Podcast Worship

As Jesus journeyed to the cross…

A meditation on Christ’s journey to the cross and beyond, for Holy Week (republished for 2021)

Holy Saturday is a day of emptiness and desolation in the Church’s calendar. Our Lord has been crucified and now lies in the tomb.

We, like the first disciples, are waiting for the moment of resurrection. The difference is that we know of the certainty of the resurrection, we know that tomorrow there will be great celebration.

Today, however, we are invited to continue our reflections on the sacrifice Christ made for us.

I hope and pray that you find this meditation on Christ’s journey to the cross and beyond helpful as you prepare yourself for the joy of Easter Day.

From John’s Gospel

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha.  There they crucified him.

See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

(Isaac Watts)

As Jesus journeyed
to the cross, he carried
the sins of the world…

As Jesus journeyed to the cross, he carried –
the petty excuses we use to defend ourselves;
our self-importance;
every wrong decision we have ever made;
our moments of wilful wrong-doing;
he carried all those times when we stared down the right path, counted the cost, and chose the easy road instead.

As Jesus journeyed to the cross, he carried –
the times we delighted in the suffering of others;
the time we bullied and cheated;
all the lies we have ever told;
all the times we have never said thank you;
all the thousands of times we have been blinded
to the good we could have done.

As Jesus journeyed to the cross, he carried –
our negligence and our envy;
our broken promises;
our deceit;
he carried all the little hurts where we have let people down;
he carried our cynicism;
he carried our carefully rehearsed answers, put-downs and excuses;
all our reasons for not caring, not believing, not trusting;
he gathered up all the fragments of our conceit –
every piece of bread we refused to share –
         and the baskets he carried were overflowing.

As Jesus journeyed to the cross, he carried –
the big, global horrors born of our complacency;
our neglect of God’s marvellous creation;
our xenophobic fantasies that have bred genocides and holocausts;
he carried the economies that thrive on division and inequality;
he carried the poor on whose backs the strong grow rich;
he carried our worship of false gods;
the barriers we build to exclude others – including God himself!

As he journeyed to the cross,
Jesus saw and carried it all.

He saw everything
that separates
‘me’ from ‘us’;
‘us’ from each other;
and all of us from God.

Jesus saw it all;
he pulled it together
and he carried it.

Jesus picked it all up,
and he took it to the cross.

The weight of the sins of the world is unimaginable,
but the arms that bear that weight are stronger still –
and they are true.

Jesus carries the sins of the world
because he wants to get rid of them –
he takes them to the cross,
and there they are crucified.

Jesus takes the sins of the world to the tomb,
and there they are buried with him.

Jesus carries the sins of the world to the cross –
and he carries them with love.

The concept of sin is simple.
I don’t do the things I want and know that I should do;
I end up doing the things I don’t want to do –
the things I know that I shouldn’t do –
I am compromised and defeated by my own wrong choices.

We choose to call it something else, but we know that it is sin.

But, there is hope!

If we look very closely we will be able to see
something else that Jesus is carrying.

He does not carry just our sins,
as if they were separate from us.

Jesus is carrying something else –
he is carrying something which is very precious;
he is carrying something which needs to be restored;
he is carrying something which he knows can be beautiful;
he is carrying something which can be loved back to life –
Jesus is carrying us –
you and me –
and we are not heavy to him.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways:
Re-clothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives thy service find,
In deeper reverence praise,
In deeper reverence praise.

(John Greenleaf Whittier)

As Jesus journeyed
to the cross, he carried
our sorrows…

Nothing was too small for Jesus –
all the fragments were gathered up –
nothing was too large; nothing was too heavy.

He carried the tiny, casual disappointments –
the lost hopes and shattered dreams
that reverberate throughout a lifetime.

He carried the huge hurts,
where tragedy bites, and
lives are turned upside down.

Jesus carried the lives that are lost before they have hardly begun,
and the lives that are savagely scarred by grief, or injury, or abuse.

How can we list all the pain and sorrow
that is part of the human condition?
How can we account for it?
Only that we see it in his arms –
gathered together – carried!

Whatever the pain, the confusion,
the indifference, the damage,
the steady deterioration, the emptiness,
the separation, the stabbing intrusion –
he cradled them all as he journeyed to the cross.
Each handled with a patient gentleness and an understanding
that only comes from who has known sorrow himself.

As Jesus journeyed to the cross, he carried our sorrows.

Jesus saw the failure, and all the pain bound up together.
He did not make, or seek, excuses –
nor did he pretend that the knotted tangles of our lives
could be unravelled, smoothed out, understood.

