The text for this Palm Sunday is not the traditional story of Jesus’ final entrance to Jerusalem with crowds shouting “Hallelujah!” Instead, the scripture passage takes us to the heart of the Passion Week of Jesus that eventually led him and his cross down the road known as the Via Dolorosa.
The Via Dolorosa is a route that follows Jesus’ path through Jerusalem on his way to his crucifixion. It starts at the site where he was condemned by Pilate and ends at Christ’s tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This 2,000-foot journey through winding streets of Old Jerusalem is a historical pilgrimage for Christians. Today, if you were to walk it you would find 14 different devotional stations clearly written on walls, with five of those inside the Holy Sepulchre. This current route has been in place since the 18th century; however, a Spanish nun in the Byzantine church first recorded the concept of traveling Jesus’ journey to the cross in the fourth century. The points along the route have changed over the centuries and have been the subject of much debate as to where to start and which stops to include along the way.
While we can connect a very real Via Dolorosa that marks Jesus’ physical journey to the cross to today’s scripture, there is also a spiritual Via Dolorosa (Latin for “Way of Grief”), that connects us to this scripture. Chapters 14 and 15 in Mark are the heart of the Gospel. Everything has been leading up to this point and beyond. In this, the shortest Gospel, where the author is known for his lack of detail, we have two long chapters describing Jesus’ journey to the cross. These accounts are keys to understanding who Jesus was.
The celebrative experience of Palm Sunday quickly becomes the journey of suffering and grief Jesus faced during the Passion Week. Though Jesus carried his cross on the Via Dolorosa, it was a road Jesus chose to walk when he proclaimed his mission. He chose a way of suffering because he chose to love as God loved. He chose to be vulnerable to speak and live God’s justice and peace for the welfare of all.
The passion story, as uncomfortable as it is, is not a segment of Jesus’ life we can ignore. It is the story that draws us deeper into the story we are to live; a story of a people who love as God loves; a story that extends God’s justice and grace into the lives of the broken and lost. If this is our story, it means we too, may also suffer and grieve for the sake of another. But the passion story does not end in suffering and grief. The story ultimately takes us to the awareness of hope, joy, healing, and eternal life that was made possible on Easter morning.
As we read and reflect on Jesus’ journey to the cross, we do more than just remember the story. We can connect to Jesus and his courage to face his fate knowing God was with him. This was his calling, his mission. We, too, can have the courage to face each day knowing God is with us, traveling the Via Dolorosa with us. The good news for today is that the Via Dolorosa doesn’t end with suffering. It ends in joy, healing, and eternal life.