steady, or stepping off the path? As Jesus dies in human form on the cross, may we take on Christ consciousness.

Station 12: Jesus dies on the cross

Station 13: The body of Jesus is taken down from the cross

Location: Corner of Sutter and Hopkins looking at Epworth

Scripture tells us that Joseph of Arimethea was the one who took Jesus down from the cross. Who was this compassionate and brave man? Tradition around his identity varies, but he is thought to have been a rich man, and is sometimes thought to be a secret disciple of Jesus. Whoever he was, he stepped into a moment of gruesome cruelty and countered it with love and service.

As we stand at this corner and look toward Epworth, imagine what you would see there if you had just experienced or witnessed gruesome cruelty. Imagine what you would feel if you were walking here, at a low point in life, searching and lost, and glanced down Hopkins seeing this structure on the next corner down. Would you feel welcomed, beckoned to, hope?

When we open our doors and find ways to make clear that ours is a church for ALL people, we participate in carefully and lovingly responding to the assaults of the world on the body of Christ.

Station 13: The body of Jesus is taken down from the cross

Epworth, as a community of latter day believers courageously faces all that befalls the physical bodies of the community. Whether this is illness or death, the community cares for bodies within the community and we hope—beyond—in suffering and in death, and witnesses to the life everlasting.

Station 14: Jesus is laid in the tomb

Location: Northbrae Tunnel

After Joseph of Arimethea took Jesus down from the cross, he and Nicodemus asked the authorities for his body so they could bury him and lay him in the tomb. This was a courageous act that would have clearly identified them as Jesus’ followers. Yet, they were willing to do it because of their love and devotion, their care.

As we think about the tomb and look toward the tunnel just blocks from our church building, we are reminded of the tunnels all over the world, between the US and Mexico, between Israel and Palestine and Palestine and Egypt that are built because there is a hope of freedom, a need to escape violence or just a need for clean water as is the case in Gaza. Too often, these tunnels become tombs when they collapse.

Tunnels are dark places and can offer be scary. Just as we look for the light at the end of a tunnel, we know that the light was coming to Jesus’ tomb, too.

Station 14: Jesus is laid in the tomb


How are we caring for the bodies of all who suffer?

What cross are we willing to bear?

How do we perpetuate crucifixion?

How do we instead embrace the vision of new heaven and new earth that Jesus showed us, making those realities?

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