Jesus saw us for what we are – and he loved us.

As Jesus journeyed to the cross, he carried our sorrows
and he offered compassion and forgiveness.

As Jesus journeyed to the cross, he carried
the keys of God’s kingdom in one pierced hand,
and the balm of healing in the other.

Jesus brought us both of them –
he carried them for us –
for you and for me.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea all I need, in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come.

(Charlotte Elliott)

As Jesus journeyed
to the cross, he carried
the disappointment
of his followers…

They thought he was going to be a different sort of king.

He had tried, of course.
He had tried to etch eternity
into the stubborn humanity of those disappointed followers –
but now, nearly every one of them had abandoned him.

As he journeyed to the cross –
through eyes smarting with grief and pain –
Jesus looked out to see who would listen
to the truth that is revealed in his death –
and there was hardly anyone.

There was John –
faithful, beloved John –
he was still standing there.

Jesus could see his mother –
bent over in grief –
her body shaking as she sobbed.

Several other women were there as well –
they seemed to be better equipped
to deal with the pain than the men.

This small group huddles underneath the cross,
and they find understanding –
perhaps this is the only way!

The disciples have gone –
their shepherd has been struck down
and the sheep have scattered.
Even Peter has gone.

The disciples were only prepared to go so far.

They had followed him when he was rebuking
the religious leaders for their hypocrisy and cant;
they had followed him when he fed the multitudes;
they had followed him when he healed the sick;
they had followed him when it seemed to them
that he was a conquering leader.

They had followed him because
they believed he was the Messiah –
the Anointed One of God.

But then came the moment
when they stopped following.
The challenge of discovering
what a Messiah really is
was simply too much!

And then – they fled!

Like a sudden change in the weather –
they were gone.

And Peter himself –
Peter, who had promised that
if everyone else deserted Jesus
he would stand firm –
even Peter had crumbled,
like a house built on sand.
Peter even denied ever having know him.

As Jesus journeyed to the cross,
he carried the disappointment of his followers.

As Jesus journeyed to the cross
he carried with him the knowledge of that moment of betrayal –
looking into Peter’s eyes, and seeing the betrayal!

And, of course, there was the sharing of the bread with Judas,
and the knowledge of what he was about to do.

And now, journeying to the cross –
hanging on the cross –
almost alone –
almost accomplished –
Jesus must have wondered whether
we would ever understand?

As Jesus journeyed to the cross,
carrying the disappointment of his followers,
he must have been carrying another, terrible, burden –
Jesus carried with him the terrible possibility that
it might all have been in vain.

Jesus must have feared that
he could be walking at our sides for ever –
never being recognized –
never being known.

Just as I am (thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down),
Now to be thine, yea, thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come.

(Charlotte Elliott)

As Jesus journeyed
to the cross, he carried
the crown of thorns and the hopes of God himself

The creation of the crown of thorns was an act of brutal simplicity –
it was an act of schoolboy logic –
he said he was a king, so why not dress him up as one?

A king always has a crown – and so should this pretender.
A make-shift crown – a crown of thorns –
a crown made of nature’s barbed wire.

And then those mocking soldiers,
with their schoolboy mentality,
saluted him and struck him;
they scratched him and scarred him;
they spat at him and they mocked him.
It was such a good joke.

A loser – a pantomime king!
Someone to laugh at and to scorn;
someone who wouldn’t fight back;
someone who makes claims
that are so easy to mock.
A mere insect under their feet –
someone easy to stamp out.

And his disciples –
where were they during this humiliating charade of a coronation?

They had abandoned him – every one of them!

Had they not been listening at that special meal?

Did they not understand what he was doing
when he got on the floor and washed their feet?

Had the last three years just been a waste of time –
would it all have to happen again?

Of course, the answer to that question is NO!

There were never to be any more barriers
between the presence of God
and the humanity Jesus came to save.

There would be no more man-made systems
deciding who enjoyed God’s favour
and who was excluded.

The blood of Jesus was shed for all –
the matter is concluded.

You see, as Jesus journeyed to the cross,
he also carried the hopes of God.

As Jesus journeyed to the cross
he carried the possibility of a new covenant
and a new relationship.

And beyond Jesus’ journey to the cross
we see a new creation,
a new heaven and a new earth.

It is as if Jesus were carrying a great banqueting table
and placing it in the centre of the room –
this room – the room that is our lives.

It is as if Jesus were placing the chairs around that table –
a vast multitude of places –
and every one known –
there is no anonymity at Jesus’ grand feast.

Each place is named and separate in its uniqueness –
and yet they are all connect, and honoured.

