Pastoral Perspectives

Reflection on Via Dolorosa (The way of Suffering)

For centuries, Christian pilgrims have retraced the last steps of Jesus Christ along Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa. My first encounter with the Via Dolorosa was during my first trip to Israel in 2010. The itinerary included a walk through the 14 stations of the Via Dolorosa, following Jesus’ last walk before the crucifixion. He had the Last Supper with his followers, then he was captured by Romans and later sentenced to death.

Those of us who have watched the film The Passion of Christ, will be familiar. As we are still in the season of Easter, I thought it might be a good reason for us to contemplate on the stations of the cross.

The Bible does not specifically mention the Via Dolorosa. All we know from Scripture is that Jesus carried His cross from the Praetorium to the site on Mount Calvary where He was crucified. The locations of these two sites are not known for certain, but wherever they were, the route between them was truly the way of suffering.

The Stations of the Cross are 14 scenes that describes what happened to Jesus in the last few hours of his life. Eight of these stations are directly based on the Biblical accounts, and are mentioned in the Gospels.

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StationPlacesThemeBiblical Reflections
 1 Jesus is condemned to death: supposedly happened in Madrasa al-Omariya, this site is about 300 meters from Lion’s Gate.Luke 22:39-46Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives for His Father to take the cup from His hand that meant His death on the cross; it demonstrated the humanity of Jesus
2Jesus receives His cross:located near the compound of the Franciscan monastery.Luke 22:47-48Judas betrayed Jesus; he also became a haunting reminder to every Christian that there have been times they have fallen to temptation to sin.
3Jesus falls first time: located on the corner of via Dolorosa and El Wad (Hagai) street.Luke 22:66-71The Bible teaches us to respect positions of authority, but ultimately it is God’s will and God’s Word that should reign supreme in our lives.
 4Jesus meets His mother Mary: further south on El-Wad (Hagai) street, the Armenian Church of Our Lady of the Spasm.Luke 22:54-62Peter demonstrated the weakness of humanity by denying Jesus for fear of also being arrested.
5Simon helps Jesus:located at the corner of Via Dolorosa road and El-Wad (“The Gai”) road.Luke 23:26Simon of Cyrene wasordered to help by the Roman soldiers, Simon did not resist, most likely fearing for his own life in light of the situation at hand.
6Veronica wipes the face of Jesus: further west up the hill, and is dedicated to the woman (St. Veronica) who wiped Jesus’ face.Some Christian traditions describe Veronica as being a woman in Jerusalem who took pity on Jesus and wiped his face, and possibly also the woman who was cured of internal bleeding by touching Jesus’ clothing.
7Jesus falls the second time:The place where Jesus passed through the Gate of Judgment, along the Souq Khan al-Zeit street.John 19:17When Jesus took up His cross, He was carrying the sins of mankind, facing the punishment those sins deserved, which He was about to suffer on man’s behalf.
8Jesus speaks to the women:Uphill towards Aqabat al-Khanqah street.Luke 23:27-31When Jesus encountered the weeping women and some of His disciples on His way to crucifixion, He cautioned them that they should not weep for Him.
9Jesus falls the third time: adjacent to the Holy Sepulcher – the tomb of Jesus.Luke 23:23-25Jesus was given the death sentence of crucifixion.
10Jesus is stripped off His garments: located at the entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the room called the Chapel of the Franks.Luke 23:33-42Jesus is crucified. The spikes were driven through His hands and feet into the timber on which He would take His last breath in human form.
11Jesus is nailed to the cross:located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,Luke 23:43Jesus told the thief that he would be in paradise that day with Him because he accepted and believed in the Son of God.
12Jesus dies on the cross: a Greek Orthodox crucifixion altar which is inside the Church of Holy Sepulcher.Luke 23:44-49At the moment of Jesus’ death, the curtain in the Temple, which separated men from the holy of holies, tore from top to bottom.
13Jesus is taken down from the cross: also located inside the  Church of the Holy Sepulchre.Luke 23:50-54After Jesus died and was taken down from the cross,
14Jesus is laid in the Tomb: In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a chapel carved out of bedrock.Luke 23:55,56He was laid to rest in a tomb provided by a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea

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Like many Christian pilgrimage sites in Israel, the Via Dolorosa is based on Christian traditions. In the case of the Via Dolorosa, not only has the current route been debated and changed over the years, it’s still being debated as archaeological discoveries bring new details. For me, no matter what the spot or the route, going to Israel to learn and pray is still an act of faith and devotion.

We can rest assure that even if traditional sites aren’t historically accurate, the Gospels themselves have been shown to be historically accurate over and over again. This means we can still use sites like the Via Dolorosa as opportunities to contemplate about what we do know about Jesus. We do know that Jesus did walk through Jerusalem. We know that he was tried, crucified, died, and rose again.

Rev Tan Cheng Huat (Non-resident Missionary to SQ)

April 10, 2022