On this Good Friday, Sandy Rains will join her pastor and fellow parishioners at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in walking the Stations of the Cross, a solemn meditative experience aimed at re-creating Jesus’ own tortured journey from betrayal to crucifixion.
For Christians, particularly Roman Catholics and Protestants steeped in liturgical traditions, the walk is a central element of Holy Week, bringing home the suffering and sacrifice of Christ. Many Midlands churches will hold meditative services today devoted to the Stations of the Cross and Good Friday remembrance.
Rains was raised Roman Catholic and remembers going as a little girl with her mother to the service, lying on the pew as her mother participated in the liturgy.
“That is really a particularly powerful service,” said Rains, who has walked the stations each Friday during Lent and will do so again today at 5:30 p.m. “You start with Jesus picking up the cross, and you walk through the whole crucifixion.”
The service became even more meaningful to her after her visit to Jerusalem in late 2010. There, she walked the Via Dolorosa, or the Way of Sorrow, believed to be the rugged cobblestone path through Old Jerusalem that Jesus trod as he bore the cross on his way to Calvary.
“There are three times when Jesus falls, and now I really understand what that meant,” Rains said. As they walked through the crowded market, she said she and members of her tourist group had trouble staying together as people pushed and shoved against them.
“In those days crucifixions were very common, and I’m sure people were impatient with Jesus,” she said. “It just didn’t even touch them what was happening.”
Walking the Stations of the Cross is a way to make Jesus’ journey more real as well as allow time for meditation on his sacrifice and resurrection, said Rains’ pastor, the Rev. Paul Stricklin.
“The stations can be as simplistic as you want or as grandiose as you want,” Stricklin said. “The effect is the same.”
At St. Michael’s and All Angels, Russian artist Sergey Bokhanevich carved the 9-inch-by-18-inch stations out of blocks of mahogany in the mid-1990s.
The intricate carvings, showing an anguished and burdened Jesus, are positioned on the southwest wall of the sanctuary, set onto a light blue backdrop sponge-painted and stenciled by Columbia artist Ernest Ewing to create a border around the carvings.
“They are such a beautiful piece of art,” said Stricklin, who has been pastor of the Trenholm Road congregation for five years. “The spiritual component speaks for itself.”
Pilgrims to the Holy City began walking the path of Jesus’ last journey as early as the first century. The Franciscan order developed the Stations of the Cross in the 15th century as a devotion for Europeans who could not make the journey to Jerusalem to pray and reflect upon the passion of Christ.
The 14 stations, beginning with “Jesus is condemned to die” and ending with “Jesus is laid in the tomb,” became a fixture in Roman Catholic churches. Eastern Orthodox Christians, who will celebrate Easter April 14 according to the Julian calendar, do not have stations in their churches. Eastern Orthodox Christians always adhere to the tradition that Easter is celebrated after the Jewish Passover, which this year begins at sunset today.
At area Roman Catholic churches, the Stations of the Cross are woven into the fabric of Holy Week services and Good Friday’s Veneration of the Cross.
At St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Assembly Street, worshippers stop at 14 Stations of the Cross that are base relief paintings restored by Columbia artist Christian Thee. St. Peter’s service is at noon today, followed by a 3 p.m. Veneration of the Cross.
At St. Joseph Catholic Church on Devine Street, the service begins at noon, followed by the 3 p.m. Veneration of the Cross, and at St. John Neumann Catholic Church on Polo Road, the Stations of the Cross is observed at 3 p.m.
At St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church on Clemson Avenue, families will gather at 4:30 p.m. to walk the stations along a winding outdoor path around the church.
“The stations are like an icon,” Stricklin, the St. Michael and All Angel’s rector, said. “They direct you to the holy.”