Of course, our down-to-earth common sense
means that it is easy to resort to the schoolboy bully tactics
of the Roman soldiers as they plaited that crown of thorns.

God’s hopes can be so easily mocked and derided.

And yet, as Jesus journeyed to the cross,
he also carried a new commandment –
a really new commandment.

Jesus carried the new commandment
that can only be seen in the true reciprocity of love –
the love that grows around his great banqueting table.

Jesus calls us to love one another
with the same love that we see in him –
as Jesus journeyed to the cross,
he carried the hopes of God himself.

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
Be all else but naught to me, save that thou art,
Be thou my best thought in the day and the night,
Both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light.

(Irish, 8th century)

It was handed to him as though it was nothing –
that large wooden beam –
that one half of a cross.
That rough wooden beam,
which could have been turned into so many wonderful things,
was now fulfilling the darkest of vocations –
an instrument of tortuous death.

Jesus shouldered the weight –
the weight that was placed upon him without ceremony.
No one would have looked him in the eye –
not as that broad, rough beam was handed out.
It was simply his turn to receive that which would carry him –
that which would crush him.

He felt the roughness of the wood
on the rawness of his beaten body.
The splinters must have pushed into his flesh,
anticipating the nails that were to follow.

That large wooden beam –
fruit of the earth and the work of human hands;
that large wooden beam that had to be carried.

And as Jesus took and carried that beam
(that half of a cross) he knew that,
at the end of the journey,
his healing hands would be nailed to it –
that it would be hoisted on to a waiting stake –
that a cross would be formed –
a cross on which he would hang and die.

The beam was about five feet in length –
the height of a small person.

The beam weighed about five stone –
as much as a bag of cement.

And there was Jesus –
carrying that beam –
despite already being battered and beaten
by those who flogged him.

The Romans were fond of crucifixion –
it was their execution method of choice –
they liked its precision –
they liked the agonizing pain
and the prolonged wait for the release of death.

As Jesus carried his wooden beam
through the streets of Jerusalem –
he knew what was ahead of him.

So, what are we seeing on this holy day?
Are we seeing just another innocent man going to his death –
like so many other innocent people who have died ugly death
through the course of human history?

Jesus of Nazareth –
one more man going to his death,
silent before his accusers,
stoical in his suffering,
defenceless when confronted
with the tide of hatred and revenge
that consumes the human heart.

Of course, Jesus was not just another innocent victim.
Jesus shows us what it means to be one with God himself.

His suffering and his dying are not just
another notch carved on the tally of human misery.

God himself is sharing in this suffering and dying.
God himself has become involved
in the world he made
at this most raw of levels.
God himself is stretched out on that fearful wooden beam.
God himself is now face-to-face with human barbarity.
God himself is carrying this cross.
God himself is treading the path of suffering, step by painful step.

And as God makes that terrible journey,
he carries not just a rough wooden beam,
but also the battered woundedness of us all.


As Jesus journeys to the cross he carries something else –
he carries a light flickering within himself
that will not be snuffed out –
not when the soldiers mock him –
not when he is stripped and beaten –
not when he is nailed to that beam –
not when he hangs there ridiculed and forsaken.

Jesus carries half a cross.
He carries that half which is God’s determination
to plumb the depths of the human heart.

The other half is something else!
The other half is something that also needs
to be nailed down and joined up.

Jesus is reaching into the bloody mess
of our reality in order to redeem it.

Jesus tells us to take up our cross and to follow him –
to take our cross and follow him again and again.

In our lifetimes we each have
a whole assortment of crosses –
and they are all distinctly ours.

Some are so heavy that, like our Lord,
we will stagger and fall beneath their weight.
Some will cut cruelly into our shoulders.

But … Jesus’ command is unequivocal –
if you want to walk with him, there are no excuses – no days off.

Jesus knows that you might get tired, or bored, or scared,
but this is the condition of your walk with him.
There is no other way – just as there wasn’t for him.

Jesus carries, in the form of a rough wooden beam,
that which will inevitably be nailed to that upright stake,
the purposes of God.

God’s determination and God’s purposes will be joined,
and they will be shaped into a cross –
the very cross that we are called to carry with Our Lord.

Let us pray –

Loving Lord,
walking along the way of the Cross,
help us to learn what it means for us to take up our cross
whatever its size, its shape or its weight.
Support our steps as they stumble and fall
and raise us up by the power of your Spirit.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

(Isaac Watts)

This meditation is inspired by
‘The Things He Carried’ by Bishop Stephen Cottrell
published by SPCK