Social Justice Stations of the Cross
Good Friday 2023
Epworth UMC, Berkeley, CA
Written by Rev. Dr. 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.
Station 1: Jesus is condemned to death (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, but this year we’ve added several other expressions of love and solidarity with our LGBTQI family. Even in the age of marriage equality, criticism and shame continue to be levelled at LGBTQI persons. Just a few weeks ago, a delivery person delivering a package to the office challenged the flying of the queer flag over the church saying, “the Bible says it isn’t right.” Though we seek to counter this discrimination and hate within church and society, the church bears responsibility for perpetuating this errant interpretation of scripture.
This sanctioned discrimination by the church perpetuates violence against LGBTQI persons in society at large in which 20-25% of LGBTQI 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. Christ have mercy.
Station 1: Jesus is condemned to death
Station 2 Jesus carries His cross (Walking on Hopkins, imagine carrying a cross.)
As we experience the second station of Jesus carrying His cross, we walk along this street, and consider what it would be like to have to walk carrying on our backs all that we own. How would it feel to have no transportation and no home? In Berkeley alone, according to a count done in January of 2022, an estimated 803 persons are homeless. 11% of Alameda County’s unsheltered population lives in Berkeley. Over half of homeless people in the city are considered "chronically homeless," meaning they've been without permanent housing for at least a year. Furthermore, we know that this count is lower than the reality. Black residents are still disproportionately impacted by homelessness in Berkeley and throughout the county. Without a safe permanent place to lay their heads, these siblings carry all that they have to take care of themselves and stay alive on their backs or in a cart or bag.
Station 2 Jesus carries His cross
Station 3 Jesus falls the first time (Berkeley Public Library, North Branch)
As Jesus falls for the first time while carrying his cross on the way to Calvary, we have to wonder if while down, he felt even a little comfort and respite. We can only hope so. Libraries across the nation have gone from being places where one could obtain a free education to being a place of broad ranging respite. Our libraries serve as job centers, after school programs, and a quiet and cool place for travelers, displaced persons or persons without permanent housing. Our librarians are the radical givers of life and learning and care.
Libraries also contribute to literacy, and provide a place where all people are encouraged to slow down, notice their surroundings, and experience the power of altruism and knowledge.
Station 3 Jesus falls the first time (Library)
Station 4: Jesus meets his mother (Hopkins Early Childhood Education Center)
We wonder how Jesus’ mother felt seeing her son carrying his cross and condemned to death. By and large, mothers want the best for their children, and we know from the stories of Jesus’ life that Mary was no different. The Hopkins Early Childhood Education Center which includes a Head Start program gives children preparation for positive educational outcomes as they move forward in school, including a greater chance of graduating from high school.
A study at Northeastern University found that 80% of incarcerated persons had not finished high school. Early education and support from a community can turn this around, leading to choices and paths that offer life not death.
Station 4: Jesus meets his mother
Station 5: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross (Martin Luther King Middle School)
Everyone needs a friend, especially in times of deepest trials. The fifth station commemorates the action of Simon of Cyrene who came to Jesus’ aid in carrying the cross.
We are on the edge of Martin Luther King Middle School. Martin Luther King Middle School is the closest school to Epworth. Middle school can be a challenging time for many youth as they navigate the waters between childhood and young adulthood. 28% of students in grades 6-12 have experienced bullying. Though the school has no tolerance for bullying and an emphasis on being an ally, students still need many threads in their fabric of support. How is Epworth an ally to the students at this school as their neighbor? How do we help others carry their cross, or offer friendship?
Station 5: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his
Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus (Edible Schoolyard)
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.
For 25 years, the Edible Schoolyard project in Berkeley has connected the growing of healthy food to the capacity for individuals and communities to grow and thrive. The project has expanded and now has an Edible Schoolyard site in South Stockton. Though Stockton is in the Central Valley which produces 40% of our nations produce and nuts, it is not unusual for urban communities only a few miles from hundreds of acres of agriculture to lack access to fresh food.
Too often, we are not conscious of the labor it takes to bring our food from field to table. Imagine Jesus as a farmworker, bent over in the hot sun of Central California.
Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
Station 7: Jesus Falls the Second Time (The Edible Schoolyard chickens)
Part of the Edible Schoolyard project has been to keep chickens or ducks. It may come as a surprise, but chickens have a calming effect on humans. Chickens offer significant therapeutic benefits for people of all ages and are proving a powerful therapeutic tool for those suffering from anxiety, depression, isolation, loneliness and dementia. Did you know that chickens can ease stress?
As we continue to emerge from the Covid pandemic, many are feeling stressed and anxious. These challenges can cause us to stumble, and lose our firm footing. And yet, the chickens remind us that God is seeking to reach us in so many ways, to soothe us like a parent soothes an anxious child, in surprising and often unnoticed ways. God is always with us, picking us up as we fall.
Station 7: Jesus Falls the Second Time
Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem (Corner of St. Mary Magdalene Parish)
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 had been previously thought to mean that she came from the town of Magdala, a fishing town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. But “magdala” also means tower, and new scholarship now suggests that in calling her “Magdalene” Jesus may have been providing a parallel framing with Peter as “the rock” offering a new vision of a church of foundation and height and a male and female pair on which the church has been built.
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. How would our world have been different if Mary Magdalene and Peter were seen as co-equals as the church was birthed?
Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
Station 9: Jesus falls a third time (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.”[a]
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 (School of the Madeleine)
In many developing countries, uniforms are required for children to be able to attend school. This is done to try to create an equalization of caste, creed or status. But, many children, especially girls, miss out on education because they can’t afford the uniform. In fact, the cost of school uniforms can be the greatest expense in for families seeking an education for their children.
A program in West Kenya found that providing children with a free uniform decreased absenteeism by 37%, with even larger impact for the poorest children. Another intervention in Kenya provided “two free school uniforms over the last three years of primary school.” It resulted in reduced dropouts for both boys and girls and even reduced the teen pregnancy rate.
When Jesus is stripped of his clothes, we can also feel the stripping of the right to an education for some children in the world.
Station 10: Jesus clothes are taken away
Station 11: Jesus is nailed to the cross (Tree)
We would be remiss if we do not acknowledge the parallel between the cross and the lynching tree. In the period between the Civil War and 1968, nearly 3500 Black persons were murdered in this horrific way. Likely these official numbers are grossly undercounted.
Anti-lynching crusaders such as Ida B. Wells and the NAACP effectively called out the brutality and inhumanity of lynching, and lynchings decreased in the United States, though have not fully ceased. The horrific murder of Black persons as bystanders look on continues, such as the murder of George Floyd.
Black liberation theologian James Cone, in his work The Cross and the Lynching Tree, wrote, “Both the cross and the lynching tree represent the worst in human beings and at the same time a thirst for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning.”
Station 11: Jesus is nailed to the cross
Station 12: Jesus dies on the cross (Cross Walk)
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 (Corner of Milvia 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? Would you feel 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
Station 14: Station 14 Jesus is laid in the tomb (Peace Pole in front of Epworth on Hopkins)
As we finish this year’s walk, let us feel the weight not just of the cross, but the betrayal by his closest friends, the disillusionment of what was hoped for fading away. The fear by his disciples that they might be next.
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.
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, and 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.
As Jesus’ body now on earth, his hands and feet, eyes and ears, may we continue his walk, seeking peace and fulfillment of his vision of a new heaven and new earth where every tear is wiped away.
Station 14: Station 14 Jesus is laid in the tomb
Concluding Questions for Reflection:
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?